Fun fact: when I first played Batman: Arkham Asylum, just over seven years ago now, I hated it.
Or rather, I hated its combat system. Far away from the fisticuffs of Devil May Cry and all the other action-adventure games that I’d played before it, it felt alien, awkward, and above all else, not fun. It grew on me in time though, and it’s a good job too, as now it’s almost an industry standard, with quality titles such as Sleeping Dogs and Mad Max ripping it off wholesale whilst adding their own little quirks.
Developed by Rocksteady, the Batman: Arkham series has more going for it than just an iconic combat system though; by adding in a healthy dose of adventure, stealth, investigation and puzzles, it’s undoubtedly the best use of the Batman licence in the world of video games. In fact, even if you aren’t that keen on Batman the games are still worth playing, such is the strength and variety of the gameplay they encapsulate.
Conceived as a trilogy, with the third and final title, Batman: Arkham Knight, released on current generation consoles just last year, it only seemed natural in the age of remasters and ports that its predecessors would find their way onto modern hardware platforms too. And so here we are with Batman: Return to Arkham. Comprising both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City along with all of their DLC in one bundle, it should pique the interest of any ardent fan of the series as well as those yet to experience it. Also worthy of note is that it comes provided on two discs if you buy it physically – one for each game – although each requires a hefty 7-9gb patch before any fun can be had.
Whilst Batman: Return to Arkham sits firmly in the remaster camp, all changes made are entirely cosmetic. Both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City play exactly the same as they ever did, which is not a bad thing considering that the gameplay in both was already sublime, but now they look better than ever. Textures are more detailed and a myriad of special effects have been improved, bringing the expansive Arkham City and the more contained Arkham Asylum to life like never before. Additionally, a dynamic resolution solution has been put in place to strike the right balance between image quality and performance, or at least that’s what it’s supposed to do.
By employing a dynamic resolution, Batman: Arkham Asylum’s and Batman: Arkham City’s visual clarity ranges from super sharp to noticeably a little fuzzy, but it always remains a welcome improvement over their last gen counterpart’s efforts. Unfortunately though, the same can’t be said about the framerate of either title. Mostly volatile during cut scenes, both games suffer from the odd framerate drop here and there, and whilst Arkham City feels more fluid than Arkham Asylum on the whole, it’s a huge disappointment that either title struggles on more advanced hardware. Luckily, the framerate issues are never bad enough to truly affect the gameplay, but many will be dismayed that they exist and mar what should be the definitive editions of two great games.
Going off on another tangent, it’s also rather disappointing yet entirely understandable why Batman: Arkham Origins isn’t included in the package. Sure, it wasn’t made by Rocksteady, but it would have completed the range of titles available and was actually really good aside from the tacked-on multiplayer and deluge of launch issues. Who knows, maybe it will receive the remaster treatment someday, although Xbox One owners would probably be better off if it was just added to the backwards compatibility list.
Despite the framerate issues and the absence of Arkham Origins though, I’d still consider Batman: Return to Arkham to be a must-buy for both fans of the series that seek to relive it and those that are somehow yet to dive in. It may not be the flawless remastering of two great titles that we hoped it would be, but the drastically improved visuals and the inclusion of all available DLC easily outweighs any disappointment caused. With Rocksteady turning their back on the caped crusader now that Arkham VR is out in the wild, this is your chance to own the defining titles that put them on the map, now with more clarity and pizazz than ever. In my opinion, that’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.