Batman: Return to Arkham Review

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I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the Arkham series has had more impact on the third-person brawler genre than any series before it. It revolutionized hand-to-hand combat and set a new standard of gameplay the same way Gears of War expanded on the third-person shooter genre. As someone who’s played each entry religiously, I was ecstatic when Warner Brothers announced a remaster of the most popular two entries—despite excluding the criminally underrated Origins.

Now that the remaster has been out for a while and I had an opportunity to replay through both updated entries, my feelings about the whole package are somewhat mixed. On one hand, Batman: Return to Arkham is the perfect bundle for newcomers who never had a chance to play the series last generation, and who don’t have access to a powerful enough gaming PC. On the other hand, the overall remaster treatment is inconsistent, with some moments making my jaw drop, while others made my eyes squint. 

Unlike the previous entries, Return to Arkham was handled by developer Virtous (largely known for their Final Fantasy X and X-2 HD remasters). Virtous has put a lot of emphasis on boosting texture resolution and refining fine, environmental details, but it seems they missed out on re-capturing the dark atmosphere that made the original entries so cinematic. Rich, shadowy values have been replaced by strong lights which do great justice highlighting the superb texturing work, but they coincidentally overshadow...well, the shadows of the original.


"Despite a “lighter” overall treatment, Batman: Return to Arkham looks absolutely stunning on modern consoles. Arkham City in particular looks incredible. I spent a good deal of time just walking the streets and admiring the stupendous amount of detail brimming from the surroundings."

Despite a “lighter” overall treatment, Batman: Return to Arkham looks absolutely stunning on modern consoles. Arkham City in particular looks incredible. I spent a good deal of time just walking the streets and admiring the stupendous amount of detail brimming from the surroundings. Every street corner looks lived-in, and despite the whole sandbox lacking citizens and active vehicles, Arkham City feels like a real place. 

It’s also worth mentioning that the environmental overhaul is more impressive than what’s been done with the characters. Batman no longer has that grungy look to him, instead he looks like a  shiny action figure that just stepped off the assembly line. I’ve encountered several bugs where his cape would look torn in one scene, but would then revert to looking spankin’ new in another. These type of issue become even more apparent during close-ups (especially Joker), where the lack of shadows created an odd flatness to their expressions.


"Virtous has put a lot of emphasis on boosting texture resolution and refining fine, environmental details, but it seems they missed out on re-capturing the dark atmosphere that made the original entries so cinematic."

Fortunately, these issues are only apparent when you view the old and new versions side-by-side, and most newcomers aren’t going to be bothered by the artistic shift in direction. The biggest issue, however, is the inconsistent framerate that severy impacts the gameplay. The Arkham series is known for its fluid combos and buttery smooth animations, but Batman: Return to Arkham can barely keep up with the action. What’s even more confusing is that Arkham Asylum, a game that’s far more linear and smaller in its environments, runs significantly worse than the open-world Arkham City.

In City, I can easily get 60 fps during most interior levels, while the outside remains relatively stable at 30fps with the occasional dip. In Asylum, the framerate drops are frequent and random. The fps can drop to single digits when just walking down an empty corridor, while other times it’ll stay smooth despite the screen being filled with enemies and plenty of effects. There’s definitely a bug, or rather a lack of polish in the code, and there’s still hope that Virtous will patch up the issues, especially with the PS4 Pro just around the corner.


"Despite my laundry-list of complaints, I still had a blast playing through Batman: Return to Arkham."

Visual improvements aside, both titles and their DLCs have remained unchanged. This isn’t a bad thing since everything else about these games has been near flawless, but I do wish some of the clunky animation transitions had been smoothed out to better complement the cleaner visuals.

Despite my laundry-list of complaints, I still had a blast playing through Batman: Return to Arkham. As a remaster alone, it’s definitely on the sloppy side, but since this is the only way to experience this superb series on next gen hardware, it’s still worth the asking price (that is unless you have a hefty gaming rig of course). Batman: Return to Arkham misses out on being the definitive Batman package, especially when compared to the recently released Bioshock collection, but it remains a piece of gaming history that every gamer needs in their collection.  

7.5

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