After the buggy launch of 2013’s Batman: Arkham Origins and the PC port of Batman: Arkham Knight that was so bad it was taken off of Steam for many months, only to be returned in a still less than desirable state, WB Games knew that the next time they published a game with the word “Arkham” in the title, it had to reflect the quality of the first two games in the franchise. After missing its July release date, Batman: Return to Arkham is finally out for both the PlayStation 4 as well as Xbox One, and while many I’m sure won’t want to double dip on games they may already own, fans of these games, or those who have never played them, can rest soundly knowing that this is a great way to play two of the greatest comic book games ever made.
Batman: Return to Arkham is a collection of 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, as well as its 2011 sequel, Batman: Arkham City. Though both titles have a lot in common: a mixture of rhythmic combat, stealth “predator” sequences and open-world exploration, in playing each back-to-back, they at times couldn’t be more different from one another and it makes for a great package. Asylum, with its enclosed location feels much more intimate than City, but through the lens of hindsight, when playing through Asylum, you really miss the ability stretch your cape and glide around, as well as play around with the new gadgets and the new functions that came to familiar gadgets in Arkham City. With a lot of these collections, you might find yourself playing one chapter and then coming back to another at a later time because of how similar installments feel, which is not at all an issue when playing through these classics one after another.
If you’re not the most die-hard Batman fan and are looking for something extra to justify rebuying these titles, you should prepare yourself to maybe wait for the price to drop, as other than a graphical update, both games are unchanged. If, however, you didn’t rebuy either of these games when their respective “Game of the Year” editions were released, Return to Arkham may be worth investigating into at full price given that it collects all of the extra downloadable content across both games onto two discs. The Xbox 360 faithful last generation should also take note that the challenge maps in Batman: Arkham Asylum where you could play as the Joker are also found here, so if you switched consoles or stayed faithful to whatever machine of choice you picked from last generation, you can finally play as the Clown Prince of Crime.
The most noticeable feature in the remastering of both games are the characters themselves. Batman’s suit has a lot more detail that was unseen when these games were out on last generation’s hardware, even to the point where you can see the fine material that makes up his cape. What’s most impressive visually on Batman’s armour is the damage it takes over the course of the Arkham City campaign. On neither the Xbox 360 or the Wii U could you see such small details that add so much to the beating that Batman takes during the second chapter such as small pieces of his damaged cowl that reveal the reinforcement underneath; it’s very cool. Close-up facial animations, more so in the one-on-one conversations in Batman: Arkham Asylum look far more defined and the Joker’s brutal degradation in Arkham City is that much more grotesque. About the only distracting character that looks a little off is Catwoman in Arkham City. Like Batman, her armour has a lot more definition, but it just makes it look odd as it shades more green than black. Her weird, outside underwear line that has always been distracting, even in the original title, is more pronounced.
A lot of criticism has been placed on how the environments look in both titles, claiming that the higher resolution of each game makes them feel brighter than what they should be and go against the dark tone of the series. Personally, this is something I had no issue with as the only thing that the Return to Arkham package did was add more definition to a world I could not get enough of. Performance wise I found no instances of frame rate slow-down or other issues and from someone who has played each of these games multiple times from across three consoles, everything felt exactly as it should. I only experienced one bug: at the very end of Arkham Asylum an explosion that leads you into the finale of the game didn’t happen, which was fixed by quitting the game and immediately going back in. After completing Arkham City and the story DLC Harley Quinn’s Revenge, only one crash in the main game occured that caused no damage to my save file.
Whether or not Batman: Return to Arkham should be an immediate purchase to you depends on several factors. If you’re a hardcore fan who can’t get enough of these games, this package that collects everything is well worth the price tag; Those who only bought the standard edition of either and have warmed up to the idea of having all of what these games have to offer in one package, or just also want to play them again on your new console, similarly should investigate into adding this to their collection. Anyone who’s fine with the games they own and still have their last generation consoles hooked up or close by can rest easy in knowing that you’re really not missing that much, outside of the PS3 exclusive Joker maps from the first game. Whatever camp you fall into though, the one take away is that neither game suffers quality wise and the few extra months of polish given to developer Virtuos seem to have paid off, and it makes Batman: Return to Arkham perhaps the best way to own the two opening chapters of the Arkham saga.