Batman: Arkham Asylum & PhysX Gameplay Review

In Batman: Arkham Asylum, the Dark Knight pummels an endless stream of thugs, but will the game deliver the same two-fisted brutality to your video card? Find out as we examine gameplay performance and image quality on nine of today's video cards. Extensive testing of NVIDIA's PhysX and what it means to your gameplay experience!


PhysX in Batman: Arkham Asylum Continued

We’ve seen what kind of performance we can expect, and we’ve learned some surprising things, like PhysX does decrease graphics performance. But the best performance in the world isn’t useful unless there is something to show for it. There absolutely needs to be a graphical payoff to make all that extra hardware or that upgrade worthwhile. If it doesn’t make games look better and improve the gameplay experience, there is really no compelling reason to want to use PhysX at all. The good news is there is absolutely a graphical effects payoff in Batman: Arkham Asylum .

NOTE: It is worth noting that all of the screenshots below were taken in the second encounter with the Scarecrow. The Scarecrow levels are the levels where you will see the most PhysX effects in this game and are a showcase for the PhysX effects in the game. Otherwise, throughout the rest of the game, these effects are not as wide spread.

PhysX Image Quality

The screenshots below illustrate the Image Quality difference that the PhysX features in Batman: Arkham Asylum bring to the game. They are compressed in JPEG format, because we are not looking for super-fine details. All nine groups of screenshots follow the same order. The image on the left depicts the "High" PhysX setting. The image in the middle depicts the "Normal" PhysX setting. Finally, the image on the right depicts the "Disabled" PhysX setting.

Keep in mind that screenshots are not the best way to represent these effects, some of them like the Fog Volumes, are best seen in motion.

Paper Effects

Article Image Article Image Article Image

In this first set of screenshots show the scaling of paper effects. On High and Normal, the bundles of paper on the desk are disturbed and break apart into many sheets. With PhysX turned off, the bundles just bounce around without breaking, behaving very much unlike real paper. We were hard pressed to see any differences, beyond reduced paper quantity, between High and Normal PhysX setting with the paper.

Tin Cans

Article Image Article Image Article Image

In this set, we see the scaling of some tin cans that fall out of a trash can. On High and Normal, there are quite a few cans spawned, but with PhysX disabled, there are only a handful shown. Again, we were hard pressed to see a real difference between High and Normal PhysX setting for the tin cans.

More Paper Effects and Disintegrating Walkway

Article Image Article Image Article Image

This set again shows the scaling of paper effects and a disintegrating walkway. On High, there is a large section of floor that breaks apart and whirls away into the wind. There is also a very large amount of paper whipping around in the wind. On Normal, there is less paper, and the disintegrating walkway is simply not spawned. It appears just as a gap in the floor. With PhysX turned off, there is hardly any paper in blowing around, and again the disintegrating walkway is not spawned.

Paper and Fog

Article Image Article Image Article Image

This set again shows paper and fog scaling. In the first image, with PhysX on High, there is a huge amount of paper blowing around in the air. In the second image, using the Normal setting, there is less paper visible. With PhysX turned off, shown in the third image, there are only a few sheets blowing.

At first, it appears that there is less fog shown in the distance with PhysX on high than on Normal. That is not correct, however. In the first image, some of the fog is merely obscured by blowing paper, and the lighting is slightly different, so the fog appears darker. In the last image, with PhysX disabled, there is no fog at all.

Fog and Fog Volume Effect

Article Image Article Image Article Image

This set clearly shows the scaling of the fog effect. On High and Normal, there is fog on the floor of the walkway, and with PhysX disabled, the fog is missing.

Article Image Article Image Article Image

This set shows the displacing of that fog volume. On High and Normal, the fog is pushed out of the way when Batman (or other characters) disturbs it. Of course, with PhysX disabled, there is no fog, so it cannot be displaced.

We could not physically (pun intended) see the difference between High and Normal Fog Volumes, our guess is that perhaps there is a precision difference in the shader if there is one at all.

Destruction Effect

Article Image Article Image Article Image

These screenshots show destruction scaling. With PhysX on High, some buildings in that particular stage crumble as Batman progresses through it. The rubble actually flies around the Scarecrow in a very wide arc. With PhysX off and when set to Normal, however, the buildings in question are not spawned, so they do not get destroyed.

Article Image Article Image Article Image

This screenshot set shows what happens to those pieces of rubble. At the end of the stage, the circle of rubble constricts and converges on the Scarecrow when Batman activates the Bat Signal. That, of course, is when PhysX is set to High. When it is set to Normal or Off, there is no rubble.