Max Payne 3 sees Rockstar Games develop the latest instalment in the action-packed series, once overseen by Alan Wake developer Remedy Games. It introduces multiplayer for the first time, and thanks to some clever modes and implementation of Bullet Time, looks to be a winner.
Like any multiplayer title worth its salt, Max Payne 3 offers a full experience and ranking system, and plenty of opportunities to customise both looks and weapons. Players can also give themselves different Burst abilities, such as limited boosts to ammo and making them blend in as enemy team mates, but the most tantalising is Bullet Time.
Bullet Time - now in real time
Max Payne has always been best known for its central mechanic, Bullet Time, which sees time slowed to a crawl, allowing for stylish, John Woo-inspired sideways leaps that also offer deadly accuracy. As with many slow-down mechanics in games, developers have struggled to work them into an online context due to their wider implications to other players.
Not only has Rockstar managed it to do it, but they've done it in a smart way. Bullet Time works through line-of-sight; if a player aims at another and activates the ability, both players slow down. But if they look at other players during that spell they'd be slowed down, too, meaning others witnessing the effect also become part of the action.
It means that there is no jarring effect of seeing some players moving slowly while others aren't, and also means that if you are caught on the receiving end, a quick dive out of the way will see time sped up again, and you're out of danger.
It appears balanced, though, meaning players who happen upon the scene can take advantage and dispatch others with ease, and the fact that it (and other Bursts) are governed by a gauge means it has to be used sparingly.
Gang Wars - Neatly weaving story with multiplayer
As well as standard offerings like Team Deathmatch are some modes of its own, including the excellent Gang Wars, which combines story elements with a series of back-to-back multiplayer matches
It sees teams pitted against each other based on certain plot threads from the campaign, such as a suitcase of ransom money intended for a rescue attempt. The outcomes of five matches will change depending on the winner, telling a loose story on how the gang succeeds.
For example, players must control gang territory by capturing points across a map in one round, with the victor having to then defend their area against a bomb being planted on their turf the next. Performance on both sides also can help give you an advantage at the end; the final match, Showdown, gives each team a limited number of respawns, with more provided if you won earlier matches.
It's this reactive nature that makes winning and losing each stage more engaging than usual, and on a practical level it's similar to Killzone's multiplayer, giving players a diverse series of matches one after another without the hassle of having to rejoin a lobby.
Payne Killer - Max and his partner try to survive
Also shown was Payne Killer, a co-op mode that's a mix between Halo's Oddball and Horde. Two players will become Max and his partner Passos, who both must stay alive as long as possible against attacks from other players.
The longer they stay alive - and more importantly, the more enemies they kill - nets them more points. If downed, then the killer will become Max or Passos, seeing the partnership dynamic continuously change as both players try to work with their new partner to stay alive.
Payne Killer offers that feeling of survival against overwhelming odds, but unlike Oddball, having a partner on your back and having the use of normal weaponry gives you the chance to defend yourself properly, making it more co-operative and skill-based than simply knowing the right places to hide within the map.
While Rockstar has fully embraced multiplayer in its games this console generation with open world titles such as Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption, it's the first time they've had to approach online play for a more traditional third-person shooter.
But thanks to a number of cleverly-implemented ideas, particularly with Bullet Time and Gang Wars, and some sharp, satisfying shooting mechanics, Max Payne 3's multiplayer is absolutely one to watch.
> Read our single-player preview of Max Payne 3
Max Payne 3 will be released in North America on May 15 and Europe on May 18 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and then on June 1 for PC.