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!


Configuring Batman: Arkham Asylum

The variety of graphics options in Arkham Asylum is respectable, but compared to what we know of the Unreal Engine 3 technology, there could have been a lot more. The entire configuration interface happens OUTSIDE of the game, in a submenu on the game’s launcher. The first time a player runs the game, the launcher will appear automatically. From then on, however, double-clicking the game’s icon will send the player directly into the game, with no ability to manage graphics options once inside. To change these video options after the first run, you must right-click the game’s icon and select the "Launcher" option, then click the "Settings" menu item. From that interface, players can manage graphics options, movement controls, and action controls.

Graphics Options

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Fullscreen, Resolution, V Sync, Multi-Sample Anti-Aliasing

The first option, Fullscreen, allows the player to run the game in a window or in full-screen mode. The resolution option allows the player to select the resolution in which the game will run, and also lists the selected resolution’s aspect ratio. The V Sync option allows the player to toggle vertical sync, which forces the game to display new frames in synchronization with the display device’s vertical refresh impulse. The Multi Sample Anti-Aliasing option allows gamers with NVIDIA-based video cards to select from a list of available supported AA modes. If you have an AMD video card, it will say "Use ATI Control Panel", and you will have to force your AA option from the Catalyst Control Center.

NVIDIA Stereoscopic 3D

The NVIDIA Stereoscopic 3D option allows gamers to use NVIDIA’s 3D Vision goggles for stereoscopic 3D gaming.

Detail Level

The Detail Level option is a macro configuration setting. Altering this setting will change the other graphics options in the configuration interface.


The Bloom option is supposed to the player to toggle HDR bloom lighting in Batman: Arkham Asylum. During our testing, we found that changing this option did not actually have an effect on image quality or performance.

Dynamic Shadows

The Dynamic Shadows option toggles dynamic shadows, which are shadows cast by moving objects such as characters, vehicles, and landscape items.

Motion Blur

The Motion Blur option toggles the motion blur effect. In Batman: Arkham Asylum, motion blur is visible when Batman turns quickly, and when objects move quickly. It is a very noticeable feature, and it has a big impact on performance. Disable this option if you are experiencing low framerates.


The Distortion setting toggles the distortion effect that is visible as a result of some fast moving objects, such as the Batclaw grappling hook and the Batarangs in flight.

Fog Volumes

The Fog Volumes option is for toggling the volumetric fog elements. In Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman can hide in some fog elements, while others are used for visual effect only.

Spherical Harmonic Lighting

Spherical Harmonic Lighting is a lighting technique designed to improve efficiency of shading and shadows during real-time rendering. It involves using pre-generated lighting calculation functions to quickly evaluate the effects of changing light sources, and is generally used to reproduce diffused lighting. The Spherical Harmonic Lighting option simply toggles this feature. For more information on spherical harmonic lighting, see this paper (link to PDF) from Sony Computer Entertainment of America. (We have talked about this being used in the Ghost Busters Game as well.)

Hardware Accelerated PhysX

The Hardware Accelerated PhysX allows three levels of detail for NVIDIA’s PhysX technology in Batman: Arkham Asylum. It can be disabled by setting this option to Off. The highest option is "High" and enables all of the PhysX effects that Batman: Arkham Asylum supports. The middle option is "Normal", and reduces the density of some of these effects somewhat. We will have a great deal more detail on this feature later in this article.

INI Options

Batman: Arkham Asylum comes out of the box with a framerate cap set to 62. It also uses a framerate smoothing technique to keep huge spikes FPS from creating an uneven quality in the gameplay. During our testing, we found that the game felt smoother with this option enabled, especially when playing with relatively low framerates. For that reason, we left this feature on. The INI settings for this option are found in the "..\\Batman Arkham Asylum\\Engine\\BaseEngine.ini" file and are as follows:






Change the "bSmoothFrameRate=" to FALSE to disable this feature, or play around with the values of the "MinSmoothedFrameRate" and "MaxSmoothedFrameRate" settings if you find the defaults to be disagreeable. In our testing, we had no problems with this setting, so we left it unchanged.

Evaluation Scenario

To evaluate performance in Batman: Arkham Asylum, we first played the game all the way through to find the most demanding section of the game that was actually suitable for testing. Some parts of the game are extremely demanding, but are very short. Other very long stretches of the game may have very little action or none at all, or they may perform well above what we are looking for. Eventually, we settled on Batman’s second encounter with the Scarecrow. In this encounter, Batman relives the murder of his parents, and then proceeds to sneak around the Scarecrow as the asylum dissolves around him in his drugged stupor. Eventually, he snaps back to reality inside the Arkham clock tower and proceeds to beat up more bad guys. The test takes us 10 minutes and gives us plenty of variety in environment, as well as some combat action experiences.