Introduction & Graphics Breakdown

It’s been nine long years since the perpetually-troubled, eponymous Max Payne last graced our screens. But now he’s back, courtesy of superstar developer Rockstar Games, and just like Remedy’s original releases, Max Payne 3 pushes PC technology... to the max. So, what kind of system will you require to get the most from the eagerly anticipated third-person shooter? We’re glad you asked, because Rockstar has gone into great detail about the game’s PC-specific enhancements, and we’ve benchmarked them at length to show you precisely how the game will run on your GeForce graphics card. We also explore CPU sensitivity for the first time on, provide recommend optimal playable settings for our GPU lineup, and offer our general game impressions, too.

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Watch the Max Payne 3 NVIDIA PC Launch Trailer.

Max Payne 3 Official PC Trailer

When details were first released regarding the game’s system requirements, folks were taken aback by the need for 35GB of hard drive space, an insignificant amount in the era of 2TB hard drives but more than almost any other game. The reason, Rockstar explains, is because Max Payne 3’s PC textures are four times the resolution of those on consoles:

"We had always stated that our goal with Max Payne 3 on PC was to have a game that runs beautifully out of the box on day one across a wide range of machines. To achieve this goal we developed the PC version in parallel with the consoles instead of a direct port. The PC is the only platform where you can really max out the high end if you want to, and we wanted Max Payne 3 on PC to have the potential to look beautiful on the highest possible resolutions on the biggest monitors available - so while we can still scale performance down to suit even reasonably low-end rigs, every asset is available at the highest resolution possible, from audio to video to textures."

"The installed size of Max Payne 3 is attributed to the no-compromise quality of its assets which have already pushed console disc space to the limits. A good portion of the extra space on PC can be attributed to increased texture size which is four times that of the consoles. In addition, the audio quality is significantly higher than the consoles due to lower compression rates which increase fidelity. Again, this comes back to the range of possibilities that the PC platform opens up for us."

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In addition to high-resolution, high-quality assets, Rockstar Games has developed numerous PC-exclusive enhancements, resulting in “substantially better visual quality”. Specifically:

  • Screen resolution is scalable, limited only by the player's machine.
  • Triple-monitor support enables Surround gaming.
  • Multisample 2x, 4x and 8x Anti-Aliasing (MSAA), and NVIDIA FXAA increase fidelity (Alpha Transparent Coverage Mask fidelity increases with higher MSAA levels).
  • Scalable reflections with optional MSAA anti-aliasing result in realistic, sharp reflections.
  • Scalable water enables reflective, realistic puddles and bodies of water at higher settings.
  • Scalable shadows take advantage of DirectX 10 and 11 shadow filters on high-end machines to enable softer, more realistic shadowing.
  • Improved Screen Space Ambient Occlusion with optional High Definition Ambient Occlusion further increases the quality and accuracy of shadowing.
  • Increased detail on both characters and vehicles increases the quality of the game’s visuals and makes use of the extra VRAM of PC graphics cards. Furthermore, optional DirectX 11 Tessellation adds curvature to character and vehicle models, making them appear more realistic and less angular.
  • Scalable texture filter allows users to enable up to 16x Anisotropic Filtering to increase visual fidelity.

Max Payne 3 includes native NVIDIA Surround support, giving triple-screen gamers a fantastic experience. 3D Vision and 3D Vision Surround support is currently scheduled for a future game update.

On their own, the above enhancements more than justify Rockstar’s claim that Max Payne 3 isn’t a simple conversion, and with the addition of optional DirectX 11 enhancements, detailed below, it’s clear to see that Max’s PC development was done in parallel to that of the console versions, and not as an afterthought.

  • Compute Shaders: Accurate High Definition Ambient Occlusion and Blur.
  • Hull, Tessellation, and Domain Shaders: Adding curvature to the character and vehicle models.
  • DirectX 11 asynchronous resource creation results in faster performance compared to DirectX 10 renderer.
  • DirectX 11 'self-managed resources' provide system memory savings.
  • Alpha Transparency Coverage Masks: When MSAA Anti-Aliasing is enabled, ATCMs improve the look of semi-transparent objects.
  • Gather4: Optimized Shadow Sampling and enhanced FXAA Anti-Aliasing.
  • Geometry Shader & Stream Output: Bokeh depth of field effects.
  • Multisample Anti-Aliasing color and depth sub-pixel sampling, to further increase the quality of MSAA anti-aliasing.
  • DirectX 11 texture samplers.

Rockstar leverages the power of DirectX 11 graphics cards to add curvature to vehicle and character models, as seen on Max’s ear, collar, and suit in this side-by-side comparison screenshot.

To simplify matters for the mass market the majority of the game’s advanced effects and DirectX 11 enhancements are enabled and disabled by the generalized, understandable detail options in the game’s menu, making them extremely difficult to individually highlight. If you look through this article, however, you’ll see many Rockstar-made PC screenshots, each taken using the game’s maximum settings.

All in all there are dozens of enhancements designed to leverage the full power of your PC, and on the next page we benchmark the game to reveal the performance you can expect on various GeForce graphics cards.

GPU & CPU Performance Examined

Baseline Performance & MSAA Anti-Aliasing Performance Measured

To answer the original question, “what kind of system will you require to get the most from Max Payne 3?”, we used a vertical slice of graphically intensive Max Payne 3 action to test the performance of our new 600-Series GeForce GTX GPUs, and last generation’s 500-Series GeForce GTX GPUs. All in-game options were set to their maximum value, and the resolution was locked at 1920x1080. The 8800 GT, a mainstay of our benchmarks, was also tested, but has been omitted from our charts as its lack of DirectX 11 support prevented us from running a truly comparative test. Using 'Normal' DirectX 9 detail settings, the venerable and still-popular card was only capable of 25.7 frames per second without anti-aliasing at the same 1920x1080 resolution.

The many options available in Max Payne 3's graphics menu.

The performance chart below shows the performance of our 500 and 600 Series GPUs, without anti-aliasing and with Max Payne 3’s DirectX 11-enhanced Multisample Anti-Aliasing (MSAA):

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Without Rockstar’s advanced MSAA anti-aliasing, the special edition GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 Core GPU is the first card to push past 60 frames per second, closely followed by the GTX 570. At the top-end the GTX 670 and GTX 680 pass by the 100 frames per second goal post, and the ultra-desirable dual-GPU GTX 690 breezes past 120 frames per second. At the low end, the GTX 550 Ti puts in a decent effort with a result of 34.4 frames per second, but given the intensity of the game and system-to-system variance slightly lower quality settings are recommended to maintain a consistently smooth experience. As such, the GTX 560 is the first card to provide a truly playable experience using max settings, but how does the situation stack up with MSAA enabled?

Referring once more to the chart, we can see that Max Payne 3’s DirectX 11-enhanced MSAA Anti-Aliasing has a significant impact on frame rates, pushing the GTX 550 Ti, GTX 560 and GTX 560 Ti below a playable 30 frames per second. With a result of 35.8 frames per second, the 448 Core GTX 560 Ti was the first card to give us a smooth experience, closely followed by the GTX 570.

From the GTX 550 Ti to the GTX 680, performance decreased by between 43% and 54% when enabling 4xMSAA, but on the dual-GPU GTX 690 we recorded a far lower 28% reduction, suggesting that the MSAA calculations are efficiently offloaded to the second on-board GPU. This allowed the GTX 690 to reach an enviable 91.3 frames per second, 41 frames per second faster than the GTX 680. Furthermore, this extra performance makes the GTX 690 the only card capable of using 8xMSAA in conjunction with every other maxed out setting.

An Alternative Anti-Aliasing Method: FXAA

Max Payne 3 also includes an alternative low-cost, performance-light anti-aliasing method. Called FXAA, this anti-aliasing technique works at the shader level and produces smooth edges without consuming extra memory. The quality of this technique is close to that of MSAA, and due to its developer-level implementation, the use of the latest version of FXAA, the game’s high-speed action, and the game’s many visual effects, texture blurring (a side-effect of post-process anti-aliasing) is nigh on impossible to detect during gameplay.

Using our nifty, interactive screenshot comparison tool below, the impact of anti-aliasing is clear to see when compared to the same exact scene rendered with and without FXAA anti-aliasing, and again when rendered with and without MSAA anti-aliasing.

Click to view a full size interactive comparison comparing 'No Anti-Aliasing' and 'FXAA Anti-Aliasing'.

Click to view a full size interactive comparison comparing 'No Anti-Aliasing' and '4xMSAA Anti-Aliasing'.

Click to view a full size interactive comparison comparing 'FXAA Anti-Aliasing' and '4xMSAA Anti-Aliasing'.

With a performance impact of just 1.7% compared to 4xMSAA’s 43% to 54%, measured using the same test setup as earlier, FXAA is the recommended option for GTX 550 Ti, GTX 560, and GTX 560 Ti users who wish to continue using the highest detail settings, but also remove jagged, distracting edges and other aliasing artifacts without sacrificing performance.

CPU Sensitivity

You may have noticed, both in this piece and previous pieces that we use top end CPUs in benchmarks to expose the full potential of our GPUs, ensuring that our graphics cards are in no way bottlenecked or limited by the rest of the system. However, we’re frequently asked by gamers to provide performance data for systems with CPUs that cost a little less than a thousand dollars. So we've done just that below, revealing how Max Payne 3 performs on a GTX 680, using the same settings as earlier, on four very different Intel CPUs.

The first CPU we examined was the Q6600, a five-year old Quad Core chip rated at 2.4GHz. As shown on the chart above, frame rates plummeted by 45.77% compared to our top-end 3.3GHz i7-3960X result. Referring to our 'no anti-aliasing' results from our previous performance chart, created using the same thousand dollar i7-3960X CPU, this significant performance hit would push the GTX 550 Ti and GTX 560 below 30 frames per second, and would put the GTX 560 Ti on the borderline of playability.

The second CPU on tap was the 3.1GHz i3-2100, an entry-level $120 Sandy Bridge Dual Core CPU released last year. Compared to the i7-3960X, performance was reduced by just 14.1%, pushing only the GTX 550 Ti below 30 frames per second. This is especially impressive given the official system requirements listing a 3GHz Dual Core CPU as only being suitable for ‘low detail’ game settings. Clearly, they instead refer to older Dual Core chips released around the time of the aforementioned Q6600, but it just goes to show, generalized system requirements can never accurately portray performance. Instead, users should reference our Optimal Playable Settings tool and refer to articles such as this and our renowned tweak guides.

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And finally, we ran Intel’s flagship 3.5GHz i7-3770K Ivy Bridge CPU through the ringer. Released late April at a cost of $350, the chip is a bargain, comparatively speaking, given that its performance in Max Payne 3 was only 1.14% lower than that of the $1000 i7-3960X.

A 14% performance reduction from a chip $880 cheaper, 2 cores lighter, 400MHz slower, and 9 months older suggests to us that Max Payne 3 is GPU limited, meaning performance is determined more by the graphics card than the CPU. If it were the reverse we would see a significant performance differentiation between the entry level Sandy Bridge i3-2100 and the top-end i7-3960X. The performance noted on the Q6600, meanwhile, can be attributed to its older design, slower supporting technology, and slower stock clock speed, though even with a 700MHz speed bump we doubt the gap would close to any noticeable degree.

Given our findings we would therefore recommend the i3-2100 or a comparable chip as the minimum recommended CPU for Max Payne 3 players with mid-range, previous-generation NVIDIA 500-Series GPUs. More expensive processors offer diminishing returns that are hard to justify in this context, but you should of course look at the whole picture and factor in whether you’ll be video editing or playing CPU-bound games like Civilization V.

Optimal Playable Settings

Bringing together our various results, findings and discoveries, we conclude our performance analysis with the recommended optimal playable settings for the GPUs tested in this Max Payne 3 deep dive. Each recommendation is designed to ensure a playable frame rate with that bit extra spare for the game’s most intensive moments, but as with anything on the PC extra user configuration will be required to tailor the experience to a specific system. For further assistance in this regard stay tuned for our comprehensive Max Payne 3 Tweak Guide, which will examine each and every game setting and show you how to get the absolute best balance between visual fidelity and consistently smooth performance.

GPU Resolution DirectX Version Detail Level Anti-Aliasing
8800 GT 1920x1080 DX9 Low FXAA
GTX 550 Ti 1920x1080 DX11 High FXAA
GTX 560 1920x1080 DX11 Maximum FXAA
GTX 560 Ti 1920x1080 DX11 Maximum 2xMSAA
GTX 560 Ti 448 Core 1920x1080 DX11 Maximum 2xMSAA
GTX 570 1920x1080 DX11 Maximum 2xMSAA
GTX 580 1920x1080 DX11 Maximum 4xMSAA
GTX 670 1920x1080 DX11 Maximum 4xMSAA
GTX 680 1920x1080 DX11 Maximum 4xMSAA
GTX 690 1920x1080 DX11 Maximum 8xMSAA
GTX 690 5760x1080 DX11 Maximum FXAA

PC Gameplay Impressions

Having played Max Payne 3 from start to finish several times over, we can confidently say that it is a great threequel, and a great game in its own right. On the PC, the action flows smoothly and mouse control allows players to slow motion dive through plate-glass windows whilst effortlessly headshotting six goons, the final kill triggering a bullet cam that tracks the ordinance from Max’s guns to the target’s soon-to-be-destroyed noggin. These ‘Max Payne Moments’ come thick and fast, both from pre-scripted setups and your own emergent gameplay moments in wide-open offices and strobe-filled nightclubs, which drown out the unmistakable sound of gunfire with their ‘banging techno music’.

From start to finish Rockstar maintains immersion by switching seamlessly between pre-recorded cutscenes and the real deal to disguise the game’s loading screens, before swooping down in a single motion to hand the keys back to the player, typically as the action kicks off, as is Max’s luck. Filters and effects betray Max’s emotions, the screen tinged with red when angered or hurt, and blurred as his drink and drug-addled brain struggles to process the latest catastrophe to encroach on his dream of a quiet, peaceful life.

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Jumping from past to present, Rockstar bridges the gap between the conclusion of Max Payne 2, and the titular character’s current predicament, often with the assistance of Max’s own biting internal monologue, full of dark humor, self-deprecation, and self-loathing. Key words and sentences flash on screen, recalling Man on Fire’s unique cinematic stylings, which are further enhanced by Rockstar’s refusal to subtitle foreign-language dialogue, leaving both the player and Max in the dark, wondering whether the latest suspicious character is plotting his demise or merely commenting on the weather.

Once completed, Max Payne 3’s engrossing campaign can be replayed to unlock hardcore, ‘one-shot and you’re dead’ modes; to unlock gameplay modifiers such as infinite ammo; to discover clues previously missed that provide further details about the situation and cast of shady characters; and to unlock optional ‘Golden Gun’ weapon skins. Also on tap are two further modes that radically shake up the single-player formula, putting players to the test against the clock and their own combo-chaining abilities, the times and scores shared with friends and the online worldwide populace.

And last, but certainly not least, there’s a fully-fledged online multiplayer mode starring deathmatch, team deathmatch, and team objective modes. Kills, kill streaks, wins, losses, and slow-mo action add to the player’s XP count, unlocking new classes, weapons, skills, modifiers, skins, cosmetic addons, and a whole lot more. By replacing AI with living, breathing humans, the Max Payne gameplay takes on a new life, rewarding sharp aims and unexpected slow-mo actions reminiscent of a bullet ballet.

To say that we’re impressed with Max Payne 3 is an understatement. Rockstar’s long-awaited follow-up does exactly what the numbered title suggests – it sticks to and improves upon the formula Remedy created all those years ago after pining for a videogame equivalent of The Matrix’s incredible bullet-time action. If you loved the originals you’ll love Max Payne 3, and with the numerous new single-player modes and the addition of multiplayer, the level of replayability is higher than ever before.

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Graphically, Max Payne 3 eschews the hyper-reality, bright, bold visuals of its peers for a far grittier, realistic look that apes the real world far more than any other game. Lighting and shader effects are grounded in reality, and though Max may shoot a few grenades and RPGs out of the air, Rockstar otherwise creates a believable, immersive world that comes closer to breaking the fourth wall than any future-generation technology demo seen to date. As touched upon, the removal of loading screens plays a major part in the immersion, though massive credit must also be given to the Euphoria NaturalMotion animation system that not only builds upon the procedurally generated animations of Grand Theft Auto IV, but also revolutionizes third-person shooter movement and action.


Rockstar has lavished love upon the PC version of Max Payne 3, sparing no expense to bring gamers a highly polished, supremely optimized version of their hit game that features an additional two dozen PC-exclusive graphical enhancements, super high quality audio, and textures four times the resolution of those seen on consoles. Add in native NVIDIA Surround support and the upcoming addition of 3D Vision and 3D Vision Surround support, and you’ve got yourself a true flagship PC game that pushes GPUs to the limit.

As our benchmarks show you’ll require a GTX 580 at minimum to max out every single setting and enable Rockstar’s particularly impressive, if demanding, DirectX 11-enhanced 4xMSAA anti-aliasing. At this level, the GTX 670 represents excellent value, featuring our latest technology and performance only a smidge behind the flagship GTX 680. For those on tighter budgets, the GTX 560 and GTX 560 Ti are great options, giving players a maximum quality, FXAA-anti aliased experience when paired with a similarly priced CPU.

Surround users wanting the best possible visual fidelity should look to the top-end GTX 690 or GTX 680s in SLI, and 3D Vision Surround users... well, they might want to raid the piggy bank, because we theorize that a three-way SLI GTX 680 or a Quad-SLI GTX 690 setup will be necessary for the absolute best experience. You could turn down the graphics settings, but what self-respecting PC gamer does that?!

Will you be getting Max Payne 3? How are you getting your PC in shape for the game? Let us know in the comments.