It's an impressive technical improvement, but there's something lacking in this collection.
During the last generation of consoles, Batman fans were finally gifted with the game that they long deserved: Arkham Asylum. A brilliant combat system that inspired countless other games, impressive graphics, and some genuinely great sequences, resulted not only in the best superhero game to date, but also one of the best games of the previous generation. There is no consensus that the sequel was better - some prefer it, other's prefer Asylum - but it is undeniable that both games are superb Batman adventures.
With all this in mind, and considering almost every last gen game is being remastered for the current-gen consoles, it would be a shame for Batman to miss out on the same treatment. That gap has now been filled with the release of this collection for PS4 and Xbox One. Batman: Return to Arkham brings improved versions of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, with all the extra content for both games. This includes several extra challenges, new suits, and more importantly, the mini-campaign/sequel to Arkham City - Harley Quinn's Revenge - along with all of Catwoman's episodes.
Some remasters are happy with merely improving the resolution, but Return to Arkham received a different treatment. The game engine, Unreal Engine 3, was put aside and for the updated version they went with UE4, thus several extra effects were added to the experience. The textures are sharper, the lighting was improved, and several elements that did not create shadows in the previous game, now create them. But if technically it is obvious that the new versions are far superior, the tone of the originals clearly suffered from the transition.
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Perhaps due to the change from UE3 to Unreal Engine 4, both games have become brighter. This is particularly evident in the cutscenes where there is a huge difference in terms of brightness. This may not be to the liking of many fans, some of whom may well prefer the darker tone of the original games. In our case, we think it's a small price to pay for the technical improvements, although we were disappointed with the overall performance.
Obviously we would like to have games running at 60 frames per second, as with other collections, but we can compromise considering the obvious technical improvement elsewhere, which in this case is superior to most remasters. What we can't accept, however, it is that the collection doesn't keep a steady 30 frames per second. We noticed some slowdown, that while not massive, broke the game's fluidity. The optimisation work done on this collection is far from ideal, and although this could potentially be solved with an update, we can't hide some disappointment at the current state of both titles.
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While the performance is disappointing, this is not our biggest complaint about Batman: Return to Arkham. The collection includes Asylum and City, but... what about Arkham Origins? The game, developed by Warner Montreal, is the official prequel to the saga, and was also released for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, so it's a notable absence from the collection. The case is even worse if we compare it with recent collections. Both Bioshock: The Collection, and Dead Rising Triple Pack, included the three games released during the previous generation, while Return to Arkham is limited to two titles, and at the same price.
The technical enhancement may be sharper in this collection, but this doesn't justify the absence of an official game of the saga (and let's not even talk about Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate). Another complaint, although this one's smaller, is related with the extra suits for Arkham City. We hoped that with the new collection, these suits could appear in cutscenes - as happens in Batman: Arkham Knight - but it's not the case. The suits are only visible during gameplay, never during cutscenes.
Although the collection is not at the level we would have hoped, these are still two superb games, both among the best of the last generation. If you haven't played them yet, this collection is an absolute must, especially if you're a fan of the Dark Knight (and if you are, where have you been all this time?!). On the other hand, if you played both games in the past, there is the graphical improvement to look for, although that comes at the cost of a literal lightening of tone. In short, Batman: Return to Arkham is an incomplete collection. It might boast a noticeable graphical improvement across two fantastic games and their respective DLC, but it also comes with a change of tone, and somewhat disappointing technical performance.
7 / 10
Gameplay shows clear technical improvement. Includes all the extra content for Asylum and City. These are still two superb games.
Optimisation could be a lot better. Both games are a lot brighter. Extra suits don't show on cutscenes. Where's Arkham Origins?