The lights are on
Rockstar has done it! The famed developer has made bullet time work in multiplayer and achieved it with such subtle genius, it feels completely organic to the experience, retaining its functionality and its cool. It's the standout technical feature of Max's robust multiplayer mode, but it's not the only innovative idea set to make it a popular destination.
Bullet time functions much as it does in the single player game. You build up your adrenalin by filling foes with lead, then tap a button to slow everything to a snail's pace. When you activate bullet time, any player in your line of sight also slows, albeit inhibited more than the activator in their ability to move and shoot. In addition, any players in the line of sight of the affected individuals also go into bullet time. As a result, their goal is to get out of line of sight as quick as possible, breaking the spell.
Rather than a confusing stop-start mess, in our two hours playing the game, bullet time only seemed to occur during the climatic closing stages of a one-on-one duel, simply accentuating your focus on that moment. And when you were affected well out of range of the fight, you tended to move out of line of sight and into full stride quickly. On paper, it's an easy system to doubt, but I can assure you it worked in our eight-player battles wonderfully, never acting to unbalance the rest of the uninhibited playing space. I'm curious, however, to see what happens when there are a full 16 players running around.
Two other features also caught my eye. You can loot corpses, just like in an RPG: a process that makes your character crouch for a precious second, leaving you vulnerable to attack. The reward can be extra bullets, cash, painkillers, and adrenaline. Also intriguing is the system whereby loading up your character with gear and guns penalizes your speed, stamina, and health regeneration rate. So you can't be blasé about loadouts; they must be finely tuned to accentuate your strategy for a particular game mode. There's a phenomenal amount of customization options, too. A host of single handed, dual-wielding, double-handed, and projectile weapons can be selected, each affecting the health/stamina/speed relationship in their own way. Additionally, there are various types of protective clothing and gear (such as a Walkie Talkie that maps the positions of enemies spotted by teammates) to equip, and brilliantly conceived power-ups called bursts.
Bursts are short time buffs and modifiers that spend adrenaline when activated and include great ideas like; "your team doesn't consume ammo for 10 seconds," "enemies lose all their weapon attachments" and "your name appears as a friendly to enemies for 10 seconds." There are stacks of these, which are unlocked using the cash earned in-game.
When you take these foundations and put them against the game modes on offer, the bigger picture begins to reveal itself. In one game type, players need to grab a bag of loot and take it to a drop off point. In another, one team plants a bomb that the other must deactivate. Yet another, called Payne Killer, sees the first killer become Max and the first victim becomes Passos, his partner. Each gets buffs to health and weapons, and must stay alive for as long as possible.
Then there's Gang Wars, the marquee event, which throws Crews through five random modes in succession, accruing points in each to establish an overall winner. This mode has a story that branches depending on results, too. Combining such objectives with the bursts and customization system opens up a staggering amount of tactical depth for dedicated Crews to explore. It reminded me of raiding dungeons in an MMO, where you loadout a few tanks to draw enemy attention, while a light, fleet-footed, health-buffed soldier goes in for the objective, all while bullet time-tiered snipers seek threats amongst the cluttered levels.
The maps I played were fantastic, too. They mixed plenty of verticality with equal parts claustrophobic indoor sections and long expanses loaded with cover points and debris that can jump you out of a Bullet Time trap. They're filled with interesting nooks and crannies to discover, and climbing allows you to get to most areas. Thankfully, I never found a single weapon that could unbalance a map.
While I could see that potential, my time with the mode was too short to engage in any meaningful experimentation. However, even casual players will enjoy the playful vibe, reminiscent of both Red Dead Redemption and GTA IV. The Euphoria-powered, animation-heavy movements and 360-degree combat system certainly do take some getting used to (especially if you have just jumped out of CoD), but once you get it, your reward is pure entertainment. Assuming the bugs I saw are squished ahead of its release and that the lack of a public beta doesn't bite early adopters with balancing issues, Max's multiplayer will be loved.
Chris Stead is the Editor in Chief of Game Informer Australia. This article was originally published in issue 29 of Game Informer Australia.
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