Batman: Return to Arkham Review (PS4)

Our reviewer Joe returns to Arkham with the latest games being remastered. Before WB moves on with other projects, they've remastered two of the best Super Hero games of all time to current gen systems.

Batman: Return to Arkham title

Introduction

Last year, Rocksteady closed off their trilogy with Arkham Knight and was met mostly with positive reception, despite some mixed opinions on the Batmobile. Despite this and Rocksteady now moving on with other projects, Warner Brothers isn’t quite ready to move on. With Arkham VR releasing as a launch title for the PlayStation VR, WB has decided to remaster the first two games in the Arkham series, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. There’s no questioning the quality of the remasters themselves(for the most part), but do these two classics still hold up?

Plot

In Arkham Asylum, Batman has apprehended his arch-enemy, The Joker, and is returning him to the titular madhouse. However, it turns out that Joker let himself get caught so he could take control of the Asylum and it’s up to the Dark Knight to restore order to the asylum. The sequel has Hugo Strange sectioning off an area of Gotham to make a new prison area called Arkham City. Strange kidnaps Bruce Wayne and throws him into Arkham City. It’s now up to Wayne’s Darker Alter-Ego to find what Strange is up to while taking on some of his greatest foes in the process. 

Written by Batman: The Animated series Co-creator and writer, Paul Dini, the two storylines are both engaging and a real treat for fans. Rocksteady’s take on the Batman lore might borrow elements and story’s from other incarnations, but they very distinctively make it there own. The writing is outstanding, with each character being brilliantly portrayed and remaining faithful to their comic book counterparts. While some villains feel like they’ve gotten a bit of the short stick, get ready to see some of you favorite foe’s done justice.

The world of Batman Arkham in 1080p

Design

Despite a lot of similarities, Asylum and City are completely distinct experiences. Arkham Asylum is smaller and more linear feel, while City is more open-world in its design. Similarities to both Metroid and Zelda abound. As you progress and obtain new gadgets, You’ll do a good amount of backtracking through previous areas and access the once inaccessible, especially if you’re willing to take on collecting and solving all of the Riddler challenges and collectibles. Both games will take you around 12 hours to complete, but it’ll feel much shorter than that, thanks to the excellent pacing the series is known for.

Gameplay

If you’re new to the Arkham games, the series is known for brilliantly mixing unique hand-to-hand combat with exciting stealth sections and some detective elements sprinkled in between. Combat has you using just the four face buttons to strike, counter, stun, and dodge. Attacking foe’s has you building up a combo meter that allows you to use finishing moves to take the goons out faster. It may seem simple, but the vast array of enemies and the various weapons they use will have you mixing things up. From baddies that use knives that you need to stun in order to hit to enemies that use tasers that need to be hit from behind, you’ll need to stay on your toes to keep Batman alive. As you fight foes and solve riddles, you gain XP that used to upgrade Batman for more finishing moves and Gadget abilities.

The only real area in combat that’s a bit disappointing are some of the Boss fights. While Arkham City Improves greatly on these, most of the Asylums are pretty much “throw a Batarang while they run at you.” Another other grip is the Challenge rooms. They’re not bad but they’re mostly just throw away extra’s you’ll try once and won’t care to try again unless you’re into trophy/achievement hunting. You can put your score on a leaderboard, but everything doesn’t flow quite as well without the story pushing you forward.

Batman's iconic Grappling Hook

Along with combat, Foes will use guns that force Batman to stick to the shadows and above. They might not be the most challenging stealth sections, but they’re still well-made and feature some amazing takedowns. Some enemies will even be able to locate you with special goggles or place bombs around the area, forcing you to keep moving. The segments like these truly make you feel like Batman; silently taking foes out and even hanging them from gargoyles. 

Along the way, you’ll get to use some of Batman’s most iconic gadgets, like the Batarang, grappling hook, and much more that won’t be spoiled. The gadget you’ll use the most is detective mode. This allows you see enemies through walls, helps you in finding clues, and is even used in solving some of the Riddlers puzzles. They’re all fun to use and help add to the immersion of you being Batman.

Batman and Joker

Presentation

Remastered using the latest version of Unreal Engine 4, Return to Arkham upgrades the already impressive look games and improve them. The light has been improved, animations look fantastic, and some character designs have been giving more details that weren’t available previously. Some animations and textures haven’t help up as well, but there few and far in-between. While you won’t mistake these games for current gen titles, they still hold up thanks to great art design that perfectly recreates Batman’s world. Arkham Asylum, in particular, looks gorgeous thanks to these improvements, though Arkham City isn’t a slouch either.

The audio pulls no punches either with some excellent music scores that even has a few easter eggs if you listen closely. The voice acting is excellent throughout, though Arkham Asylum does have a few moments when the voice acting is a little cartoonish at times. Arkham City suffers none of this and features some the best voice acting in all of the gaming, including fan favorites like Troy Baker and Nolan North as Two-Face and the Penguin. The real stars of each game, however, are both Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and the Joker from Batman: The Animated Series. The two do excellent jobs bringing life to the digital versions of their iconic roles.

What is strange is the frame rate for these games. Arkham City’s framerate has been unlocked, rather than staying at 30FPS and it constantly shifts between 30 and 60 FPS. This can sometimes affect controller input, but it’s mostly just distracting. It’s especially true when the game transfers to a highly produced cutscene. It would have been much better to keep it locked at 30 or at least have that option, but no such exists yet. Luckily, Arkham Asylum doesn’t feature this and still runs at 30 FPS, though there were some moments of stuttering here and there that weren’t in the original version.

Extra

In terms of extra’s, you’ll just get all the DLC that was available, which includes new challenge rooms, character skins, and the Harley Quinn’s Revenge Story DLC. It would have been nice to see some of the makings of video’s put on or some commentary for cutscenes (like in The Last of Us: Remastered), but what you see is what you get. It’s a bit of a letdown.

Batman and Joker in the original Arkham Asylum

Conclusion

If you’ve never played either of the Arkham games, this the perfect way to experience two the greatest Super Hero games, as well as two of the best action games of last gen. Sure, each game has a quirk or two and some of the remastering changes weren’t made for the better, but these are still excellent games. While some might cry foul for the lack of inclusion of Arkham Origin, it still a great repackaging of two great games that feature some of the best Batman stories told outside of the comic books.

ProCon
 + Great Combat, Storytelling and Art Style – Frame Rate issues
 + Quality Remastering – Some Questionable Changes
 + Two great games that hold up – No new extra's
 + All DLC Content
8.5
Great

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