The original Max Payne introduced the concept of bullet time to players, forever setting a new standard for “cinematic cool” in video games. But it was strictly a single-player mechanic, and for good reason — how do you slow down time in a multiplayer match in a way that works to one player’s advantage?
Eleven years later, Max Payne 3 has finally figured it out.
First there was Max Payne, and its sequel, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. They were created by Remedy Entertainment, a developer operating out of Finland. Both games created an experience for video gamers to enjoy that was based as much on storytelling mechanics as it was on gameplay. Nothing about the games seamlessly melded those two aspects better than bullet time.
Triggering bullet time allowed players to slow down the action around them while Max continued to move at his normal speed. It offered not only a profound advantage over multiple enemies, but a wicked cool film-like effect as well, letting you jump, dive, and dodge bullets while shooting. Other games soon mimicked bullet time, including some titles inspired by movies that first introduced the world to the bullet time concept to begin with. Games like Enter the Matrix and The Matrix: Path of Neo, based on the wildly popular movie franchise starring Keanu Reeves, and Stranglehold, a game by legendary director John Woo, which he crafted as a sequel to his film Hard Boiled. It even starred the likeness and voice of movie star Chow Yun-fat.
By the time Rockstar Games picked up the Max Payne mantle and decided to create a (long overdue) third game, bullet time had been done to death, and nothing new had been brought to the concept since it was introduced. Some have even said that as much fun as it would be to have bullet time in multiplayer games, there was just no good way to do it. Bullet time slows time, but only for the player who triggers it; how do you bring a mechanic that requires a solo player into a multiplayer game?
Aside from a number of other innovations in things like character animation fluidity, Rockstar finally found a way to do multiplayer, too. Their solution is as elegant as it is smart, and it even brings a wholly unexpected new strategic aspect to all that gunplay.
Rockstar has put bullet time in multiplayer by limiting it to line-of-sight. So if you’re shooting it out against a huge level packed with foes, you can still trigger bullet time at any moment, but only other players who are in your character’s direct line-of-sight are affected by it. It’s a clever twist, because it lets the game continue without having to slow down the action for every single player.
It also provides a surprising tactical advantage. Say you’re climbing a flight of stairs when a player at the bottom — behind you — triggers bullet time. You won’t have time to find cover, or possibly even spin and return fire, before the other player mows you down. Suddenly being out in the open, away from any kind of cover, is a bigger risk than it’s ever been — and smart use of bullet time becomes the life-or-death weapon in your arsenal.
On the other hand, if you’re caught in another player’s bullet time and you can get to cover, breaking their line-of-sight on you will jump you out of bullet time. This can make for some delicious turnabout if you can hide long enough for them to exit bullet time and then enter your line-of-sight.
I’m still not sold on Max Payne 3‘s sun-soaked Brazilian setting; Max has always been a noir franchise, which belongs in the dead of night. But the more I see of the incredible level of thought and polish and attention to detail that Rockstar is bringing to the franchise, the more excited I get. The gameplay vids show that Max is still Max, but Rockstar is adding its trademark “urban crime” sensibilities to the mix.
It might just be a match made in heaven.