Max Payne 3 IQ & Performance Preview & Reviewers Guide

HardOCP is on top of Max Payne 3 to find out what graphics options it supports and how a GTX 680 and a Radeon HD 7970 perform. We also wanted to know if SLI and CrossFireX worked, and how performance scales. In this preview of performance and image quality we take a look at all of this in the first chapter of this game.


Max Payne 3, the long awaited sequel in the Max Payne series was launched early this morning (June 1st, 2012) to PC gamers. Though it has been out on console for a few weeks, it is now time for PC gamers to have their way with this game. Thankfully, to our delight, this game has modern DX11 features to exploit current video card hardware on PCs.

Thanks to our pre-loaded Steam pre-purchase we were up and playing at the early hours of this morning. Without going into detail about the game's history and storyline, our goal today is to simply give you a preview of performance on the PC with a couple of popular video cards. This is just a preview of performance and image quality; we have planned a full look at this game across a broad array of video cards. We have to play the game all the way through to the end to find the best area to do performance run-throughs of true value. Until then, this preview today consists of running through the first chapter in the game.

We found a section in Chapter 1 that let us run-through with no interference of non-rendered cut-scenes. This game does have a lot of cut-scenes, and many of these are rendered in real-time, but there are others that have been pre-rendered. Our run-through is full of action and real-time rendered cut scenes. It takes place starting out at the apartment and ends up at the van in the parking lot. It is more of less the entire first Chapter of actual gameplay. There are potentially better chapters to do a run-through in, and we'll find those in the coming days.

Graphics Options

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Here is what we found out about the video settings in Max Payne 3. This game fully supports DX11 and DX11 features such as tessellation and HDAO (High Definition Ambient Occlusion). If you look at the first screenshot of the menu settings you will see that you can change the API in-game, which we love. You can select DX9, DX10, DX10.1 or DX11. This gives us a wide variety of graphics scenarios we could test and compare and allows this game to be run on a variety of hardware.

In DX11 mode you can turn on tessellation and HDAO. Tessellation is carried out via a technique called Phong Tessellation. HDAO is also supported which is a superior method to SSAO. You do have the option to lower the setting to SSAO, and if you are having any performance issues this is the first setting you should try to lower to gain performance back.

Other than that, there are texture quality settings, shader settings, shadow quality, reflection quality, and water quality. This game also supports FXAA and has several quality options all the way up to "Very High" FXAA. This game also supports MSAA, 2X, 4X, and 8X MSAA which can all be run alongside FXAA. There is an in-game Anisotropic filtering option which defaults to 4X, but you can turn it up to 16X which we recommend. Then you can select your Ambient Occlusion quality, HDAO being the best, and the tessellation level goes up to Very High quality. We will look at each of these settings in a more individualized way in the full article.

You will notice at the bottom of the video setting menu it shows your "Video Memory." It lists the total VRAM on the video card (to the right of the slash) and the required amount the game will take up with the settings selected (to the left of the slash). If you look in the second menu screenshot above we have selected 8X MSAA on the 3GB Radeon HD 7970 and you will see that with the highest settings plus 8X MSAA it exceeds the total VRAM of the video card. We found that in order to keep the VRAM in check at 8X MSAA, you'd have to lower either the Texture Quality, or go down to 4X MSAA which is within the limit. In the final video screenshot above we have the highest settings plus 8X MSAA selected on GeForce GTX 680 SLI. The total reported VRAM is a bit misleading though since you don't receive the combined VRAM of two video cards. Rather, you only have the VRAM limit of one GPU, since frames have to be replicated per framebuffer. So, you don't actually get 4GB of space with dual GPU configurations to work with. Therefore, it’s reporting of total VRAM in SLI or CFX is going to be not accurate. Look how much VRAM the game wants to use, 6GB at those settings! This revelation about memory capacity in the game indicates this may be a good game to test VRAM limits, which may be hit easily in NV Surround and Eyefinity resolutions.

For all of our apples-to-apples testing today we are going to use the highest in-game settings possible but with very high FXAA, no MSAA. So HDAO is on and tessellation is on very high with very high texture quality.

More info on the graphics goodness

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NVIDIA sent along its review guide for Max Payne 3 which includes a bit more information about some of the 3D features. This gives you an overview of Phong Tessellation and FXAA in the game. So far in our experiences NVIDIA isn't exaggerating in regards to the Phong Tessellation image quality, especially when it comes to faces. Up close, these are some of the best faces we've seen in a PC game to date.

Testing Procedure and Drivers

As we mentioned above, we are simply doing a run-through in the first chapter of the game. We are using GeForce GTX 680 and SLI and AMD Radeon HD 7970 and CrossFireX. We are using apples-to-apples settings at the highest settings in the game at 2560x1600 with FXAA.

NVIDIA Drivers - On May 22nd, NVIDIA released ForceWare 301.42 WHQL. This is the driver you should be using for Max Payne 3 on NVIDIA GPUs. This driver fully supports SLI in this game.

AMD Drivers - When it comes to AMD drivers, it is a bit more complicated. The important component about performance in single GPU AND multi-GPU with AMD hardware in Max Payne 3 is the latest Catalyst Application Profile (CAP). Yes indeed, the latest CAP DOES improve performance in this game even on single GPUs. This is one of the rare cases in which a CAP also improves single-GPU performance along with multi-GPU CrossFireX performance.

Right now the latest CAP that you should have installed (even if running a single-GPU) is 12.6 CAP Beta 1.

Now as for the actual driver itself, it is OK if you have Catalyst 12.4 WHQL installed. The important part here is that you have 12.6 CAP Beta 1 installed.

Alternatively to Catalyst 12.4 WHQL, if you are daring, you can run instead the recently released Catalyst 12.6 Beta driver. BUT, even if you have this 12.6 Beta driver installed you still need to install the 12.6 CAP Beta 1, or else your Max Payne 3 experience will be rather sad. In the tests we ran for this preview article, we used 12.4 WHQL and 12.6 CAP Beta 1.

Overall, it is simpler setting up NVIDIA GPUs, single or SLI to run in Max Payne 3; one driver to install, no fuss.

Our test system setup is the same 2600K @ 4.8GHz system we've been using in all recent SLI/CFX evaluations.