torstai 4. toukokuuta 2017

REVIEW - Batman: Return to Arkham

GENRE(S): Compilation
AVAILABLE ON: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
DEVELOPER(S): Rocksteady Studios, Virtuos
PUBLISHER(S): Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: October 18, 2016

It started with HD remasters of PlayStation 2 classics. Then, came the "HD remasters" of seventh-generation classics, some of which made sense, and some a little less. It was only a matter of time when Rocksteady Studios would heed to the inevitable task of updating the two games that redefined the previously disappointing category of action games based on a comic book superhero - no, THE comic book superhero - to the standards of the current generation of consoles. Batman: Arkham Knight had already been out for a while, now gamers could visit *slash* revisit the realms of the first two parts of the trilogy, with the Silver Age prequel Arkham Origins (somewhat) deservedly left out of the equation completely. What's a lifelong Batman fan to say? It's true that there's nothing new to these games, double that if you've already got all the additional content for both titles. But, many have pointed out that they're not the same games that they were when they came out - and that is a false statement I am here to correct. He is vengeance. He is the night. He is Batman.

Batman is Forever

Batman: Arkham Asylum; Batman once again captures Joker and delivers him to Arkham Asylum, only to find that during his time outside the asylum walls, the Clown Prince of Crime has procured a chemical formula - not that different from Bane's Venom - that allows him to create a whole army of genetically enhanced supersoldiers, and then deliberately fallen into the hands of his nemesis to take over the asylum and let loose his fellow inmates to prevent Batman from interfering with his plan to dominate Gotham City.

Batman: Arkham City; One year after the events of Arkham Asylum, Batman cleverly infiltrates Arkham City - a large, isolated portion of Gotham City absurdly turned into a sprawling mega-prison - to discover the motives of the facility's overseer, Professor Hugo Strange. After discovering that Strange is fully aware of Batman's true identity and is therefore practically untouchable by him, and that his true intentions threaten the lives of each and every resident of Arkham City, Batman has to rely on the help of many of his sworn enemies and a pack of uneasy allies to tear Arkham City to the ground.

I'm not into re-reviewing games if there's nothing new to report, so to speak. Let's call this another article of "insight" instead of a review, 'cause even if I've said all there is to say about the games at hand in the past (9.0 for Arkham Asylum's Game of the Year Edition back in 2010, and 9.2 for Arkham City in 2011), there's a lot to go over regarding whether or not Return to Arkham is a worthy investment nevertheless. I'll start with short recaps on what I think of these games individually; there might be some new points and opinions I haven't stated before - granted, if I'd allow myself the opportunity to rate these games again, I'd give 'em both a slightly higher rating. So, this much I can tell you right now; both of these games have gotten even better with time, in their very own unique ways. There's really no telling which one's the better installment; it completely depends on your personal style, preference and approach to action games.

Back to where it all began.
First released in the late summer of 2009, at the absolute perfect time for an all-star Batman adventure as Christopher Nolan's film trilogy had recently hit its critical and commercial peak with The Dark Knight, Batman: Arkham Asylum nuked all expectations, prejudice and beliefs sky high. First of all, the game was developed by a relatively unknown British studio, and over 15 years had passed since any Batman game out of the dozens released had garnered any critical support. No one really believed in Arkham Asylum; even the final previews leading into the reviews by high-profile mediums left room for doubt. Maybe it just looked good, and was total shit underneath its flashy exterior. However, Paul Dini's writing, the voiceover cast led by 17-year Batman veterans Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, and most important of all, contextually pitch-perfect gameplay design made Batman: Arkham Asylum perhaps the greatest game of the year. Not only the best superhero game ever released, but also one of the first masterpieces in adapting a Metroidvania gameplay formula to a 3D setting, and injecting it with a simple but awesome stealth-action core element, and an even more awesome, innovative combat system to boot. Chocked full of puzzles devised by everyone's favourite narcissistic nerd, the Riddler, a clever retelling of Batman's origins combined with an occasional dip into a 2D platformer setting, cameos from all over the Batman rogues' gallery, and of course, Mark Hamill absolutely stealing the show as the Joker - as any good Joker always does - Arkham Asylum was the perfect Batman game of its time. Despite its minor flaws in gameplay, recognized by just about everyone who's experienced the whole series, there are millions of gamers out there who appreciate the narrow, confined spaces and thick, dark atmosphere of Arkham Asylum over every Arkham game that came since.

Back to where it all ended. The first time.
Batman: Arkham City, released in the fall of 2011, ditched those narrow, confined spaces Arkham Asylum was best known for, and unleashed Batman on the open-world grounds of Arkham City, filled with distractions including side missions split into multiple parts, different training missions to hone his completely redefined gliding skills, almost four times the puzzles of Arkham Asylum once again devised by the Riddler, and more or less important appearances by a stunning total of 19 villains listed on the official central rogues' gallery alone! The combat and stealth systems were further improved, of course. Those more into Metroidvania than say, Assassin's Creed - the most obvious point of comparison, here - disliked or outright hated the thought of an open-world Batman game. Maybe blinded by that alone - I'll talk more about tunnel vision in a less speculative manner later - they started to pick on other stuff, and have picked on even more stuff as years have gone by. Bad story (not true, there are just a few slumps including a portion of the ending), stock gadgetry (well, that's partly true), and bad boss fights (Mr. Freeze?! ...and what exactly made the boss fights in Asylum so special?). The most common complaint of all: "it's just not as fresh and innovative as Arkham Asylum". Yeah, well, if you look at it that way, there's hardly a good sequel out there. Most actual critics were simply bedazzled by Arkham City, like they should've been - like Batman fans should've been. Like I was. All of this leads us up to Batman: Return to Arkham - a compilation disc consisting of both of these seventh-generation masterpieces, remastered and VERY SLIGHTLY redesigned, and permanently welded together with all of the DLC and platform-exclusive content for both games. Critics didn't like it, fans didn't like it. I doubted their reasons; I guess I've read the exact same ramblings one too many times. I once again set my brain to Bat-mode and headed into these games once more, to see if there was any truth to the mediocre reviews. I did find some of it hidden back in the deepest reaches. But, the truth is, that these two games are still as fucking fantastic as they were when they came out.

Crazy, crazy nights

To keep with the intention of insight rather than reviewing the game from a wholly personal point of view, let's start with the stuff that bugs most people the most about this bundle of Bat-joy. The remastered graphics are up first; yeah, they're kinda bright and colourful. That much we can all agree on. There's also one thing you might've failed to notice: especially in Arkham Asylum, all hidden secrets are quite damn easy to find. It's not just the case of you playing by memory and knowing exactly where everything is, if there's someone by your side who's never played these games saying "that wall looks like you could blow it up" without the Detective Mode on, and being absolutely correct in that statement; that kinda spoils the thrill of exploration for veterans and newbies alike. It's a small thing, for sure, and not as bad in Arkham City, I think; the lighting effects are relatively closer to the original article than those of Asylum's. All in all, the slight redesign of the games concerns Asylum more than City - with the exception of Talia al Ghul in Arkham City, who looks COMPLETELY different from the original model. ...And still appears in her original graceful form in the character bio screen. I guess some of the more obnoxious fans bombed Rocksteady for making her a blonde in the original, I dunno. Nerds.

The one character that's actually gets more menacing with
each dive into a deeper palette.
The second point of discomfort among the general public is one I'd like to go a bit deeper into. It would seem that even in these times when developers continue developing their games all the time even after they're released, critics and fans are suffering from severe tunnel vision, getting more severe all the time. I understand the need to review a game right away, as soon as the embargo lifts. What I don't understand is why critics blast out final opinions on games based on review versions, which are usually very glitchy and incomplete, provoking expecting fans into blasting out their "own" opinions, which are usually based completely on these reviews, 'cause after reading them, these expecting fans won't always even bother to try the games themselves. They post shit on these games on Facebook and troll the developers every chance they get before even trying the games, Mass Effect: Andromeda being a good, recent example (which is why I haven't rushed into reviewing that game). First of all, I think the critics should give these types of incomplete releases the benefit of the doubt; I understand it would be nice to have a complete game in your hands at launch, but why say stuff like "the gameplay's OK, the game's all around good, but it crashed on me so I'll give it 4 out of 10"? Then, there are games that critics describe "perfect", and despite a whole ocean of glitches in them, they completely ignore those glitches and focus on the gameplay alone (which they should ALWAYS do), giving that long-lost benefit of the doubt to games they think deserve it more than those games that are just "OK". That's really unfair.

The reason I wanted to preach here, is that the thing Return to Arkham was bashed for the most, was its tendency to lock down, crash, and very often freeze for seconds specifically in the middle of combat, which resulted in broken combo flows, rendering about 50% of these two games completely unplayable, moreover unbeatable. Well, during the course of my complete playthrough of both storylines, Arkham Asylum crashed once, and Arkham City twice. But, nearly every PS4 game I've ever played has done the exact same thing (including the perfect, almighty Witcher 3, take that you bastards), and there were no additional glitches to annoy me, not a single one, not even a small FPS break or texture failure. Nada. I had TONS of fun. All nostalgia aside, it was interesting to play through these games now that I've finally opened my mind to the DC Universe beyond Batman, most thanks to the TV escapades of Green Arrow and Flash, as well as Injustice. And, of course, the true final part of the Arkham trilogy, a review of which is coming up next, and in addition to tying up just about every loose end within Arkham (which I thought a DLC pack would manage just fine... pfft), beneath its Bat-surface it spread out to the far edges of the universe. But more about that soon. Let's wrap this up.


You have both games on the PlayStation 3? Then this compilation should not be on the top of your list. You have the PlayStation 3, but neither one of these games, nor any experience from them? Buy 'em... for the PlayStation 3. You don't have a PlayStation 3, but you do have a PlayStation 4, and no experience from these two games? What's that, you bought Arkham Knight and thought it was confusing? How dare you! ...And what do you expect? Go out and buy this damn compilation, dude! There's nothing new here, that's for sure - even the Trophies/Achievements are exactly the same, and won't stack with your old collection - and with the originals, you'll get the graphics best suited for these bleak settings. However, if you've still not taken your first steps in these pieces of superhero video game heaven, now it's high time to do that. Any platform will do for the mere experience just as fine.

+ These games are king
+ The gameplay's just as rewarding as ever before

- This collection took longer to arrive than most of its kind after its announcement; you'd think there were more new designs or features rather than just a few major inconsistencies to show for it...
- ...Therefore, it's not really worth much to someone who already owns all this stuff
- Absolutely no tweaks to basic mechanics that are known to be flawed
- Too bright, too colourful, too obvious; Arkham Asylum, specifically

< 8.5 >

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