Batman: Arkham Asylum: GPUs, CPUs, And PhysX Performance


I'm going to come clean and say right up front that, although I have nothing against Batman, he's far from one of my favorite superheroes. Instead, I'm more of a Spiderman kind of guy. I'm also not a big fan of stealth games like Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid. I prefer my action in the run-and-gun style, and while I tend to use a stealthy approach prior to the attack, I like my action nice and straightforward. I also prefer the first-person perspective; Batman: Arkham Asylum is a third-person game.

Finally, I've never really been into melee-fighting titles. Button mashing and timing my strikes do not represent a play style that has ever truly appealed to me. I tend to gravitate towards good shooters, real-time strategy (RTS) games, role-playing games (RPGs), and racing titles. Left 4 Dead, StarCraft, Fallout 3, and Burnout Paradise are more my cup of tea.

Thus, it seems strange to me that I have enjoyed my time with Batman: Arkham Asylum as much as I have.

The really odd thing is that I didn't really like it right away. Sure, the visuals, detailed character models, meticulous gothic environments, quality voice acting, and generally high-production values impressed me. But it was a bit of an exercise to wade through the game until something clicked: I'm Batman!

Batman doesn't charge in, guns blazing. Instead, he waits in the shadows. He uses fear to his advantage. He doesn't kill his opponents, but is careful to restrain them until the proper authorities arrive. Batman is a vigilante with a conscience, with enough self-doubt to keep himself from going too far and enough relentless drive to prevent him from giving up.

I have enjoyed the Christian Bale flavor of Batman as portrayed in the recent films, but this game really helps you get inside the Dark Knight's head more than any movie could. Once you're there, the game becomes a lot more enjoyable and makes you want to experience more.

That isn't to say that the game is flawless. My biggest complaint is Batman's visor. There is no way to avoid constant use of it. The visor is vital to locate clues, track enemies, and keep Batman's story moving. This isn't a problem in and of itself, but the problem is that when the visor is turned on, all of the lovingly-crafted gothic environments change into something I'd expect in a noisy version of Tron 2.0. The universe becomes a purple-hued, low-contrast, and thick-edged representation of the environment, while important items or enemies are highlighted as brighter colors (usually orange). This is great when you're trying to locate something, but crappy when I'd like to keep track of multiple enemies and enjoy the game's great art direction at the same time. As a consequence, I found myself sacrificing the visual experience I wanted for successful play. Why couldn't Batman have a heads-up display that overlaid important information over the regular view? How I wish I could have been present in the Rocksteady Studios board room when that design decision was made.

Aside from the drawback with the visor, there isn't much to complain about, except the ultra-restrictive game-save system. I could also whine a little about the repetitive nature of fighting groups of unarmed thugs, I suppose. There's more good stuff though, like a lot of trophies to collect, Easter eggs to see, and nifty details in the asylum while you're on your quest. It's a darned good game. Not the best title I've ever played, but I can't think of a better licensed game off-hand.

Now that I've covered my thoughts about the experience, let's move on to the meat and potatoes. If Batman: Arkham Asylum is a title you're interested in, then you're probably curious about how it will perform on your hardware. That is the focus of this article, so let's move on.

  • burnley14
    Excellent article as usual, Mr. Woligroski. Keep up the good work!
  • Kohlhagen
    I just bought an ATI 5000 series card.. can i use my second PCI-E slot with the nvidia 220 to support physX? (i doubt it because AMD/Nvidia GPUs together cause driver issues)
  • curnel_D
    Don--it's almost as though the game is artificially capping performance at a set level, and is then using only the CPU resources it needs to reach that level. On the Core i7, PhysX is using fewer resources than it does on the Phenom II. This would make sense if there was an artificial performance cap, as the i7 has shown to outperform AMD's architecture.With Nvidia pushing proprietary API's like CUDA and PhysX, they're at a point where these things are some of the largest selling points of their products.

    With this in mind, and given Nvidia's past Anti-Consumer business practices, I think we can all expect to see a lot more of this kind of thing in the future with TWIMTBP games.
  • 2shea
    @ kohlhagen: with an ati 5000 card you probably won't need that second card if you don't play on the highest resolution.
  • nzprogamer
    im a big fan of amd and im planing to buy the xfx 4850 in the weekend but the gts250 just add another $5-10 i think i will buy the GTS-250. come on ATI
  • anamaniac
    Wow... that's pathetic. This game should have the words stamped on it: Nvidia only!
  • noob2222
    Interesting find on the CPU useage with ATI cards. It would appear that Nvidia programmed Physix not to unload programming to the cpu, instead forcing it to the GPU only. Just a speculation since it is thier option.
  • sohei
    this game runs great on any hardware but but , nvidia is just nvidia
    why you sell a game to all the people when is just for nvidia cards ?
    that.s why i love google.... google sell free things, nvidia is the opposite
  • JeanLuc
    NPD numbers show this game as currently being one of the least popular PC games - 92nd in fact.

    Nice article BTW, it's sad that the developers were paid off by Nvidia to drop support of AA on AMD cards (in game menu AA support that, there is a work round for ATI cards) as this shows just how morally bankrupt Nvidia is these days.

    And just for the record this isn't a case of AMD not 'supporting developers' as Nvidia would lead you to believe. Never mind the fact it can be enabled via a hack, Richard Hubby from AMD has uploaded an email he got from the developers of Batman Arkham Asylum saying there would be lawsuit if they changed to games code to enable game menu support of AA on ATI cards.
  • sohei
    when you benchmarked intel cpu you use turbo feature? tom