Spencer Smith ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
2016 has become, perhaps even more than any other, the year of the “remaster.” A plethora of remasters were suddenly dumped out with varying levels of quality over the course of this odd little year for the video game with some amazing/horrific surprises to grace the gaming scene. One of those surprises was that of Batman: Return to Arkham which in of itself contains games that were already surprises in the first place. Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City’s only real competition for “best superhero game” are each other. Though Batman: Arkham Origins was the first bad thing to happen to the mainstream game series and Batman: Arkham Knight was a satisfying, yet turbulently uneven game, time has smiled kindly on these two gems that suddenly sprang out of the murky, bottomless muck of the swamp that is “superhero” video game and became some of the seventh generation’s finest offerings.
So, now we have a new way to play these games today, outside of, you know, pulling out your “ancient” Xbox 360 and putting in your old Arkham Asylum disc. However, if you decide to ignore your miserly survival instincts and spend your food cash on a $50 remaster of two great games, it doesn’t sound that bad. The $50 after all is really $25 for both games, and a remaster is always a great excuse to just spend hours replaying great titles. In that regard, Return to Arkham is well worth the money if you have the cash for it since, well, it has two great games with all the DLC and at this point the frame rate is fixed to ensure that either gracefully gliding around the room and beating the hell out of thugs or silently stalking goons from the rafters isn’t interrupted (too much) by FPS drops. So, if that’s all you’re looking for then, by all means, buy the game.
However, if you’re looking for a “definitive” way to play the original Arkham games, Return to Arkham is more of a mixed blessing. It’s clear that Virtuos didn’t simply port the original games over; they did do their best to remaster what looks like the console version of the game. The good news is that the gameplay engine of Arkham looks more akin to Arkham Knight with more pronounced rain and lighting effects which gives the whole look of the island a new dimension. The colors in Return to Arkham also pop far more than those of the original; while some have criticized this for making the game “too bright,” it’s certainly nice to see the colors actually pop and make the original look almost desaturated by comparison. There’s also been a revamp on many of the character models, not so much the main characters but all the minor characters. The first game was somewhat notorious for bad lip syncing and ugly looking facial models but they look far better now. Arkham Asylum looks particularly lovely with these new settings as the original game wasn’t quite as gorgeous looking on the original console release.
Yet for everything that Return to Arkham gets right it also takes a few steps backwards. Firstly is the notable lack of detail on major characters. Those on the side get a revamp while many of the major characters (Batman, Joker, Gordon, etc.) almost looked like they had a Photoshop beauty make over with many of their facial details smoothed out in favor of a glossier image. This is where the “beauty” starts to become a problem, because these games weren’t just about looking colorful and shiny. They’re dark and gothic in their look. Return seems to forget that and often the deep shadows and original lighting effects seem to be completely ignored in favor of making the picture look pretty, so much so that a new motion blur has been added to cutscenes which makes everything look like the someone threw it on at the last minute, with ugly movements that were original precise now being smoothed out to the point of nausea. Hair details such as Dr. Strange’s beard have become ugly little bristles that look like they were made in Microsoft Paint and Joker’s hair has a little cowlick at the top that, if any longer, would look like Wakka from Final Fantasy X gave it a brush. Other times the color itself looks like it was applied for the wrong tone and then looks like someone turned the saturation up by 200% so Scarecrow’s tan costume suddenly is a putrid looking bright brown. For every good looking image comes one that looks almost unfinished, but with rain now! Ooh!
This graphical uncanny balley effect of good versus bad is the only major issue with Return to Arkham as it can be distracting. Sadly, there are no behind the scene featurettes of such to flesh it all out. The package comes with all the DLC, but so did the Game of the Year Editions so there isn’t much to say there. In the end, it all comes down to what defines a “good” remaster. Is it the games themselves or the actual package that’s worth buying? If it’s the former and an excuse to play some of the best designed games of the past couple decades, then Return to Arkham’s great. Yet if it’s for a whole new way to experience the originals and play them again almost like it was the first time, then maybe you should just wait until the price drops.