The announcement of a remaster is usually met with a collective groan across social media, but they’re clearly popular enough for publishers to keep churning them out like clockwork. It’s a double-edged sword, really, as many feel those resources could be better spent on newer, more interesting projects, but at the same time they’re a great way to introduce new fans to a series they could have missed out on during its prime.
In this particular case, I’m in the latter camp.
Return to Arkham brings two of the most critically acclaimed superhero games in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, along with their respective DLC, to current-gen consoles. This review will only focus on Arkham Asylum.
After Joker’s elaborate ruse allows the inmates to run the asylum, the Dark Knight finds himself inside with many of the series’ mainstay villains running amok. Poison Ivy has taken over the botanical garden, Joker has predictably kidnapped Commissioner Gordon, and Killer Croc now lurks in the sewers below Amadeus Arkham’s former asylum for the mentally insane.
While the story at play here doesn’t truthfully follow the 1989 graphic novel, the narrative is very much a high point thanks to the talented vocal stylings of Mark Hamill, Arleen Sorkin, and Kevin Conroy. These names should be familiar to any fan of Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: Beyond, and it’s clear their time as Joker, Harley Quinn, and Batman allowed them to seamlessly transition to the realm of video games.
The villains act as you’d expect, with each having their own distinguished quirks to deal with. Scarecrow, for instance, afflicts Batman with his fear toxin during specific parts of the story. As the Caped Crusader hallucinates, the world of Arkham twists and turns, taking on a more sinister form that’s being looked down upon by the menacing gaze of Dr. Crane.
The game does an excellent job of making you feel like Batman, giving you a variety of familiar gadgets that aid you on your quest. Batarangs can be thrown and guided to stun enemies, or lure them away from their patrol route, while your cape can be whipped around to disorient the more dangerous, armed foes. Many of them have uses in and out of combat as well, like the explosive gel, which can detonate weaker wall structures, along with incapacitating larger groups of enemies.
The free flowing combat of Arkham Asylum has since been used in other games, like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Mad Max, and there’s a good reason for that. They’re all published by Warner Brothers (nyuk nyuk). It’s also easy to use, tilting the left analog stick toward the desired enemy, while attacking, countering, and evading oncoming blows.
It has a nice rhythmic feel, and once I got in the groove of things I couldn’t wait to encounter my next group of henchmen. Stealth is cool and all, because I’m Batman, but the combat just feels so damn good! Flawlessly executing a 40-hit combo, dishing out well-timed counters and Batarang stuns, is extremely satisfying and another of the game’s many high points.
Where Arkham Asylum falters is in its inconsistent boss encounters, which range from some of the best I’ve played, to woefully anticlimactic. Poison Ivy, for instance, is one of the most unsatisfying I’ve experienced in recent memory, mostly due to its agonizing use of a fixed camera angle. The final encounter against Joker is also a bit underwhelming as well, yet the entire Killer Croc angle is utterly fantastic.
In this segment you’re tasked with navigating the sewers in search of a rare plant to counter Poison Ivy’s rampaging flora, all while being stalked by an increasingly savage Croc, who seems to be losing more of his humanity as the night wears on. Having to stealthily tip-toe around floating platforms while subduing Croc, who’s playing the part of Spielberg’s Jaws, essentially, is really intense.
Like many other areas in Arkham Asylum, the atmosphere in the sewer is excellent, eliciting claustrophobia and panic while you navigate its corridors using echolocation in place of your standard map. Every location just feels meticulously crafted, chock full of moody undercurrents, dusty, undiscovered pathways, and environmental storytelling abound.
Asylum was already quite the looker when it launched back in 2009, and despite the outcry against Return to Arkham’s side-by-side comparison screenshots prior to release, the remaster is downright gorgeous. However, the unlocked framerates noticeably fluctuate and can be a bit distracting at times. Arkham Knight released at 30fps, so I didn’t go in to Arkham Asylum expecting 60 (which it is on PC), but not locking it at 30fps doesn’t do it any favors.
It’s definitely a stellar game, a masterclass in how to effectively craft a superhero experience, so I can understand wanting to revisit a world as immersive as Arkham. Plus, you get both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City (along with all of their DLC) for less than the cost of a standard retail game.
However, as far as remasters go, I’d mainly recommend it as an entry point for anyone who’s yet to experience the first two games for themselves. Aside from a fresh coat of paint, Return to Arkham’s Arkham Asylum will do little to convince anyone to double dip if you already played the game in 2009.
I fully enjoyed the more compact, linear world of Arkham Asylum and applaud its excellent use of atmosphere, along with the game’s accessible, free-flowing combat system and talented cast of voice actors.
I went in wanting to be The Batman, and that’s exactly what I got. Hopefully that tradition carries over in to the more open world of Arkham City.
*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one! I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money.
Full disclosure: This review was done using a PlayStation 4 copy of Batman: Return to Arkham that I purchased myself. It is also available on Xbox One, but this review only pertains to the PS4 version. While I’m sometimes given games to review, I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for the game is completely irrelevant.