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!


RockSteady and Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment originally launched Batman: Arkham Asylum in late August of 2009 for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 gaming consoles before finally bringing it to the PC in the middle of September. Featuring enhancements to the game’s aesthetics, courtesy of NVIDIA’s PhysX technology, the PC version along with a newer NVIDIA graphics card promises graphical enhancements and features over and above what is available in the console version of the game.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

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Spoiler Alert! (But no game stoppers.)

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a 3rd person, beat-em-up game, starring everybody’s favorite antihero, the Batman. It is an action/adventure stealth game in which Batman crawls around Arkham Asylum in search of The Joker, in an attempt to put a stop to his takeover of the island fortress. Several canonical characters make their appearances, including the Batman, the Oracle, Commissioner Gordon, the Joker, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn. Other, less prolific sidekick characters include Zsasz, Bane, and the Killer Croc. Though they don’t actually appear in-game, there are references to Mr. Freeze, the Penguin, Two-Face, and the Riddler.

It is an entirely single-player game, featuring a story-driven campaign mode and several shorter challenge maps. Though the game features very fluid and dynamic hand-to-hand combat, the core of the game is in its stealth in which Batman baits and ambushes opponents, and its detective mode in which Batman tracks the movements of certain characters by identifying traces of their activity, whether it is lingering alcohol from a hip-flask, or smoldering tobacco from Gordon’s pipe. As the game progresses, the player unlocks equipment upgrades and acquires new toys and combat techniques.


Batman: Arkham Asylum uses the successful Unreal Engine 3.5 technology suite. Originally launched with Gears of War in 2006, the third generation of Epic’s Unreal technology supports DirectX 9, and DirectX 10, HDR, per-pixel lighting, dynamic shadows, and employs input, audio and network management features built into the engine’s development API. The engine is also supported on. the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. In 2008, an updated version of UE3 (vUE3.5) emerged, featuring better rendering efficiency, improved water physics and soft-body physics, more destructible environments, improved lighting and shadow effects, as well as improved AI.

As we mentioned before, Batman: Arkham Asylum for PC supports NVIDIA’s PhysX technology via a patch that was delivered on the game’s launch day.

According to NVIDIA:

It uses GPU accelerated rigid bodies to create a world where walls can be torn into hundreds of pieces, and where entire worlds can fall apart in front of the gamer’s eyes. With GPU based cloth, the countless piles of case profiles that litter the halls of Arkham are given new life as fully simulated dynamic objects. During combat, these sheets of paper fill the air, giving the FreeFlow combat system an extra sense of dynamism. Arkham’s smoky conduits and spooky graveyard also get a facelift with PhysX technology. By leveraging GPU based fluid, rich volumetric smoke fills the corridors, and thick fog envelops the graveyard. When taken together, the game’s already brooding atmosphere is given extra weight, combat becomes even more dynamic, and Arkham truly takes on the persona of a crumbling, surreal underworld.

We are certainly interested to see what kind of gameplay improvements RockSteady has built with PhysX.

The Video Cards

For this evaluation, we are using nine video cards from NVIDIA and AMD.

From NVIDIA, we have the GeForce GTX 295, the GeForce GTX 285, the GeForce GTX 275, and the GeForce GTS 250.

From AMD, we are using the ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2, the Radeon HD 4890, the Radeon HD 4770, and the new ATI Radeon HD 5870 and Radeon HD 5850.

Note that this evaluation was completed before the launch of the Radeon HD 5700 series, so the Radeon HD 5770 and Radeon HD 5750 unfortunately did not make it into this evaluation. We will be using Batman: Arkham Asylum in all of our upcoming Radeon HD 5700 series evaluations.