Review: Batman: Return to Arkham (PS4)
Ah, the Dark Knight, the world’s greatest detective, The Batman. There’s a reason why Batman is one of the most (if not the most) popular superheroes. It’s down to the cowl, the fear he strikes into enemies, the gadgetry, the deduction. It’s about the combat ability and let’s not discount the voice. It’s surprising then that the Batman video games of old were so bitterly disappointing, and then Rocksteady came and changed it all.
It’s 7 years now since Batman: Arkham Asylum released to change the way we see Batman and superhero video games, and 5 years since Arkham City came around and refined everything from the first game, and opened it up even further. Now, with remastered games being the in thing, it’s no surprise that the two groundbreaking games would be packaged for the current generation. We know that time isn’t always kind to games, so does the Dark Knight manage to instill the same feeling of enamour or should your love be focused elsewhere?
The Asylum is calling
Batman Arkham Asylum had a massive impact when it released back in 2009. It not only took a popular character and gave you a bit of fun, but rather considered all aspects of The Batman. Things like atmosphere, combat and the gadgets were all included in sublime detail. Stealth mechanics, Rocksteady’s Freeflow combat mechanic and the overall feel of the gameplay was something unique and brilliantly designed for the time.
It meant one thing in particular, one important thing. While playing the game you actually got the feeling of “being” Batman. The way he moved with his cowl floating through the air, the gliding around, the mini detective games, hacking terminals and planting explosive traps. It was so fresh and immersed players wholly into the experience.
It helps that it had a mostly awesome story to boot with lots of characters and character references from the DC Comic world. I say “mostly” because at some point the story gets a little bit, for lack of a better word, lame. Its generic ending with standard boss battle mechanics really moved away from what the rest of the game provided in terms of its tight stealth and combat mechanics.
The Asylum is calling… again
In the remastered version I am pleased to say that the game is still brilliant and reaffirms my stance that it is the best in the series. The controlled atmosphere within the confinements of the Arkham Asylum really helps the game shine and I loved every second of the story on a second playthrough. I even found the final boss more tolerable and coupled with the Scarecrow sections the game was magnificent to play once more. Batman being trapped in the Asylum through the cunning planning of the Joker, and the attempts to stop him is something that will always play out well in the setting.
The hitch in any remake is whether they are worth playing over the original. Arkham Asylum, when it released, actually looked pretty excellent from a visual standpoint and the remake very definitely makes improvements over it. I mean, how would it not given how far visuals have come since then? That said, the improvement is not that massive and while some of the textures look brighter and stand out more, it’s nothing worth calling home about. In fact, in Arkham Asylum with its dark overtone the various landscapes standing out means very little. What is impressive is the Batman model which looks incredible.
What is disappointing in the remake is the frame rate. There has been no jump in terms of the framerate in the remaster and the amount of drops really do stand out. When moving between sections or from loading screens the lag is very much noticeable and while it is by no means gamebreaking, it does disappoint considering a remaster shouldn’t suffer from these issues, especially with such an old game. It does beg the question as to whether this resulted in the initial delay, and why they weren’t able to cut it out completely. Thankfully there are no drops during combat, but it’s still not so pleasant regardless of the timing.
Other than that there is not much extra in the Arkham Asylum part of the package. All the challenges return and there are the usual trophies/achievements to collect, plus the excellent Riddler challenges to keep you occupied once more. A couple of skins aside, it’s really the same game as before, though that’s not a criticism.
Batman in the big ‘ol City
Batman Arkham City is the big brother of Arkham Asylum in nearly every way. More gadgets, fresh mechanics, improved combat system and of course a massive City to play around in as The Batman once more. When Arkham City released there was a lot of excitement at all the gliding that could be done around the city, and how it would bring about the story, side missions and of course those Riddler challenges.
Needless to say, Arkham City was a huge hit for Rocksteady and WB games and it continues to be the benchmark in the series, even if many preferred Arkham Asylum, if only for its more contained setting. Arkham City once again featured the Joker but with a bit of a twist in the middle which I still get shocked at. It shows how the team learnt from their first attempt and brought about a much more solid story throughout.
The gameplay in Arkham City is nothing short of fantastic from an entertainment and technical point of view. There are no performance issues whatsoever that I noticed in Arkham City, no frame drops and no misplaced pixels. Again though with the original looking as good as it did it’s not so easy to notice a massive difference in terms of the improved port for the current generation. Yes, the city does look better, more alive and at times more responsive, but considering it all takes place at night the dark backdrops give little opportunity for rich visuals to truly shine when one compares it with the original release.
That said, the Arkham City looks and plays incredible and the gameplay mechanics do not feel to have aged at all. Perhaps it’s because (apart from Sleeping Dogs) the freeflow combat has simply not been repeated as effectively elsewhere. The gadgetry upgrades are much improved in Arkham City too and there’s just a much bigger playground to play on, making it an excellent experience throughout.
I will commend the story in Arkham City once more for being as clever, engaging and entertaining as it is because even on a second playthrough I felt invested in the characters, the world and the need to prevent all these criminals bringing down Arkham City. That feeling of being Batman never gets old and Rocksteady deserve all the credit once more for what they did with the games.
In terms of extras in Arkham City, the package includes all the Batman skins from the start meaning you can play as animated Batman, Year One Batman or any other without having to unlock them. It includes the Catwoman sections as well as the Harley DLC and then of course the challenge rooms too meaning that overall it is quite a comprehensive package.
To be or not to be The Big Bad Batman again?
Return to Arkham is a great package when you consider it comes with two full games and all the extras. Two excellent full games I should add and if you are a Batman fan and have even the smallest desire to don the suit once more than you should have no excuses but to buy it.
It’s a lot of value in the package, no question about that. However, it’s worth noting that the “upgrade” over the originals is rather minimal and there’s nothing new here that you wouldn’t have seen or done before, unless you skipped the DLC or challenge rooms.
The stuttering in Arkham Asylum is the only real negative point in what was a thoroughly enjoyable second playthrough for me and on that thought alone I am glad the remasters released. Batman’s popularity may be wearing a little bit as his novelty was quite high for a number of years, but playing as The Batman is something that will just never get boring regardless of the time.