Max Payne 3 PC evaluation & FXAA vs. MSAA shootout
Max Payne is not the typical gringo cop turned private security in Brazil. Max Payne 3′s story picks up eight years after the events of Max Payne and Max Payne 2 where an older and fatter Max is reduced to near-poverty and living on alcohol and painkillers. Max is recruited by Raul Passos at a bar who tells him that they went to the police academy together. Well Max is convinced after a mob boss in New Jersey puts a contract out on his life, to leave for São Paulo for a fresh start in private security.
The original 2001 game, Max Payne, was ground-breaking in many ways and it became known as the gaming equivalent of the “film noir” genre. Like its two predecessors, Max Payne 3 is so intense, that this player when nearing its conclusion with nerves jangling, had to actually leave the house for awhile just to get away from the game’s intensity.
There is an addictive quality to this game that makes the player want to know what is just ahead; to want to know how the story will unfold as you blast the thugs in your way, even if it takes multiple tries to get through an action sequence. Basically, Max Payne 3 is an interactive movie consisting of seamless cutscenes followed by intense nonstop arcade-like shooting action.
Max is suicidal and he takes almost no stealth measures, and even quips about his lack of planning and how he dares the bad guys to kill him if they can. One of the loading screens calls this adventure, ”the longest suicide attempt in the world”. If Max stays in cover, he will be flanked on the right or driven into the open with gasoline grenades.
Fortunately, Max is again voiced by the same actor, James McCaffrey, who also performed some of the live action for the game. And the same dark comments on life continue all through the series as Max narrates the game. Max gets a real look at the awful living conditions of the poorest people of São Paulo where police corruption is rampant, and as he observes, many times the police are just another gang of thugs with badges and guns.
This editor has lived in South Brazil and the atmosphere of the game is dead on. The NPCs’ gutter slang is Brazilian Portuguese and it is very descriptive and coarse - even when they are talking rudely about Max right in front of him; unless you know Portuguese, you will miss what they say as the locals are often apt to do there, especially if you only speak English.
A typical dark quote from the game after Max shoots up a slum leaving hundreds of drug dealers, gang members and dirty police dead is, “As charming as this neighborhood was, my sightseeing is over”.
The first two games were written by series creator, Sam Lake and developed by the Finnish developer Remedy. This time, Rockstar developed the game and the writer is Dan Houser who wrote most of the Grand Theft Auto games. The graphics for the original 2001-2003 games were very good for their day, and today’s 2012 game is not a disappointment in any way as it uses the Euphoria dynamic animation engine very well.
All of the Max Payne games are called “third-person shooters” which feature an over-the-shoulder camera as the player “becomes” Max Payne and controls his actions. All of the Max Payne series can be described as “run and cover” and Max Payne 3 introduces a new cover move for our hero called Shootdodge. Max Payne 3 also uses ’bullet-time’ – originally introduced in Max Payne (2001) - in shooting sequences where you can see each bullet hit the enemy NPCs in slow motion. As Max dives in any direction, time slows or his reflexes speed up to super-human and he can shoot in any direction while he is in the air.
There is also a new grace period when after after losing all of his health, Max must kill the enemy NPC who mortally wounded him in order to continue playing. To use it requires that the player have a new strategy of always having one or more bottles of painkillers on hand. Players are able to stay grounded after landing a dive, which still enables them to shoot 360 degrees. The game is also ultra-violent and very graphic. Here is one of the milder cutscenes. Playing in 3D Vision 2, the blood-spatter is far more realistic.
This is the first major game where when a player dives to shoot, it actually looks natural and and fits in with the context. Instead of the skippable comic book style of story telling used in the first two games, there are interactive high-quality cutscenes which transition seamlessly into continuing gameplay. The developers were very clever to hide the game’s loading while the cutscenes are playing. You cannot skip the cutscene while the game is loading although you can skip them once the scene is loaded after the first playthrough.
The player will never notice loading screens across gameplay and through cutscenes. In this way, Max Payne 3 is more like an interactive action movie than any game preceeding it. And there is no loss of immersion. One note. If you are playing the game in super-widescreen – as we did for awhile at 5760×1080 across 3 screens – the cutscenes only play on the center screen and it is a bit more jarring than playing on one large screen (as we preferred – either at 2560×1600 on a 30″ display, or with 3D Vision 2 on a 27″ 1920×1080 120Hz display).
Max Payne 3 willl allow players to form online private crews or to join public crews. A player’s Rockstar Social Club account allows joining up to five crews at the same time. Completing tasks together will gain XP. The Social Club integration promises to connect play across Max Payne 3 and the upcoming Grand Theft Auto V.
The issues with cheats are promised to be addressed in an upcoming patch by Rockstar. However, this review just covers the single player experience – one that is quite short – perhaps up to a dozen hours long if you really take your time to explore or have to restart from checkpoints, over and over if you pick too hard of a difficulty. Yet it is a very intense ten or so hours on Normal or Easy.
There are four DVDs to install for a total hard drive space of 35GB needed for its large textures. DRM requires that you connect to the Internet to activate your installed game. You do not have to connect ever again which means you will not be able to patch it. A major patch has already been issued by Rockstar which addresses some issues that this player did not have, and the game was completed with only two or three crashes to desktop in ten hours of action using the game as installed on the first day of its release, last Friday.
If you are connected to the Internet when you launch the game and a patch is available, you must download it to be able to play There are issues with many Anti-Virus programs and they usually must be disabled in order to play Max Payne 3. Please remember to renable your anti-virus when you are done playing or you may have your own real-life issues with malware attacks.
Unfortunately, Rockstar does not currently allow third-party tools like Fraps to measure framerates or to even take screenshots with the retail (DVD) version. If friends want to share video, it is impossible now with the retail version; the Steam version has no such issues.
Unfortunately, we were only able to take screenshots by using our Print Screen command and alt+tab’bing out of the game to paste and then save using Paint. Since we can not give you framerates, we will give you an IQ comparison of MSAA to FXAA, noting that in this particular game, FXAA on Very High actually looks better and uses far less resources than 8xMSAA !
The Story & the Gameplay
Max Payne starts a new chapter of his life completely addicted to painkillers and booze and deeply depressed and ultimately suicidal. Since the game is largely viewed from Max’ eyes, the screen will often blur and move slightly out of focus even during the cutscenes – much like using painkillers and long term alcohol abuse cause.
It is a very gritty game, ultra-violent, and it deserves its M rating for its subject matter and look at life in the raw in the poorest areas of Brazil. This is in stark contrast with the wasteful life of Max’ ultra-rich employers who look down from their towering penthouses on the huge sprawling slums where many tens of thousands live crammed together in abject poverty. The slums are called ‘favelas’ where lawlessness and crime is a way of life for many of the residents.
Max begins working in the private security sector for a wealthy local family and especially for the ultra-wealthy businessman Rodrigo Branco and his two brothers: the politician Victor and the youngest brother Marcelo, whose “business” appears to be making deals for cocaine. When a street gang kidnaps Rodrigo’s wife, Max is pulled into a conspiracy of warring factions involving every aspect of the society that surrounds him.
The game’s backstory is excellent as Max is drawn into a web of deceit that involves the family he is employed to protect; viscious warring gangs, corupt Brazilian police and government officials, and a sinister plot that preys on the very poorest citizens of SãoPaulo. During this time, the game tells the story in a series of narration and cutscenes, followed by the action scenes, where the player directs Max usually in shooting a gang of thugs. Only his extraordinary abilities to speed up his reflexes to the point of appearing to slow down time, give Max a fighting chance against otherwise impossible odds.
Much of the time, Max is involved in attempting to save the members of the family – especially the younger sisters. The story is so well written, that the player begins to actually care for some of the characters and, like Max, feels a sense of real loss when you fail to protect one or more of them. And if you really don’t care, the game puts you on a timer anyway, and a failure means you must replay from the checkpoint.
Sometimes Max is successful and sometimes he loses someone in his charge. During this time, Max realizes that alcohol has contributed to his negligence and he goes on the wagon and gives up alcohol cold turkey, although he still needs painkillers to survive when he is wounded. The story is deep and delves into philosophy while the mechanism is one of pure survival.
The screenshot below shows Max sniping would-be hired killers from the family’s private helicopter as one of the younger sisters, “the good one”, is fleeing in sheer terror from them. Notice the golden rifle that Max carries. You can find parts of these enhanced weapons well-hidden in many places and they are very useful for subsequent play-throughs on higher difficulty.
Max actually works toward a kind of “redemption” where he ultimately learns to not blame himself, which is in contrast to the very depressing Max Payne 2. This game story actually ties up all of the storylines started in the earlier two games and sets itself up for a probable expansion, DLC and continuation of a hopefully a very successful series with the further adventures of a much more mature Max Payne.
Best of all, unlike the first two games, the settings are varied and expanded beyond New York/New Jersey and even São Paulo. You will also find your self in Panama on a Yacht; shoot from a helicopter, from an out-of-control bus, from a speeding boat, in an office building under attack and also find yourself under intense sniper fire in São Paulo’s football stadium trying to help your partner.
If that is not enough action, Max will battle multiple well-armed gangs and corrupt police in a disco and a broken-down hotel, as well as inside a police station where a major riot of his making breaks out. There are also other interesting and varied situations that pay homage to the earlier games and try to improve on them.
The game also uses flashbacks to show Max and Passos in the Panama Canal protecting Marcelo on a yacht party that is raided by guerrilla pirates. Max later finds Marcelo and Passos trying to drive away with unknown cargo which allows him to begin to piece a bigger picture together. And of course, Max’ Sao Paulo counterpart – an honest cop – is there to help him from time to time.
We also get to see Max and Passos in New Jersey in another flashback and to relive their original meeting and the intense gunbattles with a mob bosses’ men after Max kills his son.
This game is intensely exciting as the player gets to chase a plane with a grenade launcher, as well as hanging from a helicopter with one hand while shooting RPGs down with the other hand that are being launched at you, as well as many other intense action scenes where it seems impossible that Max will survive.
Fortunately, the cutscenes are reasonably placed so the player usually does not have to go back too far when Max dies. However, there is often real frustration in nearly clearing a section, only to get shot in the back to then replay the entire sequence all over again. And this can happen pretty often. There is one other obvious bit of “consolitis” where you must follow a certain sequence exactly in response to on screen prompts or you see your own grisly death, over-and-over. Fortunately, the game works perfectly with a keyboard plus mouse, especially after the patch.
Ducking for cover and having the new ablity to Shootdodge as well as shoot from the ground in any direction, gives Max new strategy and abilities to deal with multiple AI-controlled NPCs. The game’s AI is not bad as the enemies use varied methods to try and outflank the player while others rush him using varied dodging tactics.
Graphics and Widescreen
Max Payne 3 has excellent graphics. It is perhaps not quite up to the level of Crysis 2 or Battlefield 3, but it is sufficient to give excellent visuals when everything is maxed out. We played the entire game at 2560×1600 using a single GTX 680 and Core i7-3770K at their stock settings as chosen below.
The implementation of FXAA in Max Payne 3 is very good and the text is not blurred. MSAA can be used but the performance hit is high and 8xAA actually does not look as good as FXAA on Very High. Please check the FXAA vs. MSAA Shootout on the following page. Since we could not use Fraps, we cannot comment on framerates except to say that it was “fluid”.
Max Payne 3 is also designed for super-widescreen resolutions and we played at 5760×1080 using a GTX 690. There were no issues whatsoever and the gaming experience was superb. The only issue that we found is that the cutscenes are not set up to display over 3-panels and will only display on the center screen.
We actually preferred to play Max Payne 3 on a single display at 2560×1600 for best immersion even though we lost the widescreen tactical advantage of being able to see enemy NPCs attempting to outflank Max on the sides. We also enjoyed playing Max Payne 3 in Stereoscopic 3D even though it is “Not recommended” for 3D Vision 2 yet by Nvidia. Please see the 3D Vision 2 section.
These are 5760×1080 outdoor widescreen shots.
The above shot is of a night scene with Max wearing a flak jacket. This extra protection is only employed for one particularly intense chapter. However, nothing is really lost by playing on a single screen as often the action is confined to indoors or to narrow street scenes.
Max Payne 3 gets the series exactly right and improves on it. There is an awesome balance of story-telling from the hero’s view, coupled with intense action that is somewhat relieved by very dark humor and sometimes insightful observations. Max actually grows as a hero and as a person in this game and it is a great story on many levels.
The over-the-top violence is to be noted as absolutely not for the squeamish and although it is graphically violent, it does not glorify it for the sake of violence. Rather it is a condemnation of the conscienceless who do not value it – these are the thugs that Max guns down and executes without mercy. During his growth, Max searches his own conscience for his motives. Max Payne 3 is very much like a ten-hour non-stop interactive action movie, and this editor felt that he got his sixty dollars’ worth just from a single playthrough. It is that good!
Max Payne is not super-human and he cannot take on armed NPCs directly except during bullet time. Multiple gunshot wounds will quickly end his new career as private security. His health does not regenerate although Painkillers are the equivalent of a healing “med pack”. As Max, the player will need to adopt tactics depending on which enemies they are facing.
As in the original game, it is always wise to survey your surroundings and plan out your attack beforehand. And if you do not successfuly complete your objective, pay careful attention to where your enemies were shooting from so that you can go into the replay with foreknowledge.
Make sure you look carefully for both clues, golden gun parts and for painkillers. They are often quite cleverly hidden and the painkillers can make the difference between breeezing through a section or repeating it over-and-over.
Next up, we look at Tessellation, Image Quality and especially MSAA vs. FXAA as well as playing with 3D Vision 2.
Tessellation and IQ in Max Payne 3
Max Payne 3 offers support for DirectX 11 tessellation which is a good way to increase the level of detail in a scene with a relatively minimal performance impact. The character models are well-tessellated which gives them a much more natural look. Also, the rendering of the hair is greatly improved.
Max Payne 3 uses a tessellation technique called Phong Tessellation to characters and vehicles. Phong shading, developed by Bui Tuong Phong at the University of Utah, refers to an interpolation technique used in surface shading in modern 3D engines like games. Unfortunately, artifacts remain on interior contours and silhouettes if the surface geometry is not smooth, so Phong tessellation is a geometric version of Phong normal interpolation that is applied to vertex positions.
FXAA is a shader based image filter developed by Nvidia which reduces visible aliasing. It is applied along with other post processing steps like motion blur and bloom. For game engines making use of deferred shading, FXAA provides for less of a performance and memory hit over using deferred shading with MSAA. Not only does FXAA cost less in terms of a performance hit, but the visual difference is very clear over not using it at all.
First of all, you cannot force MSAA in the Nvidia control panel and all settings are applied in-game. On all of the following images, there is either MSAA or FXAA – we did not test using both applied at the same time.
Here is a scene from Max Payne 3 without MSAA or FXAA. Anisotropy is 16x and all details are set to maximum at 1920×1080. You can see the obvious alaising.
No FXAA – No MSAA
FXAA Very High
It is probably easiest to open two or three images at a time in separate windows or tabs and compare between them. Look especially at the fan and the conduit running to the switch box. In each case, from no MSAA to 2x to 4x and to 8x MSAA there is a progressive smoothing of the aliased lines although the anti-aliasing results are not as impressive when compared to Normal to High to Very High FXAA. We are not sure how the developers implemented MSAA so as to apparently not smooth all of the polygon edges.
In each case, we would prefer the FXAA implementation in Max Payne 3 over the corresponding level of MSAA. This certainly does not hold true for all games and FXAA tends to blur some scenes in other games. We will explore MSAA vs. FXAA in depth in a future article and these discussions are always open on ABT forum in Video or Gaming.
The graphics in Max Payne 3 are excellent and the game also supports Stereoscopic 3D (S3D) and especially 3D Vision 1/2.
3D Vision offers a more immersive stereoscopic 3D experience over playing the game in 2D. A combination of high-tech wireless glasses and advanced software, 3D Vision’s drivers automatically transforms over 500 PC games into full stereoscopic 3D. I n addition, you can watch Blu-ray 3D, view 3D digital photographs, and even stream YouTube 3D videos.
Unfortunately, the game is currently rated as “Not Recommended” by Nvidia for 3D Vision. It is true that some action and objects aren’t in perfect relationship to each other but we find that the game is actually “fair” to “good” with 3D Vision. The depth can be adjusted to eliminate some of the ghosting and the 3D enhancement actually does aid in aiming and especially for Bullet time.
NVIDIA 3D Vision 2
3D Vision 2 is the next generation of Nvidia’s stereoscopic 3D technology and features a number of new innovations.
The first innovation is new active shutter glasses that have larger lenses and improved materials. The second innovation is LightBoost which delivers brighter 3D screen images and richer color quality than existing display technologies.
Cut-scenes are in 3D
All of the elements of Max Payne 3 are in 3D. This includes everything from the interactive 3D character portraits to every in-game cut-scene. The in-game cut-scenes are rendered in full HD 1080p 3D video for the highest quality cinematics. The characters from Max Payne 3 come alive in stereoscopic 3D Vision.
Using 3D Depth
According to Nvidia, with real time depth information being delivered via 3D Vision, the gamer has an advantage when gauging certain aspects.
Nvidia claims that 3D Vision gives 3D gamers the tools to interact with the environment in a way that 2D gamers cannot and we found enhanced aiming and much better cutscenes in S3D – the blood splatter is horrifyingly realistic in 3D slow-motion.
Of course, there is a performance penalty for playing with 3D Vision. The expected performance hit when playing it with everything maxed out did slow down our GTX 680 in the most intense scenes and we played mostly with 3D Vision 2 using our GTX 690 after we set up for Super-Widescreen resolutions. And of course, we used FXAA over MSAA.
Let’s look at the game’s system requirements as well as the more specific recommendations for playing with GeForce cards and playable settings with Super-Widscreen and 3D Vision as well as our conclusion
Hardware Requirements, Performance & Conclusion
Rockstar’s website gives the range of tested PCs for Max Payne:
It is interesting to see the progression of requirements. For the original game, a 700MHz CPU was recommended along with 128MB of system memory and a 32MB D3D compatible graphics card and it intalled off of one CD. Max Payne 2 required 2CDs and a better graphics card. Max Payne 3 needs 4 dual-layer DVDs!
Nvidia’s reviewer’s guide suggests that a GTX 570 can max out Max Payne 3 at Very High settings including FXAA. Our own fluid results with Very High settings and 4xMSAA with a GTX 680 suggest this is correct. A GTX 560 should be able to manage High settings.
3D Vision & Surround Performance
The expected performance drop when playing Max Payne 3 with 3D Vision 2 with a single GTX 680 suggests it is quite playable with FXAA. A GTX 690 has no issues with 4xMSAA in S3D nor with 5760×1080 although a single GTX 680 needs to drop back to FXAA for playing in Super-Widescreen resolutions.
Max Payne 3 has some definite replayability. Since the player has the option to skip the cutscenes after it loads, he can concentrate on his shooting accuracy and you can replay the main story line to find golden gun parts and clues you might have missed, perhaps at a harder difficulty. There is also an Arcade Mode where the player can race the clock while causing as much destruction as possible. Score Attack Levels are unlocked by by beating them in Single Player mode while completing the game again, unlocks New York Minute.
New York Minute starts you out with a minute of life and you can add +5 seconds to it for each enemy NPC you kill. Fantic is the best description of this mode. And of course, there is Multiplayer.
Max Payne 3 comes highly recommended and we give it a solid 9.5 for Max Payne fans; 8.5 for everyone else. The graphics are extraordinary, the gameplay is enhanced over the original games, and the story and voice acting is absolutely top-notch. We feel it was $60 well spent for an excellent game and we are looking forward to playing future installments in the Max Payne series. Recommended!
Max Payne 3 is definitely not for those who are easily offended by realistic over-the-top violence. Nitpicks include the shortness of the game, checkpoint saves and lack of framerate monitoring and convenient screen capture with the retail edition.
Stay tuned as we have many more reviews and evaluations coming up. This weekend, you can expect a full review of the Noctua NH-DH14 as we quest for 5.0GHz with our Ivy Bridge Core i7-3770K. And of course, join us in our ABT forum and speak your mind!
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