We're pretty used to remasters in this generation. The overall point of a remaster is to bring a classic game forward. To use the power of current hardware to bring out the best in an old favorite. A new coat of paint, some new features, and a nice wrapper to the whole thing.
Batman: Return to Arkham is collection of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, the first two games in the Arkham series by Rocksteady Studios and Warner Bros Montreal.
People may not remember how amazing Batman: Arkham Asylum was when it first launched. Rocksteady took Batman, a character with a 70 year history, and crafted their own distinct take on the Dark Knight. The world of Arkham Asylum was a harsh, unforgiving place, with a burly Batman who really looked like he spent his nights breaking criminal faces. The Asylum itself was a twisting, gothic Metroidvania ride, with Batman navigating through different domains, upgrading his gadgets, and facing his Rogues Gallery. The combat made player feel powerful, taking on whole groups of enemies with ease and a bit of brutality.
There have been a host of Batman games throughout the years, but none of them made you feel like Batman the way Arkham Asylum did. It's amazing, because prior the Batman Arkham games, Rocksteady had one game to their name: Urban Chaos: Riot Response. Batman: Arkham Asylum hit the ground running and led to the gold standard of Batman gaming.
Batman: Arkham City expanded on Asylum, bringing Batman into a sliver of Gotham City proper, a sprawling expansion of the original Asylum. Arkham City lost the razor sharp focus of Arkham Asylum's tight level design, but gained the feeling of gliding and grappling through the streets of Gotham. It's not as special as Arkham Asylum was, but it's still worth playing.
Batman: Return to Arkham offers both games, all of their downloadable content, and an update of their graphics for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Unfortunately, it's the latter part where Return to Arkham falters.
The studio behind the port, Virtous, brought the games forward from Unreal Engine 3 to Unreal Engine 4. They added more detailed textures and an additional sharpness to the world overall. The problem is the new versions lose some of the intense contrast and darkness of the original titles. Everything is brighter and lighter here.
I'd hazard a guess that part of the reason the original games had the deep shadows and general darkness was to hide dodgy textures and blocky models, but it added to the oppressive feel of Arkham series. There was a sense of ambiance that's lost in the new versions, which focus purely on visual fidelity. Batman looks great and the extra detail is appreciated, but it feels more like a theme park re-run of the Arkham games instead of a faithful remaster.
The oddest thing about Return to Arkham is that Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are both capped at 30fps. This is true of both games on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox One, but they were also available on PC at much higher framerates. Worse, we're not talking about a locked 30 fps: the game occasionally stutters here and there. It happens enough to be noticeable, but not enough for it to really destroy your moment-to-moment play.
Return to Arkham is $49.99, but you can pick up Game of the Year Editions of Asylum and City on Steam for $19.99 right now. That's $10 cheaper than this version, for weaker performance. There aren't even any additional features (outside of a few New 52-inspired skins) to round out the remaster package. I'm just perplexed why you would release a more expensive version of a game and not have the presentation up to snuff?
If you don't have a gaming PC and you want to revisit Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, Return to Arkham is for you. It's not a horrible remaster, just an uninspired one. If you own either game on PC, this isn't worth your time. There's so much more than could've been done for this collection and it's a shame that the additional effort is nowhere to be seen. A remaster should be a reason to double-dip and Return to Arkham is just the bare minimum needed.
Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City are amazing games, but this collection doesn't stand up to the same quality. The visuals have been improved, but at a loss of the dark ambiance of the originals. The 30 fps frame rate isn't locked, with the occasional stutter marring the experience. Worse, there's no new content available here. If you own either game on PC, there's no reason to get Return to Arkham.