Reviewed on PS4, copy supplied by publisher.
It’s become all too common for publishers to take the easy route and remaster everything in their back-catalogue to make a quick buck. Sometimes, this may not be out of laziness, but is instead the result of the fan base demanding it, such as the recent re-release Skyrim, or the older release of games like Dark Souls II (still waiting for Dark Souls, come on, you know it makes sense!). Other remasters are warranted due to a much older title making a comeback for a new generation, and other times it’s a blatant cash-in that really shouldn’t have seen the light of day.
Batman: Return to Arkham is an odd one, as it’s one of my favourite game series, and one that has a couple of genuinely classic titles to its name. A current gen remaster could deliver some great enhancements to the mix, but the games are hardly that old, and in truth, even if the original games were released as-is, they’d still stand toe-to-toe with anything released today. It’s a remaster we have, though, and one that I was hoping would deliver the definitive Arkham experience. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found a remaster that performed worse than the original games. Oh dear.
Batman: Return to Arkham includes both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City in one package, with all extras and DLC content included. Both games have been retooled and moved to the more recent Unreal Engine 4, which promises to deliver the best-looking versions of the games. Presumably, being a generation older, the games will run at 60fps too, but do they?
Short answer – no. When I first stepped back into the dilapidated corridors of Arkham Asylum I was met with visuals that, although they still look great (the games always did), the difference in Unreal tech and hardware generation was not immediately apparent. Indeed, the only way to really see any differences is with a side-by-side comparison. Even then the differences aren’t exactly amazing. Sure, the texture quality is definitely better, and there are some more impressive lighting effects, but it’s not exactly making the most of the hardware and engine available. Some fans actually consider the revamped visuals to be worse, and there are guides online to make it look like the original games. That’s not exactly good news for a current gen remaster.
Graphical appearance can be very subjective, though, so in the end it’s each to their own. Personally I do prefer the new look, as minor as it may be. One thing that isn’t subjective, however, is performance, and this is where the remaster really fails, and fails hard.
Throughout my time playing I was hit with regular and noticeable slowdown and choppiness. This wasn’t due to a lot of action on-screen, although that did happen, it was often simply whilst walking around, even in small rooms or corridors with nothing going on. For no reason the game slowed down and reacted poorly to commands, even though there was relatively little work to do.
If this always happened during combat or set pieces with a lot of action going on, it would still be bad, but at least understandable. Here, though, the performance hitches are just not warranted or excusable. They simply hint at poor development and optimisation, and are a sign of a rushed-out title. I’d even go as far as saying the remaster actually runs worse than the original releases on the last generation of consoles. It’s that bad.
Some things have improved, such as faster loading times and less texture pop-in, but these are not enough to offset the poor performance when the game should run far better on current gen. I was hoping for a smooth 60fps experience, but I don’t think the game comes close, even when it’s running at full pelt. Bah!
My other major gripe is the lack of inclusion of Arkham Origins. This may be down to licensing issues as Origins wasn’t developed by Rocksteady, but its omission here is unfortunate. I agree with many others that Origins is the weakest entry in the series, but I’d have liked to revisit the game on current gen, hopefully with the issues that plagued the original release fixed. Sadly, this wasn’t to be. Despite its flaws, Origins was still a fine game, with a good story to tell.
What we get here is two already superb games that have been repackaged and rushed out of the door to cash-in on public demand. It was always going to sell, and WB knew it. Although I can’t confirm, I suspect the development was rushed, and the games quickly ported to UE4 to make it in time for the pre-Christmas market. If this isn’t the case, something clearly went wrong during the process, and that’s a shame.