Publisher: Warner Bros.
Format: PS4, Xbox One [reviewed]
Released: October 18, 2016
Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum and its sequel, Batman: Arkham City, are without a doubt two of the best superhero games ever made. Warner Bros. Interactive is clearly aware of this pedigree, as the publisher has remastered both games for the current generation in a bundle entitled Batman: Return To Arkham. Virtuos has been put in charge of remastering Rocksteady’s games and while both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City hold up remarkably well and are well worth playing through if you somehow missed out on them the first time, there is very little reason for returning fans to double dip on these disappointing ports.
On a positive note, both titles have been given a noticeable visual upgrade thanks to the Unreal Engine 4. Textures are noticeably sharper and cleaner looking, and although neither game looks anywhere as good as Batman: Arkham Knight, which was developed from the ground up for current generation hardware, it would certainly be hard to go back to playing either title on the PS3 or Xbox 360 after seeing them run on a PS4 or Xbox One.
Unfortunately, while the visuals have certainly benefited from the jump to more powerful hardware, performance has not. Both Arkham Asylum and Arkham Knight are locked at 30 frames per second (FPS) and frankly, it’s inexcusable for any remastered PS3/Xbox 36o era game to not run at 60 FPS. And while the framerate is generally stable across the board, there is noticeable slowdown and clipping in busy scenes, such as when Batman is fighting a large number of enemies. It’s commendable that Warner Bros. initially pushed back Return to Arkham’s release date in order to address performance issues, but it’s disappointing to see that this delay really only brought the remastered versions on par with the original games’ performance and doesn’t actually improve on them in any meaningful way.
It’s also disappointing that Batman: Arkham Origins, which was developed by WB Games Montreal, is not included in this collection. Although it is widely considered the worst installment in the main set of Arkham games, Origins is still well worth playing and its omission here feels like a massive oversight. Return to Arkham just feels incomplete without it.
Fortunately, if you can get past the subpar port job, there’s still a lot to love about both games. The franchise has made many design changes since Arkham Asylum was first released in 2009, but it’s still a classic. Although it doesn’t feature an open-world design like its successors, Arkham Asylum arguably has the best level design of any of the Arkham games, as the Asylum is a memorable, sprawling environment that is still fun to explore and the game as a whole has the tightest narrative focus in the series.
Meanwhile, Arkham City is still arguably the best game in the series, as it expands upon the core gameplay introduced in Arkham Asylum while avoiding some of the bloat and repetitive Batmobile sections found in Arkham Knight. Even five years after it was originally released, Arkham City is an impressive achievement and still stands as the best superhero game ever made and one of the greatest video games of the last console generation.
Both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City come bundled with all the DLC that was released for both titles, which bolster’s Return to Arkham’s value proposition if you didn’t purchase any of this content originally. The only real downside is that it seems you need to complete each game’s story mode in order to access the bonus costumes, which is a real shame if you wanted to play through all of Arkham City as the Batman Beyond version of the Dark Knight. [UPDATE: if you resume the campaign from the main menu, it gives you the option to select a different skin. It’s strange that the game doesn’t allow you to pick an alternate costume right off the bat, but it’s still nice to see that the option is there.]
As far as remastered collections go, Batman: Return To Arkham leaves much to be desired. The games themselves are still as excellent as ever and if you’ve never experienced them, this is absolutely the best way to do so. At the same time, unless you are obsessed with these titles and are looking for an excuse to play through them again, there’s really no reason to splurge for this bare-bones collection. If Virtuos had gotten each game to run at 60 FPS or added some compelling piece of new content, it may have been a different story, but as things stand, it’s a tough sell indeed to want to return to Arkham.