There was a time when virtually all superhero videogames were to be approached with dread. Sure, there were some great arcade games and fighting games that allowed players to pretend to be their costumed crimefighter of choice and punch bad guys in the face. But for the most part, games based on superheroes were rushed affairs made by designers for players who didn’t mind poor quality as long as they got to see their comic book faves in action. Rocksteady’s Arkham series changed all that. The brilliant Batman beat ‘em ups weren’t just great by superhero videogame standards, they were amongst the best games of their era full stop. Now the studio has served up new editions of their brilliant Arkham Asylum and Arkham City titles with Return To Arkham. Though they are certainly prettier on a technical level, this isn’t exactly anything folks who played those games need to rush out and buy. However, if you’ve yet to sample these brilliant bits of Batman-ery, you’re in for quite a treat.
The new digital facelifts that the folks at Rocksteady have delivered are certainly noticeable in Batman: Return To Arkham. Details are far more prominent and everything seems sharper. Batman’s suit in particular is clearly more detailed and moves in a more natural way. All of the rooms, sets, and props have more weight and clarity. It’s a far more technically impressive presentation. Unfortunately that comes at a slight cost. Part of the visual aesthetic of the previous games was the tremendous dark shadows that were used to hide the limitations of the last gen consoles. It created a moody vibe and gothic atmosphere perfect for Batman that’s been toned down slightly here for the sake of showing off the new details—and that’s not always for the best. The games included in Return To Arkham are also capped at 30 fps, never daring to hit 60 and that’s a real shame. These are definitely sharper and brighter editions of the old games revealing designs barely visible before, but that doesn’t always work with the original aesthetic and not increasing the frame rate feels like a missed opportunity.
Fortunately the games themselves remain absolutely brilliant. By bringing in Batman: The Animated Series star writer Paul Dini as well as most of the voice cast from that iconic cartoon, the games feel like full, proper, and satisfying Batman narratives. The worlds are filled with references and in-jokes for longtime fans. The beat-em-up controls are as satisfying as ever. The way the designers toy with narrative expectation and videogame formulas serve up so many amusing surprises. The steampunk-influenced designs are gorgeously gothic while still staying true to the source material. These two games offered everything anyone could possibly want out of a Batman title and set a standard that was tough for even Arkham Knight to top despite having next gen horsepower to pull it off. They are classics for a reason and should be played by anyone with a love for either Batman or action games in general.
Whether or not Batman: Return To Arkham is worth the cost depends on the player’s preferences. Superficially, there’s no denying the visuals here are more impressive. However, whether or not they are “better” is a matter of taste. All of the DLC content is included though, so you’ll get the extra Harley adventure form Arkham City, all the added mini-games, and all of the ridiculous skins taken from everything from TAS to Frank Miller. So, there’s plenty of value here and two fantastic games in one package. It’s just hard to say that anyone who played and enjoyed these games on the last generation needs to buy them again unless they are just looking for an excuse to do another playthrough. Certainly anyone who missed out should prioritize Return To Arkham. Otherwise, you should at least take a peak at what the upgrade looks like first and decide if it’s worth it. You know, just like any remastered game. These are tricky releases, people. They aren’t ideal.