The Batman series has been a great example of how to do a superhero game that truly makes you feel like a superhero. As the name implies, Batman Arkham Origins takes the series back to the beginning, and it explores the origins of many of the characters. This is probably well-trodden ground if you're a fan of the comics and movies, but I actually haven't read any comics in quite some time so I find the story in Batman Arkham Origins is at least reasonably engaging. As with the earlier Batman Arkham games, you start with a somewhat limited set of moves and equipment, unlocking additional items and upgrades as the game progresses. Towards the latter portion of the game, Batman becomes a force to be reckoned with, and you'll have fights of 20 or more villains to help test your skills.
Getting on to the hardware side of things, Batman Arkham Origins follows the earlier games in the series with some TLC courtesy of NVIDIA. While some of that likely helps the game look better on all platforms, the big showcase here is the use of PhysX, and unlike some other games (e.g. Metro Last Light), the use of PhysX here makes a striking difference to how the game looks. It's not required by any means, but if you have a fast NVIDIA GPU enabling PhysX makes the world feel much more real. Trash and debris flutter through the air, smoke swirls, banners -- and more importantly, Batman's cape -- move in the wind; and all of this is done in a realistic manner. New to the series is the use of APEX particles, which are apparently more realistic and computations can be done faster, allowing more effects. There are other additions courtesy of the NVIDIA team, but you can read about those elsewhere. The important thing is that all of the effects make for a compelling experience, and if you want a reason to go with NVIDIA hardware instead of AMD, this is about as good as it gets.
Batman Arkham Origins - Performance and Analysis
The earlier entries in the Batman Arkham series have been somewhat less demanding in terms of your hardware, and the difference between maximum detail and minimum detail while noticeable wasn't quite as great as what we see in other titles. Other than PhysX, most decent GPUs were able to simply crank up all the settings and have at it. That changes with Batman Arkham Origins, and if your hardware isn't up to snuff you may not even be able to play the game at all. I remember the original Batman Arkham Asylum ran reasonably well even on lower-tier hardware if you turned down the settings. As we'll see in the charts, even at minimum settings Batman Arkham Origins can still be too much for Intel's Graphics HD 4600, and laptop users will definitely need at least a moderate dedicated GPU (or an A8/A10 AMD APU) to handle the workload. But enough talk; let's see how Batman Arkham Origins runs on our test systems -- we have also included results at our Ultra and High settings with PhysX enabled on NVIDIA GPUs.
If you have the GPU horsepower to run it properly, you're in for a real treat. With a GeForce GTX 780 average frame rates are near 60 FPS, even with all settings at maximum and running at 2560x1440. The GeForce GTX 770 does decently as well, and although minimum frame rates with PhysX are sometimes close to 30 FPS, I'd still leave PhysX enabled. As an alternative to help performance without sacrificing too much in the way of image quality, turning off 4xMSAA and switching to FXAAA High should keep you above 60FPS for the most part. If you have a 4K display or multi-monitor setup, about your only hope is to run a pair of GPUs in SLI if you don't want to turn down some settings. Perhaps the upcoming GeForce GTX 980/970 will change that, but right now the fastest NVIDIA GPUs are still enough to handle all but the most taxing of scenarios.
AMD handles Batman Arkham Origins reasonably well, and our CrossFire (and overclocked) HD 7950 / R9 280 cards actually top the charts, but again -- and I can't emphasize this enough -- a big part of what makes Batman Arkham Origins fun to play and watch are the PhysX visuals. The game isn't bad without them, but it's just not as good. There were also some oddities with our 7970 GHz failing to outperform the HD 7950 OC at many of our settings, which was a bit odd to see, but perhaps drivers are something else were to blame. Ultimately, you can still get a great experience out of Batman Arkham Origins with something like the AMD R9 285 or AMD R9 280X, and if you have AMD hardware there's no reason to avoid the game, but NVIDIA definitely wins this round.
And what about Intel? As I alluded to earlier, it struggles to hit playable frame rates, even at our "Low" settings, delivering just 27FPS average with 20FPS minimums. Try going for Medium at 1600x900 and you're looking at sub-20 FPS frame rates and a 17FPS average. Yuck! Even doubling the graphics power, which is what Intel's Broadwell is rumored to do, may not be sufficient to handle games like Batman Arkham Origins at medium to high quality and 1600x900, let alone 1920x1080.
Update: 4K Gaming in Batman Arkham Origins is definitely going to require a lot of GPU power. A single GTX 980 or GTX 970 just isn't going to cut it, unless you're okay with frame rates closer to 30FPS than 60FPS. Dual GPUs are the order of the day, and thankfully Batman continues to scale well with SLI and CrossFire even at 4K resolutions. Our CrossFire R9 290X configuration still manages to post 74FPS at 4K with quality settings maxed out, though PhysX obviously isn't an option with AMD GPUs.
In terms of image quality, the difference between our Ultra and High settings basically amounts to the level of anti-aliasing, and it's worth noting that while FXAA has only a small impact on performance, it also can compromise image quality depending on the scene (i.e. it can blur everything rather than just the edges). When we disable the DX11 effects and drop to our Medium settings, image quality takes a big hit -- the shadows are gone from the characters, SSAO is off as well, and the game looks far less realistic. Finally, at Low detail settings, we're basically at the level of last-generation console hardware (XBox 360/Playstation 3), and that's not good. Yes, looks aren't everything, but all other things being equal I'd rather have them than not.
As for PhysX, we've provided the above images to show some of what it does for the game. The first three images compare High quality without and with PhysX, with the third image being Ultra quality with PhysX; it provides a good example of a case where FXAA High causes a lot of loss of detail compared to 4xMSAA. The remaining scenes are all High quality, without and with PhysX. You can see some of what PhysX does for the appearance of the game in the above screenshots, but still images don't do PhysX justice. There are many areas where the impact of PhysX is far more impressive, and seeing everything in motion rather than still images gives you a sense of just how many calculations are being done to enable the effects. Many of the scenes in the game just feel lifeless after you've seen them with PhysX.
How to Benchmark Batman Arkham Origins
Batman Arkham Origins has a built-in benchmarking utility, which is always nice as it makes it easy for other people to corroborate our scores -- not to mention it allows our readers to submit scores as well. To run the benchmark, just go into the options and set the appropriate graphics level and then run the benchmark. It takes about two minutes to run and your results are reported at the end. Below are images showing the test settings:
Batman Arkham Origins Competition
As a final bonus, I'm going to run a competition to see who can post the highest score (and validate it with a video) for Batman Arkham Origins. The prize hasn't been decided, but I'm thinking a Steam game code for a game of my choice -- and yes, it will be a recent/new title, not something from last year! To make things more interesting, the more people that submit scores (and the more traffic the site gets -- think of this as a bit of a stress test of our web engine!), the better the prize will be. I might have to do first/second/third prizes if enough people enter, and I'll update this text accordingly. So if you're reading this and you have thoughts on what you'd like to see in terms of a prize, post a comment and let me know! (I'll remove this message when the contest is over, so if you're reading this it's not too late to enter!)
The contest will be for the highest overall score (Average FPS + Minimum FPS, equally weighted -- basically show up on the top of our performance chart) submitted for our 1920x1080 Ultra settings. That means both AMD and NVIDIA GPUs can compete, so get cracking! If you do have the high score at the end of the competition, you'll need to make a recording of the entire benchmarking sequence and upload the video to YouTube or some other similar platform. Start at the desktop, show GPU-Z and CPU-Z information for your CPU and GPU(s), then load the game, go into the settings and verify that you're running our 1080p Ultra settings, and then start the benchmark. (Note: a tripod might be helpful!) Video proof will need to be posted by the end of the contest (and videos uploaded prior to today are obviously not counted). If you have any further questions, post in the comments and I'll respond! The contest will run through the end of the month.