The Arkham series had no right to be as good as it was. Not only did it capture the haunting darkness of some of the classic Batman graphic novels, but incorporated much of the beloved animated series. Even legendary voice actors from the WB Animated Universe provided their talent to Rocksteady’s game, in what I think might be the most important aspect to the entire Arkham franchise: Kevin Conroy’s Batman, Mark Hamill’s Joker and, in Arkham Asylum at least, Arleen Sorkin’s Harley Quinn. Rocksteady also perfected a fighting style of play that’s now in a range of other games. Combined with some excellent story-telling, gorgeous visuals and some moments of genuine awe at the titular character, and the Arkham series provide a wonderful gaming package. And that’s precisely what you get with the new Return to Arkham.
Bundled in this are the properly remastered first two games: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Both have been moved to the Unreal 4 engine, with absolutely stunning textures, lighting and other effects. Batman’s cloak in particular is incredible to behold, as it folds and bends realistically.
Those who played the first two games on high end PC rigs might not see any significant difference – but, having originally played the first on a middle-range PC and City on PS3, I was blown away by the stunning visuals. At times, I would’ve genuinely struggled to tell you whether it was the remaster or the latest Arkham game, Arkham Knight (itself made on the Unreal 3 engine, but still one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen). Virtuos, who updated the two games, must be congratulated for their excellent work. I did notice a few framerate dips, particularly in City, when facing a large number of goons – but otherwise, it ran smoothly (sometimes above 30 FPS).
The package provides hours of entertainment with two of my favourite games from the last generation. It comes with all the DLC, including challenge maps, outfits and extra story chapters (including Harley Quinn’s Revenge, which I’d never played).
Playing through these games reminded me just how much heart and love went into these. You can’t help but feel some loss in Arkham Knight – with its over reliance on the Batmobile (which, though I loved, really stands out now after replaying Arkham City). These first two games rely on far more diverse play, constantly shifting and changing what’s required from the player. One minute you need to defeat snipers across a wide open area and the next you’re making ice-sheets to surf on, through a water tunnel. Both the worlds of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City also feel more lived in and alive than, ironically, the entirety of Gotham in Arkham Knight. There are people on the ground who aren’t faceless goons; even the faceless goons actually deplete in numbers instead of being endless spots on the ground to tear through. This applies to both games.
The fighting still feels fantastic, though it’s clear these were the first steps that came to brilliant fruition in Arkham Knight. Nonetheless, these are two better games, individually – and just incredible when packaged together.
I love Batman’s deterioration, with his suit falling apart through both nights of Asylum and City. It’s incredible to see that, after being infected, Batman’s skin gets paler in City and people remark on it. Both Asylum and City pass Bechdel-Wallace test, which is surprising. The game does have some unnecessarily horrid transphobic comments and a constant referral to every prominent female villain as “bitch” (as well as constant leering comments about their bodies). Harley Quinn is constantly berated for her intelligence, which runs against the knowledge she’s a qualified psychiatrist.
Aside from these, the dialogue is well-written, with frequently humorous interactions between criminals.
Return to Arkham is not a full-price game, making it ideal for those wanting to return to this wonderful world. It not only holds up after all these years, but looks better than many current gen games. Providing hours of enjoyment, all the DLC, I found Return to Arkham to be a wonderful addition as someone who adores the Arkham series.
While this wasn’t a series crying for a remaster (I think the Mass Effect needs that), I am glad they did so. The beautiful textures and materials, the improved lighting and weather effects, all manage to provide the backdrop needed to experience the lovely, weird, dark world of the Arkham Universe.