2009 was a great year, not just because it was the year that I met my two co-founders of this here website, but also because it gave birth to the Batman: Arkham series, one of the best video game franchises of modern day, with the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Now, coupled with arguably the best game in the series, its direct sequel, Batman: Arkham City, Batman’s finest has returned, remastered for the modern day in Batman: Return To Arkham.
Developer: Rocksteady Studios (Original), Virtous (Remasters)
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Also Available On: Xbox One
Release Date: Out Now
Seven years is a long time in the video game industry, development studios have risen and fallen in that time, a new generation of machines has paved the way for ultra-realism in games, it’s never going to be an easy sell bringing a game back from what feels like an age past. Recently, however, there has been a wave of remastered collections hitting the market, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection and The Bioshock Collection being two of the biggest releases, and what do these have in common? The games were the best of the best, the peak in their day and a loyal fanbase who are willing to shell out cash for a new and improved version of the games they loved so much. If there was ever a franchise worthy of such a remaster, it’s the Arkham series.
So here we are, the Dark Knight’s first couple of Arkham adventures have been remastered, but given just how far the franchise has advanced since the first game, does this remastered asylum rekindle the magic of seven years ago? In a word, yes.
It genuinely surprised me, researching this game prior to playing, just how many negative comments there were online, “It looks the same”, “What exact has been done?”, many fans seemed disappointed by the pre-release videos they had seen, but this could be purely down to those rose-tinted glasses that us gamers wear when remembering those games of old we loved so much, they always looked better in our memories. Luckily, I still own the original two games on the PS3 and took the opportunity to jump back in prior to this release, just so I could give the best possible comparison and I can’t tell you now, the improvements are immense.
Within minutes of starting a fresh game, it’s clear that Arkham Asylum has been improved, the early cut-scenes and the Joker’s entrance all basking in the glory of the Unreal 4 engine. Even so, it isn’t until you get yourself out of the first building and into the open-air that you can truly appreciate just how much work has been done on this game. That first step out into the vast outside area left me astonished at the quality of the visual work. The tiniest of detail has had work done, the night sky now alive, the glorious high-definition Arkham Mansion facade was a wonder to behold.
Much like the aforementioned Bioshock, a game of a similar age which I had the pleasure of reviewing the remaster of last month, Arkham Asylum’s setting is rooted in darkness, this is a Batman game so, of course, the environment is going to have a dark and moody tone. This is sadly where the visual improvements suffer a little, where Rapture remained as dark and creepy as it’s original, Arkham’s lighting system seems to have been brightened somewhat, bringing with it a lighter tone than the more Frank Miller inspired insane asylum you may remember from the original, something is slightly lost in the experience as a result.
It’s the same with the character models, yes they have had vast improvements on their 2009 counterparts, but the visual improvements have had a negative impact as well. Emotion plays a big part in the Arkham games, especially in the original, Batman’s very different relationship with each of the villains is visible on the faces of these characters, and something has been lost as a result of the softened pixels. This is most likely down to the darkness of the original, used more than anything to hide the technical limitations of the day, made these characters look far more menacing, it’s barely noticeable unless you’re a superfan, but given that is the group that this remaster is trying to please, it’s worth mentioning at this stage.
That all said, the Dark Knight has had a decent visual upgrade, in fact, it’s his cape which really steals the spotlight. The texture improvements really show as the light hits the material, even the movement of it seems much more fluid than before. Similarly, the combat animation is far less temperamental, the flow from bad guy to bad guy isn’t as clunky. That’s not to say that the original wasn’t impressive, the combat element of the Arkham games is now the standard by which similar games aim for, but back in the day, it was in need of some refinement.
The actual mechanics of the game, have ported well, a little too well if I’m honest. While movement was never an issue, or firing one of the many gadgets available, fighting multiple goons at once required a perfected rhythm which wasn’t always easy to master, it was one of those issues that you look back in hindsight and realise having made the most of it at the time. Sadly, however, that still exists here, it’s still quite difficult to hit that counter, hit, counter balance just right and that can be frustrating, especially if it’s been a while since you played this game.
Sadly some of the odd glitches from the original have made their way over to the remaster as well, especially those which hit during combat. If I’m honest, it doesn’t feel like anything has been done to improve these mechanics of the game, but given that none of the issues were game killers, and they weren’t prominent across the entire game, there doesn’t seem to be a massive need for improvements.
Of course, there’s always Batman: Arkham City, the direct sequel from 2011, which did a fantastic job of taking the best of the original and tweaking to refine. Visually, it shares the same upgrades as it’s predecessor, but given that this game was already a vast improvement on Asylum, it’s not surprising that City’s open-world is where this collection shows off its best work. Again, the sharper textures and lighter environments take a little away from the atmosphere, but the overall experience is still a welcomed one.
If you’ve never played these games back to back before, then this collection will surely make you appreciate the immense improvements brought into the franchise by Batman: Arkham City, mostly around the gaming mechanics with everything from subtle movements and gliding to full-blown combat is vastly superior.
All of the DLC is, of course, included in this collection as well, and while that doesn’t mean too much more than a couple of extra skills for Asylum (though Adam West Batman and 90’s Animated Batman are frigging awesome), the major highly here is the additional storylines and missions added to City’s already substation side-content, the ability to play as other characters makes for an interesting diversion on your road to Gotham glory. These too have all had the face-lift treatment, the shiny new visuals look exceptionally impressive on Catwoman’s character model.
Overall, Batman: Return to Arkham is a successful remaster collection, a celebration of the origins of franchise. The visual upgrades, while impressive, do come with downsides is respect to the creepy and dark atmosphere of the original, however, this doesn’t dull the Asylum experience enough to avoid the new bundle. Personally, as a massive fan of the franchise, I’d purchase this purely for another round the Batman adventures, and the addition of all of the DLC is far too tempting to ignore.
The gameplay is probably going to be the hardest sell, not because it is in anyway bad, but purely because there were minor issues in the original that could have been fixed as part of the remasters, yet sadly weren’t. That might put off those who have played the original recently.
That’s said, if you somehow managed to miss last-gen’s versions, or never got a chance to play through the DLC for the games then this is a superb collection for you. Let’s face it, this collection is two of the best superhero games ever made, with improved visuals, what’s not to love? As a Batfan, I believe this one is worth the purchase.
- Improved visuals which as noticeable from the off. Textures and lighting upgrades improve the overall experience
- Fantastically stable port of both games, despite the upgraded visual, everything that made these games so good is still there
- The inclusion of two of the best superhero games of all time, bundled with all of their DLC, enough said on that really
- The visual improvements take a little away from the gritty nature of the original games, the soften tones make Gotham look a little less menacing
- Minor flaws with the gameplay and mechanics have been ported without a fix or enhancement, makes it more authentic, I suppose