You're pinned behind a bus in a Sao Paulo transit depot, with a half-dozen mercenaries ready to wipe you from the face of the Earth the second you peek your head past the headlights. You keep still, planning your next move, when out of nowhere some lunatic flings himself from a second-story window and manages to shoot every single one of those armed thugs before he even hits the ground. Immediately upon impact, he pops up as if to say, "I'm good!" and then proceeds to loot each of his victims like a ravenous hobo. Right now that guy might look like the craziest man on the planet, but he's also your teammate. And he just saved your life.
Welcome to the delightfully chaotic world of Max Payne 3 multiplayer. At the heart of that chaos is Max Payne's signature bullet-time mechanic--the ability to fire off bullets in dramatic slow motion, often while leaping through the air with a complete disregard for your personal safety. Unlike most shooters that feature a time-manipulation mechanic in the single-player campaign, Max Payne 3 doesn't ditch bullet time in the online half of the game. In fact, it embraces it wholeheartedly. All you need to do is kill a few enemies to build up your adrenaline gauge and then cash it in with the tap of a button to start diving around like the star of a Hong Kong action movie.
When you engage bullet time, anyone caught in your direct line of sight will have their movements slowed down as well, indicated by their screen suddenly turning a reddish hue. The really interesting thing about all this is that this bullet-time effect can be chained from one target to another. So if your target also happens to have his sights set on a teammate of yours, slow motion will spread to that third player as well. This gives your opponent a chance to either go for the kill he already had his eyes on or simply break from your line of sight to escape the bullet-time effect altogether. It's a clever way of balancing the slow-motion effect in a competitive multiplayer setting, giving successive targets an opportunity to avoid frustration when they're caught in anyone's bullet time force field. And when you manage to turn right around on them and counter their attack with a kill of your own, it's immensely gratifying.
Combine this with the fact that you can dramatically leap through windows or down entire flights of stairs, and you can see how a typical Max Payne multiplayer match has a way of turning into an acrobatic free-for-all. What's more, bullet time is just one of several "burst" rewards you can elect to use in online matches. Bursts are basically multitiered kill streak rewards; the more kills you rack up, the higher your adrenaline gauge and the greater the reward you can trigger.
These rewards come in a variety of flavors. The Weapon Dealer burst gives you infinite ammo for a certain amount of time, while the Weapon Double Dealer burst allows for more sinister fun by making the other team drop their spare grenades to the ground (charged and ready to explode) at the third and highest reward tier. Other burst sets allow you to play mind games with your opponents, with the Sneaky burst letting you appear to have joined the other team and the Paranoia burst making all your opponents see their teammates as enemies (with friendly fire disabled at the first tier but enabled at the third tier). Most of these bursts seem well balanced in the overall spectrum of chaos that is Max Payne 3 multiplayer, but if there's one that could prove a lightning rod, it's Paranoia. That's the burst that seems to be skating on the thinnest of ice, and we can easily see it being nerfed down the line.
Choosing which burst you equip your character with is one of the borderline insane number of customization options in Max Payne 3 multiplayer. On the cosmetic side, you can choose from a variety of clothing, facial, and hair options--with distinctly different fashion choices for the six types of Sao Paulo gangs you can play as in multiplayer. Seriously, if you're a fan of character creation screens, prepare to spend an inordinate amount of time tweaking each of your multiplayer characters. (We're big fans of the stoner burn victim Max Payne look.) On top of that, you can upgrade your character with functional equipment like gas masks (to protect you from tear gas grenades) and balaclavas (to help remain undetected on the radar) that also appear on your character model in-game.
Then you've got the various custom loadout kits. You can design a handful of customized loadouts using different sidearm, primary weapon, and grenade options and then further tweak those with a series of attachments. That type of loadout creation is pretty standard stuff these days, but what makes this approach different is that each of those customization options affects your overall weight. There's very much a risk-reward element to arming yourself to the teeth: you can easily turn into a tank on the battlefield, but you'll run, leap, and roll with significantly less agility than players who bear less resemblance to a walking arms factory. With movement playing such a big role in Max Payne 3 multiplayer, that weight meter is definitely something you want to keep an eye on.
In fact, it's that focus on movement and agility that we like most about Max Payne 3's multiplayer offerings. The game always seems to give you a reason to run around doing silly, stylish things. This is a game where diving down a flight of stairs not only looks awesome, but can also be quite practical when it lets you slow down time and catch your enemy off guard. Even if you're not particularly good at the game, you're given a reason to avoid cowering behind cover thanks to a looting mechanic that lets you pilfer dead bodies for pain pills (medicine that gives you a second chance after death), ammo, or even adrenaline--the reward you'd get for having killed those players to begin with. Beyond that, there's also a vendetta system that allows you to put a mark on the head of someone who has been tormenting you so that you know exactly where to go to seek justice. There's always a reason to keep moving and exploring new corners of the map, resulting in a brisk pace awash in a distinctly chaotic sense of style.
There's plenty more to the multiplayer that we haven't covered here, including the various game modes and a unique approach to clans Rockstar is calling crews. But here's the bottom line: it works. Rockstar has managed to take what you enjoy about Max Payne's single-player exploits and translate that into a functional, enjoyable multiplayer experience. You may look like a lunatic diving through windows and looting corpses, but you'll be having an awfully fun time with your newfound lunacy.