Max Payne 3 Tweak Guide

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General Optimization

Max Payne 3 Tweak Guide, by Koroush Ghazi

For Max Payne, the tragedies that took his loved ones years ago are wounds that refuse to heal. No longer a cop, close to washed up and addicted to pain killers, Max takes a job in São Paulo, Brazil, protecting the family of wealthy real estate mogul Rodrigo Branco, in an effort to finally escape his troubled past. But as events spiral out of his control, Max Payne finds himself alone on the streets of an unfamiliar city, desperately searching for the truth and fighting for a way out. Featuring cutting edge shooting mechanics for precision gunplay, advanced new Bullet Time and Shootdodge effects, full integration of Natural Motion's Euphoria Character Behavior system for lifelike movement and a dark and twisted story, Max Payne 3 is a seamless, highly detailed, cinematic experience from Rockstar Games.

In addition to an expansive single-player campaign, Max Payne 3 will also be the first entry in the series to introduce a thorough and engrossing multiplayer experience. Max Payne 3 multiplayer brings the same cinematic feel, fluid gunplay and sense of movement of the single-player game into the realm of online multiplayer. Using the fiction and signature gameplay elements of the Max Payne universe, Max Payne 3 features a wide range of new and traditional multiplayer modes that play on the themes of paranoia, betrayal and heroism, all delivered with the same epic visual style of the single player game.

Before proceeding further, make sure you meet the game's minimum requirements as provided below, with the recommended requirements in brackets:

  • Processor: 2.4 GHz dual core CPU (2.8 GHz Quad Core)
  • Memory: 2GB (3GB) RAM
  • Hard Drive: At least 35GB of free space
  • Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GT 512MB (NVIDIA GeForce GTX 480 1GB or better)
  • Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c compatible (Dolby Digital Live support)
  • OS: Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista SP2 or Windows 7 SP1

What follows are full descriptions for all of the settings available in the various Max Payne 3 options menus. Screenshot comparisons are provided where relevant to highlight the impact on image quality of changing these settings. Performance information is also provided for every setting, although bear in mind that the precise impact on your system depends on your specific hardware combination and your other game and system-wide settings. The aim here is to give you enough information so that you can make an informed choice as to the settings you enable or disable to obtain a balance of visual quality and performance acceptable to you.

General System Optimization

Almost as important as any in-game setting is the way your Windows installation is configured. A great many problems and performance issues, especially stuttering, crashes and slowdowns, can be traced directly to sub-optimal settings in Windows and out-of-date or badly configured drivers. Go through our Stable Gaming Guide to get your PC in the best shape. At the very least make sure to update your Graphics Drivers to the latest available version.

Performance Measurement

To successfully conduct any tweaking, you will need some way of objectively measuring your performance in Frames Per Second (FPS). The easiest way to do this is to use the free FRAPS utility. Download, install and launch FRAPS before starting up Max Payne 3. You will now see a yellow FPS counter displayed in the corner of your screen. Pay attention to your FPS during the game, particularly during graphically intense scenes, such as combat. If your FPS dips to a very low level at any point, or is constantly spiking, then this is a good indication that you need to adjust various settings, whether to raise your minimum FPS to at least around 25-30 FPS, or simply to stabilize your framerate to prevent stuttering.

General Settings

Before covering the various graphics-related settings that have the most significant impact on performance and image quality, this section examines the other options menus. To access the in-game settings, launch Max Payne 3 and select the Settings item under the Main Menu. The Graphics options are covered on the next few pages, but first we examine the general Gameplay, Controls, Display and Audio-related settings in detail.

Gameplay

Difficulty: This setting is available when you choose to begin a New Story, or when you pause during a game by pressing ESC and going to Gameplay under Settings (you can adjust difficulty at any time during the game). The available options at the start are Easy, Medium and Hard. By completing the game on Hard you will unlock two additional difficulty levels: Hardcore and Old School. The key differences in difficulty are:

  • Easy: Increased health and Bullet Time rewards.
  • Medium: Moderate health and Bullet Time rewards.
  • Hard: Low health and Bullet Time rewards.
  • Hardcore: Minimal health and Bullet Time rewards.
  • Old School: The Last Man Standing feature is disabled.

Furthermore, at Easy or Medium, a dynamic difficulty feature is in effect, providing you with additional painkillers to help you pass points in the game where you die repeatedly. You will also restart a checkpoint with at least one full magazine of ammunition in each gun. Hard difficulty also has dynamic difficulty, but it is much less beneficial. If you die 5 times you will get a bonus painkiller, and if you die 10 times you will get one more, but only up to the maximum capacity of 2 painkillers at any one time.

Gamepad Targeting: If you are using a gamepad in Max Payne 3, this setting will have an impact on how you aim, and hence the overall difficulty of combat. The available options are explained below:

  • Hard Lock: When aiming, your reticle will be strongly guided to focus on enemies.
  • Soft Lock: When aiming, your reticle will be lightly guided towards enemies.
  • Free Aim: Aiming assistance is turned off.

Reticles: This setting controls the targeting reticle (crosshair) which displays in the center of the screen. The available options are Default, which displays a small white dot that turns red when placed over a valid target; Always White which shows a dot that always stays white and does not turn red when placed over a target; and Weapon Specific, which changes the reticle to different shapes, such as a crosshair or circle, and different sizes depending on the bullet spread/blast radius of your particular weapon.

Kill Indicator: If set to On, whenever a shot actually kills an enemy, a small 'x' will briefly be shown in place of your reticle. This allows you to be sure that the enemy is dead, and not just temporarily down. If you want to disable this feature, set it to Off.

Target Tracking: This feature will assist in tracking moving enemies when aiming at them. Set it to Off if you want to disable this form of aiming assistance.

Outline Pickups: If set to On, a bright outline will be shown around weapon pickups, making them easier to see, especially when weapons are scattered around corpses and debris on the ground.

Target Slowdown: If set to On, your mouse movements will slow down whenever your reticle nears a target. This can help improve precision, but it can also give an unpredictable and inconsistent feel to mouse input during combat. If you don't want any aiming assistance, or simply don't like the non-linear input response that this option provides, then set it to Off.

Golden Gun Effects: Golden Guns can be found in pieces as pickups throughout the game. Once you complete all the pieces of a particular golden gun, the gun will be automatically skinned with a reflective golden design in single-player, and be available as an optional extra in the multiplayer weapon customization screen. If this option is set to Off, the golden color of the gun is removed during the campaign and other single-player modes.

Controls

Under the Controls section, you can configure your Gamepad, Keyboard or Mouse controls. Most settings are self-explanatory, but below are some details regarding the Mouse configuration options:

Horizontal Aiming Speed, Vertical Aiming Speed: These sliders control the level of responsiveness of the mouse to movements along the horizontal (side to side) and vertical (up and down) axes respectively. This has a significant impact on your aiming and hence your degree of success in killing enemies, particularly during Bullet Time. Make sure you also check the Target Slowdown and Target Tracking settings covered further above, as they have an impact on mouse responsiveness during combat. Furthermore, check the VSync setting in the graphics section of this guide, as enabling VSync at any time (including Adaptive VSync) can introduce some control lag, which once again affects the level of mouse responsiveness.

Mouse Acceleration: Added as of the second patch, this option when set to Off forces Max Payne 3 to disable all mouse acceleration. Mouse acceleration can result in non-linear responses to mouse movements, typically increasing the distance the mouse moves for faster movements, and decreasing mouse responsiveness for slower movements. Note that aside from mouse acceleration, the Target Slowdown setting under the Gameplay settings also has a similar impact on mouse responsiveness.

Invert Mouse Look: If set to On, pushing your mouse forward will make Max aim down, and moving your mouse back will make him aim upwards. If set to Off, the arrangement is reversed.

Display

Contrast: This slider controls the difference between bright and dark areas in the game. The slider ranges from 0 to 15, with 8 being the default. Set it to suit your taste, but if set too low the game will appear milky and washed out, and if set too high, everything will appear overly dark. Make sure to correctly adjust your Brightness first (see further below) before adjusting the contrast.

Subtitles: If set to On, text subtitles will be shown at the bottom of the screen during conversations. Setting this option to Off removes all such subtitles.

Bullet Time FX: This setting controls the effects which are used when you trigger Bullet Time slow-motion mode. When set to On, a series of visual effects is used to represent the time-altering nature of Bullet Time. These effects may be annoying to you, or may reduce your performance. You can disable all such effects by selecting Off here, however this will make it difficult to immediately notice whether Bullet Time is in effect, and also reduces the cinematic look of Bullet Time.

Adjust Brightness: When selected, this option takes you to a screen where you can use a slider to adjust your game brightness. The correct level is achieved when the Max Payne logo is just barely visible. If raised too high, the game will be washed out and unrealistic; too low and details will be lost in darkness.

Audio

Music, SFX: These sliders respectively control the volume level of music, sound effects and dialog in the game. Set to suit your taste, as they have no impact on performance.

Output: This option determines the way in which in-game audio is processed. Note that the PC version of Max Payne 3 uses much lower compression rates on the audio than the console versions, which means the audio is of higher quality.

Voice Chat

The options available here control the voice chat feature which is available for use during the Multiplayer component of Max Payne 3. If you are only playing the single-player component then you can set the Enabled option to Off.

On the next page we begin our look at the various graphics-related settings in Max Payne 3.

Graphics Settings

Max Payne 3 is a graphically advanced game, with a range of features that can have a substantial impact on the way the game looks, and how smoothly it plays on your system. To access all the available graphics settings, start Max Payne 3 and select Settings under the Main Menu, then choose the Graphics option. In the following section we'll go through each of these graphics settings in detail and see exactly how they affect performance and image quality.

In the performance graphs shown, for each setting we start with a "baseline" where all options are set to the maximum possible in DirectX 11 mode, except VSync, MSAA and FXAA which are all set to Off. From this baseline, we vary individual settings to measure their effect on performance and image quality. To see how various combinations of settings work for other NVIDIA GPUs, check out the Optimal Playable Settings section of the site.

Full System Configuration

  • GeForce GTX 680 2GB
  • Intel Core i7 940
  • 3GB RAM
  • Win7 64-bit
  • NVIDIA 301.42 WHQL Drivers

Video Memory - Important: In Max Payne 3 there is a Video Memory counter at the bottom of the Graphics settings screen. This counter shows your graphics card's total onboard Video RAM (VRAM) on the right hand side in Megabytes (MB) and the amount of VRAM consumed by your current graphics settings on the left hand side. As you change the settings, the figure on the left will constantly update to reflect the resource impact. The settings with the biggest Video Memory impact are Resolution, Texture Quality, Shadow Quality and MSAA.

By default the game will not allow you to use settings which, when combined, consume more VRAM than the total that is physically available on your graphics card, as doing so can result in slowdowns, stuttering, missing textures and crashes. The only way to increase your VRAM is to use a graphics card with greater onboard memory. However there is a way of forcing the game to raise its Video Memory limit above your physical VRAM by using the -availablevidmem command, covered in the Advanced Tweaking section.

DirectX, Resolution & VSync

This section begins our look at the graphics settings in Max Payne 3. Note that if at any time the settings you choose use more resources than the total available VRAM on your GPU as shown by the Video Memory counter at the bottom of the Graphics settings screen, you will not be able to apply the settings. See the Video Memory note at the bottom of the previous page, as well as the -availablevidmem command in the Advanced Tweaking section for more information.

DirectX Version: You can access various advanced features, and do so with varying degrees of performance impact, depending on which version of DirectX is used to process the game. Max Payne 3 is programmed to make efficient use of the features in the latest version of DirectX, which is DirectX 11 (DX 11). However some GPUs and some versions of Windows do not support DirectX 11. Specifically, Windows 7 and Vista support DirectX 11, but Windows XP can only support DirectX 9, so if you are using XP, you will only have this option. Similarly, NVIDIA GPUs prior to the GeForce GTX series can only use DirectX 9, 10 or 10.1. You will only be able to select up to the highest level of DirectX supported by your combination of graphics hardware and operating system.

Certain graphics settings will be unavailable when using earlier versions of DirectX:

  • DirectX 11: All of the graphics settings are available.
  • DirectX 10.1: Ambient Occlusion and Tessellation become unavailable.
  • DirectX 10: MSAA also becomes unavailable.
  • DirectX 9: Ambient Occlusion, Tessellation and MSAA are all unavailable. Additionally, soft shadowing is disabled.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing the difference between DX9 and DX11.

 

The screenshots above show the difference in image quality for each version of DirectX. In each screenshot, the maximum possible settings are used from those that are available, except MSAA and FXAA which are kept off throughout. In practice, the image quality differences are subtle in most areas. If you look closely, you can see that in going from DX 11 to DX10.1, the switch from the HDAO to the SSAO Ambient Occlusion method means that the shadowing appears deeper, but is less accurate. See for example the shadows where the sidewalk meets the wall. With Tessellation disabled, the curvature of Max's head also becomes slightly less smooth, flattening out a bit at the top.

In our images, going from DX10.1 to DX10 results in little to no change in most respects, as the loss of MSAA is not relevant given that MSAA was disabled at all times. However an odd thing occurs in DX10 - if you look at the pink building to the left of Max's head, the corner of the wall loses all of its pitting, as do several other rough surfaces throughout the cityscape. Therefore the biggest change in DX10 is that some prominent surface detailing is lost compared to DX 10.1.

In DX9, the shadowing is slightly lighter overall, and shadow edges are no longer soft. This is most noticeable on the shadow of the pole just to the right of Max's shoulder. However the surface detailing that was lost in DX10 returns once again in DX9, so in that respect it is an improvement over DX10.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph demonstrates that overall performance actually improves when going from DX9 to DX10, or DX10.1. There is a slight drop when running DX11, but it should be noted that in this performance test, several additional effects were being used under DirectX 11, particularly HDAO and Very High Tessellation. Even if you don't use the additional graphics settings available under DirectX 11, if available to you, it is recommended that you leave DX11 enabled. DirectX 11 has a range of advanced resource management features including asynchronous resource creation, self-managed resources, and optimized shadow sampling which will improve resource usage, and hence performance, over lower DirectX versions when running at the exact same settings.

Fullscreen: By default the game runs with Fullscreen mode On, which takes up the entire screen, and is generally recommended for optimal image quality and memory management. If you want to run the game in a window on your desktop instead, then select Off here. The size of the window used will depend on your Resolution setting. Running Max Payne 3 in windowed mode is best done if you want to reduce the game's resolution to improve performance, but still maintain a crisp image.

Resolution: This determines the Resolution of the game image, measured by the number of pixels horizontally and vertically (e.g. 1920 pixels x 1080 pixels). The number of resolutions available here is limited by the capabilities of both your graphics card and monitor. The higher the resolution you choose, the more detailed the image will be. However higher resolutions also generate an increased load on your system, particularly your graphics card, and hence reduce your overall performance. They also consume additional Video Ram. For the sharpest image on an LCD monitor, either select the maximum available resolution here, which is also referred to as your Native Resolution, or if choosing a resolution below your maximum, set the Fullscreen option to Off. To set a custom resolution, see the Advanced Tweaking section.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph shows that progressively higher resolutions will noticeably reduce your FPS, and will also use up more of your Video RAM budget. Interestingly though, the performance drop from raising resolution in Max Payne 3 is not as high as in some other games.

VSync: When VSync (Vertical Synchronization) is on, your GPU will become synchronized to your monitor's Refresh Rate capabilities, which means your maximum framerate will typically be capped at around 60 FPS. When VSync is Off, there is no FPS cap, however you may experience a phenomenon known as "tearing", whereby portions of the game image sometimes appear to be out of alignment ("torn") across the screen. This does no harm to your system, but it can be annoying. Fortunately you have several options when it comes to VSync:

  • Enabling VSync by itself removes all tearing, but aside from capping your FPS, due to a GPU timing quirk it can also reduce your overall performance by up to 50% or more, and can introduce noticeable mouse lag.
  • Enable VSync but also enable Triple Buffering along with it, which provides the benefits of VSync but without any loss in performance.
  • Enable Adaptive VSync, available to NVIDIA owners using the latest graphics drivers by selecting the Adaptive option under the Vertical Sync setting in the NVIDIA Control Panel. This method disables VSync whenever your framerate falls below your refresh rate, preventing the performance loss usually associated with VSync, and also smoothing out framerates and minimizing tearing. However mouse lag may still occur. Using Adaptive VSync in Max Payne 3 may also result in slightly longer loading times.
  • Disabling VSync is the simplest method for providing maximum performance, removing the FPS cap and removing any mouse lag, but tearing will be visible at times, and you may get large FPS fluctuations which can result in stuttering.

It is recommended that in the first instance you try to use Adaptive VSync. If you experience any problems or have mouse lag, or if Adaptive VSync is not available to you, try enabling VSync in combination with Triple Buffering. If all else fails, and tearing doesn't bother you, then simply disable VSync and leave it at that.

Aspect Ratio: This option was added as of the second patch. Auto is the recommended setting to implement the correct ratio of screen width to screen height for your monitor. When set to anything other than Auto, it forces the game to use the specified aspect ratio, such as 4:3 or 5:4 for traditional CRT monitors and older LCD monitors, or 16:9 or 16:10 for more recent widescreen monitors. To check if you are using the correct aspect ratio, look at the circular load/save icon which frequently appears at the bottom left corner of the screen - it should be perfectly round, not oval-shaped.

Texture & Shader Quality

Texture Quality: Textures cover the surface of every object in the game world. You can control the level of detail of these textures using the Texture Quality setting, with the available options being Normal, High and Very High. The higher the setting, the clearer and more defined surfaces will look, at the cost of Video Memory. In fact one of the reasons why Max Payne 3 requires over 30GB of disk space, and why Texture Quality can consume so much Video Memory, is precisely because of the high resolution textures included in the PC version, which are four times the size of those used on the console versions of the game.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing the difference between Very High and Normal.

In the screenshots above, the difference in texture quality can be seen on several surfaces and objects. When going from Very High to High, the loss in detail isn't huge. The most prominent example is the surface of the wooden plank at the bottom right which becomes a bit blurry, and the bricks behind Max's heels which also lose some surface detail. The rust-red metal gate's surface also becomes a bit less distinct. When going from High to Normal, there is a very noticeable loss in detail on all surfaces: the bricks and wooden planks lose virtually all surface detail; the metal gate looks flat; and the newspapers scattered on the ground become blurry and indistinct.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph shows that the performance impact of changing this setting is minimal purely in terms of framerates. However, high quality textures will consume a large chunk of your Video Ram budget, which means that for those with less onboard VRAM, you may need to lower Texture Quality in order to be able to keep Video RAM usage under control and prevent stuttering. Generally speaking, High is a good compromise between image quality and resource usage for most systems.

Shader Quality: This setting controls the overall quality of graphics rendering, affecting the general accuracy and detail of lighting, surface, particle and reflection effects. The available settings are Normal and High, but importantly, note that High Shader Quality will always be used when MSAA is enabled; you must disable MSAA if you want to properly implement Normal Shader Quality.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing the difference between High and Normal.

The screenshots above show the various differences between High and Normal Shader Quality. When comparing back and forth between the two shots, the most obvious difference is that all the lighting in Normal is slightly darker than at High. Look at specific light sources, such as the lighting pointing upward along the center top column and you can see it clearly has less strength and range at Normal. Next, look at the ground and you will notice the surface consistency is much more realistic at High than at Normal - the reflection of the wall in the center and the cluster of white circular lights on the floor to the right demonstrate this best. Less obvious is that Trilinear Filtering is disabled under Normal, which reduces overall texture quality slightly.

The performance impact of Shader Quality is relatively mild, but may make more of a difference on older GPUs, and also depends on the DirectX level you are using in the game. It is recommended that you begin with Shader Quality set to High and adjust other more strenuous settings first to see if you can gain FPS, before coming back to this setting and lowering it.

Shadow & Reflection Quality

Shadow Quality: This setting controls whether objects and characters in the game world cast shadows, and the clarity of those shadows. The available options are Off, Normal, High and Very High. If set to Off, dynamic shadows are disabled but generic static shadowing is still enabled. At Normal, dynamic shadows appear, and at High and Very High, shadows become progressively more detailed at the cost of performance.

Keep in mind that the quality of shadows also depends on the version of DirectX used in Max Payne 3, as well as the Shader Quality and Ambient Occlusion settings. Specifically, when using DirectX 9, soft shadows are disabled, so shadows will have harsher, less realistic edges. Similarly, when Shader Quality is set to Normal, shadows will be less accurate. The general appearance of shadows will also vary depending on whether HDAO or SSAO Ambient Occlusion is in effect. See these relevant setting descriptions for more details.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing the difference between Very High and Normal.

 

The screenshots above show that at Very High, the shadows from the window frames and walls of the office are cast around and upon Max, who also casts a shadow of his own on the ground. The shadows also interact realistically with the office shelves. When lowered to High, shadow resolution is lowered and thus shadows become blurry and less distinct - the best example is Max's shadow. When set to Normal, the further loss of detail makes shadows very light and indistinct. At Off, all detailed shadowing is lost, with generic shadowing across the scene replacing dynamic shadows. The scene looks totally different and much less realistic.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph above highlights the impact of shadows when enabled. Once again, the particular impact may be larger than indicated above on older GPUs. If you're struggling for performance, reduce Shadow Quality, but it is not recommended that you disable this setting altogether unless you truly need extra FPS and have tried everything else. This is because the game's graphics look much less realistic without dynamic shadowing.

Reflection Quality: This setting determines whether reflective surfaces mirror their surroundings or not, and the level of detail of any reflections shown. The available options are Off, Normal, High and Very High. When switched off, all surfaces will be completely non-reflective. At Normal, basic reflections are shown, increasing in detail at High and Very High. This setting can greatly enhance atmosphere and realism in certain areas. Note that water reflections are controlled separately by the Water Quality setting on the next page, and are not affected by this setting.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing the difference between Very High and Off.

 

The screenshots above demonstrate the relatively straightforward behavior of this setting. Starting at Very High, you can see major aspects of the room surroundings reflected in the shiny floor - primarily the bookshelves (including the lights under those shelves), and various objects on the shelves including books and plants. However some objects, such as the chairs, side table and rubbish bin are not reflected at all. Going down to High, the number and type of reflections remain the same, but they become slightly blurry as the reflection resolution is lowered. At Normal, reflections are blurred much further, but again there is no change in what is actually being reflected. At Off, there is a startling change in the scene as all reflections are switched off and the floor goes from being a shiny and realistic surface to a flat concrete-like area.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

As with Shadow Quality, because of the stark impact of completely disabling Reflection Quality, it is recommended that you use at least Normal unless you are truly struggling for performance.

Water Quality

Water Quality: This setting determines the quality of water effects in the game, in particular adjusting the level of detail of surface reflections. The available options are Normal, High and Very High, with each setting above Normal progressively increasing the resolution of the surface reflections. Note that if you change the setting while an existing game is paused, water surfaces will not display correctly until you either exit back to the Main Menu and reload a checkpoint from there, or do a full restart.

 

The screenshots above show that it is very difficult to see any difference as this setting is changed. This is because the reflections of the dock in the distance are obscured a great deal by the waves and ripples on the surface of the water. The number and type of reflections won't change as the setting is adjusted, so for the most part in you can lower this setting to gain performance without any major drop in image quality around water areas.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing the difference between Very High and Normal.

 

The screenshots above capitalize on the slight glitch described earlier, in that changing the Water Quality setting without reloading a checkpoint or restarting the game will remove surface waves and reveal reflections more clearly. Thus the shots above - though not accurately showing how water should look in the game - allow a better demonstration of the practical impact of the Water Quality setting. You can now readily see that the dock and building reflections in the water steadily lose resolution as the setting is lowered. The reflections become blockier and less detailed, and edges become more jagged at lower levels of the Water Quality setting.

Once again, to correctly apply Water Quality, change the setting, then exit and reload the checkpoint, or exit and restart the game. If applied correctly, your water should look like the first set of screenshots above, not the second. This glitch will be resolved in an upcoming patch for Max Payne 3.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph shows that this setting can have a significant impact on performance in areas near water. Since Water Quality affects only the quality of reflections shown on the surface of bodies of water, and because on most bodies of water, surface physics such as raindrops, waves and ripples frequently obscure these reflections a great deal, you can lower this setting to gain FPS without any major drop in image quality.

FXAA & MSAA

Antialiasing (AA) is term applied to any method which is used to help smooth out jagged lines and reduce the distracting shimmering and crawling of those lines when in motion. In Max Payne 3, two different techniques are available within the game: FXAA and MSAA. For other methods of Antialiasing, see the Advanced Tweaking section.

FXAA: If this option is enabled, an efficient post-process technique developed by NVIDIA, known as Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing (FXAA), is used to make all outlines in the scene much smoother. The performance impact is minimal, but a by-product of FXAA is that it can blur the scene slightly. However the implementation of FXAA in Max Payne 3 is quite good at reducing jaggedness without significant blurring.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing the difference between Very High and Off.

 

In the screenshots above, there are plenty of jagged lines visible when there is no AA of any kind being applied. Next, when FXAA is set to the Normal level, the jaggedness is instantly reduced throughout the scene. Some minor blurring also occurs; look at the subtle blurring of Max's hair for example. At High, jaggedness has further been reduced, but it is hard to notice unless you focus on smaller objects such as the glass shards on the ground. It is extremely difficult to see any difference between Very High and High in these static screenshots, but during actual gameplay there is further subtle reduction of jaggedness. One final thing to note is that at all levels of FXAA, some jaggedness remains. Look at the hanging lights to the left of Max's left shoulder - the vertical wires holding the lights are broken due to aliased edges. Similarly, look at the horizontal beam beneath the palm tree at the far left of the scene, and you can see that it's still clearly showing stair-step outlines even at Very High FXAA.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph demonstrates that FXAA has only a minor impact on FPS. Furthermore, it does not consume large amounts of Video RAM, allowing you to raise other settings if you so desire. Given it also has minimal blurring in Max Payne 3 and can noticeably reduce the distraction from jagged lines in the game, FXAA is recommended for most systems. Even Normal FXAA is sufficient to quell most of the jaggies.

MSAA: A second and more effective form of Antialiasing can be used in Max Payne 3: Multisample Anti-Aliasing (MSAA). This type of AA is more accurate, reducing jaggedness without any blurring. Under DirectX 11, MSAA should also reduce harsh outlines for objects which are semi-transparent. Unfortunately, it has a steep performance impact and can consume large amounts of Video Memory. You must also be running DirectX 10.1 or 11 for the MSAA setting to be available.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing the difference between 8xMSAA and No AA.

 

In the same scene in which we examined FXAA's impact, 2xMSAA also shows a reduction in jaggedness, though this is not as pronounced as FXAA. On the other hand, the scene remains quite crisp when MSAA is used, as there is no blurring involved. When MSAA is raised to 4x, things become quite smooth in most areas, though some mild jaggedness remains. At 8xMSAA, there is further tidying up of the majority of jagged edges.

There are certain areas which highlight MSAA's superiority to FXAA. For example, look at the vertical lines holding the suspended lights to the left of Max. Unlike FXAA, even 2xMSAA can reduce the harsh look of these without resulting in broken outlines; and with 4x or 8xMSAA they're quite smooth. The second patch for Max Payne 3 has also improved the antialiasing of shadows when using MSAA. Look at the shadows on the ground on the left side of the screenshot with no MSAA, then see how increasing amounts of MSAA now progressively smooth these out. FXAA cannot smooth shadow edges the same way. There were some initial issues with MSAA which resulted in a white outline appearing around Max and other characters, depending upon the lighting in the scene. NVIDIA has worked with Rockstar Games to resolve this issue, and a fix has been incorporated into the latest patch.

The graph demonstrates that MSAA will typically crush framerates, almost halving them at 4x MSAA for example. The point is moot for most systems anyway, given the default Video RAM restrictions won't allow higher levels of AA at higher resolutions on most GPUs, as is the case in our performance graph above. Even if you override the VRAM restriction (see the Advanced Tweaking section), the significant performance impact of MSAA makes it suitable only for high-end GPUs or SLI configurations. If you're struggling for performance, there's no question that you should keep MSAA Off and look to FXAA if you want to smooth jagged lines. There are also additional forms of Antialiasing you can use, as detailed in the Advanced Tweaking section of this guide. Please note that on 2GB video cards, maximum DirectX 11 settings can be employed at a resolution of 1920x1080.

MSAA + FXAA: FXAA and MSAA can also be enabled in combination with each other, however the resulting change does not provide any significant improvement, either in terms of image quality or performance.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing the difference between 4xMSAA and 4xMSAA + FXAA.

 

The screenshots above compare the use of 4xMSAA and no FXAA with a combination of 4xMSAA and FXAA on Very High. Aside from a slight amount of blurring added by FXAA, any other difference is difficult to detect in this scene. The MSAA is doing the bulk of the work in clearing up jaggedness.

The graph shows much the same performance impact from combinations of MSAA and FXAA as when MSAA is used on its own. The addition of FXAA makes very little difference to performance, whether at Normal or Very High. On balance there's little to gain by enabling both MSAA and FXAA.

Anisotropic Filtering

Anisotropic Filtering: Anisotropic Filtering (AF) is a texture filtering technique designed to improve the clarity of textures that are displayed at an angle to the screen, such as those covering the ground when looking down a street. The available options here are Off, then sample rates starting at 2x, then 4x, 8x, and the maximum possible, 16x. The higher the sample rate used, the crisper and more distinct surfaces will look as they recede into the distance. Using DirectX 11 will also bring an increase in overall texture filtering quality.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing the difference between No AF and 16xAF.

 

The screenshots above show that as AF is turned on at 2x, the distant textures receive a mild boost in clarity, most obvious on the wooden walkway in the distance above Max's head. The foliage in the distance and to the right of the scene also becomes crisper and more detailed. The use of 4x brings another noticeable jump in clarity. Going to 8x and then 16x Anisotropic Filtering in Max Payne 3 results in a virtually undetectable difference in texture quality.

To ensure the highest level of texture filtering, NVIDIA users should open the NVIDIA Control Panel, and under the Program Settings tab select 'Max Payne 3' in the first drop-down box. If it isn't shown there, untick the 'Show only programs found on this computer' check box and try again. Then scroll down and click the 'Texture Filtering - Quality' box, and select 'High Quality' mode. Click the Apply button at the bottom.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The performance impact of Anisotropic Filtering on most modern graphics cards is minimal. Virtually all systems should be able to implement at least 4x Anisotropic Filtering for a prominent boost in texture clarity, and 16x AF is recommended to ensure optimal image quality with very little performance loss.

Ambient Occlusion & Tessellation

Ambient Occlusion: This is a technique used to create more realistic shadowing from ambient lighting, and is described in more detail in this guide. The available options when using DirectX 11 are SSAO and HDAO. SSAO is Screen Space Ambient Occlusion, which is a relatively less accurate method, while HDAO stands for High Definition Ambient Occlusion, a more subtle and more accurate, but also more performance intensive technique.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing the difference between SSAO and HDAO.

 

At first glance, the comparison of the two techniques above shows that SSAO adds more pronounced shadowing, and this may make it preferable for some people, as there is greater contrast and depth to the scene. Upon closer inspection, HDAO results in lighter ambient shadows that are more accurate. Under SSAO, you can see that virtually every object, such as the window frame to the top left, or the tire to the left of Max's head, has been given an almost uniform dark halo of shadowing around them, without necessarily being a realistic reflection of the way the ambient light sources may actually be casting shadows. Ultimately, however, it depends on the look which you prefer, as well as how much performance you can spare.

The graph indicates clearly that SSAO has less of a performance impact than HDAO, which makes sense given that it is less accurate. If you prefer the bolder shadowing of SSAO, this will make the choice of which to use easier for you.

Tessellation: The use of Tessellation in Max Payne 3 centers around two key aspects: adding curvature to Max and other characters, and to vehicle models. This means that relevant areas look smoother, rounder, and more realistic, rather than being angular and polygonal in appearance. This is a very subtle effect though, most noticeable in scenes with close-ups of Max or other people.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing the difference between Off and Very High Tessellation.

 

In the shots above, we start off with Tessellation set to Off. When we add Normal Tessellation to the scene, Max's body fills out slightly, most obviously on his left knee, which becomes less angular. The tire on the car also rounds out a bit, because Tessellation in Max Payne 3 applies to vehicles as well as characters. At High, Max continues to show subtle signs of becoming slightly more curved and realistic. The difference between High and Very High is extremely small in this scene, with the barest change in only a few outlines here and there.

The performance impact of Tessellation is noticeable, and becomes quite significant at high resolutions, though the exact impact will depend heavily on the tessellation performance of your specific GPU. If the setting is available to you, then Normal or High should be sufficient for a decent improvement in image quality, but keep in mind the visual improvement from Tessellation is quite subtle, so it's one of the first few settings you should consider switching Off if you need FPS.

That covers our look at all the graphics settings in Max Payne 3. On the next page we delve into some Advanced Tweaking.

Advanced Tweaking

Max Payne 3 is one of the most graphically advanced games to arrive on the PC platform in recent times. It contains a range of enhancements specifically designed to take advantage of the added power available on PC. Fortunately customizing all of its graphical power is easy to do via the in-game settings, as documented in previous sections of this guide. However there are a few more ways you can adjust Max Payne 3, and that's what we cover in this section.

Improved Antialiasing

Max Payne 3 allows for the use of MSAA or FXAA through in-game settings as described in detail earlier. But if you're really fussy about your anti-aliasing, you'll want to try some of the other AA methods which are available in your graphics card's control panel.

For NVIDIA users, removing jagged lines is possible through the use of the free NVIDIA Inspector utility. Follow the steps below:

  1. Download and install NVIDIA Inspector. Importantly, make absolutely certain that you have also updated your graphics drivers to the latest version, as NVIDIA Inspector requires the Max Payne 3 profile from the latest drivers.
  2. Launch NVIDIA Inspector and click the small 'Driver Profile Settings' button (the crossed wrench and screwdriver icon) next to the 'Driver Version' box.
  3. In the window which opens, click the Profiles drop-down box and select 'Max Payne 3'. If the profile isn't there, see Step 1.
  4. Generally speaking, many of the Anti-aliasing modes available under the 'Antialiasing - Setting' section don't appear to work properly or have any impact. However if you set MSAA in-game, you can apply Transparency Supersampling AA which will work - see below.
  5. For the 'Antialiasing - Transparency Supersampling' setting select an option. In our example, we will use 4x MSAA set in the game, along with 4x Sparse Grid Supersampling (SGSSAA) set here. Note that the sample rate of SGSSAA used must always match that of the MSAA applied (in this case both are 4x).
  6. SGSSAA can slightly blur the scene. This blurring can actually be desirable as we discuss further below, but if you want to correct it, you can do so by going to the Texture Filtering section and adjusting the 'Texture Filtering - LOD Bias (DX9)' setting. For 2x SGSSAA enter -0.500, for 4x SGSSA enter -1.000 and for 8x SGSSAA enter -1.500.
  7. Click the 'Apply changes' button at the top right to save your settings. You can close NVIDIA Inspector if you wish as it doesn't need to be active for your settings to work.
  8. Launch Max Payne 3 as normal to see the changes. It is strongly recommended that you disable the in-game FXAA option to prevent conflicts, remove blurriness and prevent performance issues.

To undo any of these changes, click the small green NVIDIA logo button at the top of the profiles screen in NVIDIA Inspector, and the Max Payne 3 profile will be returned to its default settings.

Another method of AA available to everyone is Subpixel Morphological Antialiasing (SMAA). This can be applied using the free injectSMAA utility. Download the latest version of the utility and follow these instructions:

  1. Extract the contents of the relevant folder and place them in your base Max Payne 3 directory. That is, if using DirectX 10, 10.1 or 11 mode, extract the files under the d3d10 folder of injectSMAA; if using DirectX 9 mode, extract the contents of the d3d9 folder.
  2. Move these files into the base directory of Max Payne 3. This is typically C:\Program Files(x86)\Rockstar Games\Max Payne 3\ for the retail DVD version of the game, or C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\max payne 3\Max Payne 3\ for the Steam version. Basically it's the same directory in which the MaxPayne3.exe file resides.
  3. Launch the game as normal and SMAA will be in effect. It is recommended that you disable MSAA and FXAA in the game to prevent conflicts or slowdowns.
  4. To toggle SMAA off/on at any time, use the PAUSE key.
  5. To remove SMAA completely, delete the files you moved into the base directory of Max Payne 3 in Step 2. Typically these are SMAA.fx, SMAA.h, injector.ini and either d3d9.dll or dxgi.dll.

The key benefit of SMAA is that it is not as performance-intensive as MSAA, and has a similar impact on jagged lines to FXAA, but without any blurring.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing the difference between 4xMSAA and 4xMSAA + 4xSGSSAA, and here for an interactive comparison showing the difference between FXAA Very High and SMAA.

 

The screenshots above compare Max Payne 3 first with the in-game MSAA and FXAA settings set to Off - as you can see, there are plenty of jagged lines. Then 4x Multisampling AA (MSAA) as applied within the game is shown, with the benefits and drawbacks discussed earlier.

Next, while retaining 4x MSAA in the game, we add 4x Sparse Grid Supersampling Transparency Antialiasing (SGSSAA). The difference is subtle, but most noticeable on transparent areas such as the glass case with the building model to the far right. With only 4xMSAA, the bottom left of the glass enclosure shows white jagged lines; with the addition of 4xSGSSAA this is greatly reduced. However there is also a very noticeable additional drop in FPS from using SGSSAA, so the cleanup of jaggies using 4xMSAA in combination with 4xSGSSAA comes at a hefty cost. Furthermore, the use of SGSSAA can add some slight blurring to the scene - not as much as FXAA, but still noticeable. It can be removed using a negative LOD Bias value as covered in Step 6 of the NVIDIA Inspector instructions further above. But the blurring is mild, and may actually be preferable, because it is part of the reason why the scene looks cleaner.

Finally, the last screenshot demonstrates the use of only SMAA in the same scene. Compared to Very High FXAA, SMAA gives much the same result but retains a crisper look. It is also slightly more successful in reducing jaggedness, for example examine the vertical lines holding the suspended lights to the left of Max, and you can see that unlike FXAA, the lines are less broken and less jagged. At the same time it should be noted that SMAA will have a steeper performance impact than FXAA, but much less so than MSAA.

There are other combinations of AA available to you, so you should experiment using the techniques above to see which suits you and your system's performance the best.

Command Line

Aside from changing in-game settings, Max Payne 3's engine allows direct input through Command Line commands. There are two ways to implement these commands:

  1. Create a new text file by opening Windows Explorer, right-clicking in an empty area and selecting New>Text Document.
  2. Rename this text file to commandline.txt.
  3. Open the text file with a text editor such as Windows Notepad.
  4. Enter the relevant commands you wish to implement, one on each line, then save and exit the text file. See further below for a list of commands and usage details.
  5. Move this text file into the base directory of Max Payne 3. This is typically C:\Program Files(x86)\Rockstar Games\Max Payne 3\ for the retail DVD version of the game, or C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\max payne 3\Max Payne 3\ for the Steam version. Basically it's the same directory in which the MaxPayne3.exe file resides.
  6. Launch Max Payne 3 as normal; the commands will automatically be implemented as the game starts.

A quicker method for Steam users is to right-click on Max Payne 3 in their Steam games library, select Properties, then click the 'Set Launch Options' button and enter the command(s) there, each one separated by a single space.

Two of the most useful commands are described in detail below, followed by a full command list thereafter:

-availablevidmem [amount] - This command forces Max Payne 3 to set its detected Video Memory restriction (based on the VRAM on your GPU) to the amount specified by this command. The value assigned is in MB. For example, using the -availablevidmem 3072 command will give you a 3072MB (3GB) Video Memory limit in Max Payne 3, regardless of whether your GPU actually has this amount or not. This is useful if you want to access settings which would otherwise be unavailable to you. It is also useful in case Max Payne 3 doesn't correctly detect the amount of physical VRAM on your GPU. As noted on Page 3 of this guide however, using settings which consume more Video Memory resources than is physically available on your GPU can result in stuttering, slowdowns, missing textures and crashes.

-width [pixels] -height [pixels] - These two commands force a custom resolution as specified by the pixel width and height you enter. For example, -width 1680 -height 1050 will force the game to use a 1680x1050 resolution. You may need to turn Fullscreen mode off for your custom resolution to display properly. You may also need to use the -aspectratio command or in-game setting to force the closest correct ratio if the game image appears distorted.

The full list of known commands is shown below. Where a numerical value is required, it is typically in the form of 0=lowest setting. For example, the -Tessellation 0 command will force the Tessellation graphics setting to Off; -Tessellation 1 will set it to Normal; -Tessellation 2 will set it to High; and -Tessellation 3 sets it to Very High. Since the majority of these settings can be fully adjusted within the game, and the most important of them have already been described above, the commands below will not be covered in detail.

-adapter - Force specific DirectX adapter starting from 0.
-aspectratio - Force aspect ratio [width:height].
-availablevidmem - Force Video RAM limit to the amount specified (MB).
-cpucount - Force CPU count if query is not successful.
-d3dmt - Force multi-threaded DirectX runtime.
-dx10 - Force DirectX 10 if available.
-dx10_1 - Force DirectX 10.1 if available.
-dx11 - Force DirectX 11 if available.
-dx9 - Force DirectX 9.
-frameLimit - Force VSync [0, 1, 2]
-fullscreen - Force Fullscreen mode.
-fxaa - Force FXAA quality [0..3].
-gpucount - Force GPU count if query is not successful.
-height - Force vertical resolution.
-language english - Force English language.
-language french - Force French language.
-language italian - Force Italian language.
-language german - Force German language.
-language spanish - Force Spanish language.
-language russian - Force Russian language.
-language portuguese - Force Portugese language.
-language polish - Force Polish language.
-MSAA - Force MSAA [0..5].
-MSAAQuality - Force MSAA quality level.
-nomouseaccel - Disable mouse acceleration.
-outputMonitor - Force specific monitor starting from 0.
-reflectionquality - Force reflection quality [0..3].
-refreshrate - Force refresh rate.
-safemode - Force game to load with safest settings.
-shadowquality - Force shadow quality [0..3].
-ssao - Force SSAO [0..1].
-stereo - Force 3D stereo support [0..1] (1 is on)
-tessellation - Force tessellation quality [0..3].
-texturefilterquality - Force the Anisotropic texture filter quality [0..4].
-texturequality - Force the texture quality [0..2].
-useHighQualityShaders - Force usage of high quality shaders [0..1].
-waterquality - Force water quality [0..2].
-width - Force horizontal resolution
-windowed - Force windowed mode.

If you find that a command doesn't appear to be applying properly, make doubly sure that you are using the proper form: there must be a - directly in front of the command name with no spaces between them; the command must then be followed by a single space and then any value to be assigned to the command; and the command must also be separated from any other commands by a single space.

Conclusion

Max Payne 3's settings allow for a great deal of flexibility when it comes to image quality and performance. At lower settings, such as when using DirectX 9 and thus disabling MSAA, Tessellation and Ambient Occlusion, you will still more than match the image quality your console-bound friends are seeing in their versions of the game. Add a more powerful GPU with a bit more VRAM and a quad-core CPU into the mix, and you will experience graphics that shame the consoles and demonstrate why the PC is far and away the best gaming platform available at the moment.

In terms of the settings with the biggest performance impacts, aside from Resolution, MSAA is without a doubt the biggest consumer of FPS and Video RAM - use FXAA instead for a similar look at minimal performance cost, or try SMAA. Shadow Quality will also eat frames and can be lowered a notch or two to boost performance. Substituting SSAO for HDAO Ambient Occlusion will both ease pressure on your system and make shadows more prominent, while using 16x Anisotropic Filtering will bring added texture clarity at no real performance on most GPUs. Overall there are a lot of settings to play with and a lot of things to consider when changing them, so be sure to read the fine print as you experiment.

If after reading this guide you're still having difficulties with the game, check the Official Max Payne 3 PC Tech Support site for further help. If you're experiencing lag in Max Payne 3 multiplayer, refer to the How to Get Rid of Lag article to correctly determine the source of your lag and what if anything you can do about it. For general multiplayer gameplay tips see the Rockstar guides here. When you get the chance, also take a closer look at the features of the all-new Rockstar Social Club.

Until next time, take care!

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