Yes, it's six versus two, but it's still a fair fight. The aim of the game is to score highest - just as it is in deathmatch - but with a twist. If you kill Max or Pessos you become them, and enjoy all the benefits that brings. So the best tactic is to gun for either of these special characters, bring them down, and then rack up as many kills as possible while playing as them. When you're playing Payne Killer you quickly get the feeling that the gangsters are a pack of hunters, teaming up to bring down the bigger 'animals', while the pair playing as Max and Passos stick together to survive as long as possible.
After a couple of Payne Killer sessions, we move onto the meat of the multiplayer - Gang Wars. Here you're split into two teams, and you play out stories spun off the single player. So, at one point in the main story mode Max loses track of a suitcase full of ransom money. One Gang Wars scenario shows you how that might be spent. We say 'might', because Gang Wars - played over the course of five sessions - changes according to how you play. Say the first game is Turf Wars (essentially King of the Hill).
The team who wins that round, by grabbing the most time in the contested zone, will then have to defend their turf in the next round, while the opposition tries to bomb it. Essentially, the modes themselves tell a story. In between rounds there's a narrator explaining how each Gang War story is playing out. It's very smart, and even if you don't buy into the story, the changing of game modes after every round will at least keep you on your toes.
In keeping with such a strong narrative feel, the multiplayer has pleasingly deep character customisation. It's Rockstar's story, but you're still the star. You can create a custom avatar for each multiplayer gang, swapping things like clothes, faces, accessories and even jaunty hats. It is - however - impossible to make anything garish or ridiculous; Max Payne's character creator has a better sense of style than you do. Once the look is sorted, you tinker with load-out.
There are plenty of guns to equip (and dual-wield), along with items add all kinds of boosts (body armour, helmets, first-aid kits etc) but be warned - the more you carry, the slower your character moves and shoots. Do you want an agile load-out that lets you stay mobile, or a tank who soaks up damage and carries an RPG? The weight of your kit does reduce as you level up, allowing you to equip better kit for a smaller penalty.
We were seriously impressed by Max Payne 3's multiplayer. Far from a box-ticking exercise, it feels like a clever and enjoyable extension of the story. Sure, most will buy the game to see Max frown and slow-mo murder his way through South America, but once that story is told there will be plenty of new ones waiting to be created and enjoyed online...