Batman: Return to Arkham Review

By Blair Nokes on November 16, 2016

Batman certainly has earned his spot in the pantheon of superheroes I genuinely enjoy in just about every medium. Before Rocksteady’s Arkham series, a decent Batman game was hard to come by. Fans were left with average to abysmal movie tie-ins, clunky tie-ins to the Animated Series, or just truly horrifying attempts at a Batman Game (looking at you, Dark Tomorrow). I may tout these games fairly high, but truthfully, at the time of their respective release dates, they were a breath of fresh air in the Superhero genre. Rather than a team focused on cashing in on whatever movie was out and popular, Rocksteady aimed to deliver a genuine Batman experience, dripping with fan-service to the comics, and animated series.

To help heavily promote the announcement of Arkham Asylum, fans were overjoyed when they heard Kevin Conroy – the voice of the Batman in the insanely popular animated series, alongside Mark Hamill – who to this day is still the most memorable voice for the Joker, would reprise their roles for Rocksteady’s games. Arkham Asylum and Arkham City were incredible releases of the late 2000’s and early 2010’s, ushering in a new template for the superhero genre, and one that was heavily mimicked but never surpassed.

The combat system was a brutally coordinated beat-em-up system that left enemies with broken and contorted limbs. The learning curve began as an easy brawler, but soon greatly expanded to offer a wide array of combo enhancers to extend your combos – to make you truly feel like you’ve the coordination of the Batman. It’s been seven years since the release of the first Arkham game, and Warner Brothers, along with Rocksteady, felt it was necessary to remaster these classics in one definitive edition. Aptly titled Batman: Return to Arkham, this serves as a reintroduction to the dark and grim world of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City for the current generation of home consoles.

Included in this set are the complete iterations of Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Batman: Arkham City, with all of their post-release downloadable content on disc, and what was highlighted to be a remarkable boost in graphical fidelity. For those who may not have experienced the games on the seventh generation, particularly the Playstation 3, the Arkham games suffered the typical Unreal Engine 3 texture pop-in and bizarre rag-doll glitches, on top of some intense framerate dips and screen-tearing. The Wii U port of Arkham City, somehow managed to fall below the former generation’s framerates.

Thankfully, both Arkham Asylum and City have been ported to the new Unreal Engine 4 for Return to Arkham, giving the game’s aesthetic a much brighter atmosphere. Textures were also much sharper than before, with Batman’s suit showing an impressive amount of detail. To its detriment, the brightening has also given the game’s atmosphere a bit of a drawback, as it peeled back from the deliberate darkness that the former iterations had to mask some of the technical limitations of the PS3 and Xbox 360.

Some of the facial improvements have also left a smoothing of the textures, blurring the overall quality; a prime example would be to compare the Penguin from the remastering and how he looked in the original. However, one thing I have noticed is that there are many instances where some fantasic colouring has been added to the city, and characters overall. The Joker in particular looks far more vibrant than his past version, but again that smoothening process persists and I can’t help but notice more detail in the original version.

The largest improvement to the game’s visual fidelity is most certainly with the city itself. It offers far more post processing effects, better lighting systems and a significantly better draw distance. For those hoping the vast boost in hardware would yield a better framerate, Return to Arkham is upscaled to a native 1920x1080, and runs at a solid 30 frames per second. Compared to other remasters in this generation, it’s slightly disappointing that it just wasn’t able to run at 60 frames, but I’m content in that there weren’t any noticeable dips in the framerate.

Final Thoughts

As a whole, Batman: Return to Arkham is still a great deal as a package for newcomers to the series, and for fans wanting to re-enter the madness of Arkham. The visual upgrades range from distinct improvements to a blurring or brightening of what was once crisp and dark, however the games on their own are exceptional Superhero titles. It may not visibly be up to par with some of this generations more formidable attempts at remastering, like The Last of Us, however as a two-for-one package, Batman: Return to Arkham is still well worth the return trip.

Both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City have been ported to Unreal Engine 4.
This retail package includes all DLC and costumes right out of the box.
The game now runs natively in 1080p and a solid 30fps.
There are inconsistencies with the remastering, particularly with the “smoother” facial features on some characters.
Some parts of the world are brighter in instances, taking away from the darker mood and theme that the atmosphere tried to portray.
"That song" at the end of Arkham City…
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