The Batman Return to Arkham remasters are a stimulating technical exercise, bringing the newer features of Unreal Engine 4 to 2 older classics -Arkham Asylum and its sequel Arkham City. Each were originally built on a modified Unreal Engine 3, but developer Virtuous that is best known for the ultimate Fantasy X and X-2 HD remaster chooses to revamp its character models that overhaul its lighting and add higher resolution effects across both. The visual changes are often striking but sadly, glaring issues with performance cannot be overlooked.
However it does create a stimulating setup for a comparison, letting us pit these PlayStation 4 and Xbox One conversions against the first PC code running at max settings. It’s worth stating directly that the Nvidia PhysX enhancements on PC remain locked thereto platform, and neither console gets the physics-based smoke, particles and debris.
Batman return to Arkham: Character models.
First up there’s the obvious: the character models. Very similar to Virtuos work on Final Fantasy X & X2 HD, the game’s vibrant cast of heroes and villains are given facelifts to varying degrees. Such changes may irk those conversant in the original’s stylistic direction; in some cases details are simply amplified, in others we get wholesale overhaul. A case in point: the Penguin gets an entire revamp of skin shaders across his face, adding more stubble within the remaster, and usually rearranging all scarring detail on his forehead. Even his monocle is given a crisper glass material, now uncomfortably crammed into his orbit. It’s one among the foremost striking changes within the game but better? It’s up for debate.
Other characters like Two Face and Catwoman only get a small tweak by comparison, where facial detail and animations are identifiably an equivalent as before. For the foremost part, changes to lighting create the larger shift where these characters crop up; a shift in colour grading and lightweight sources that cast shadows in several directions.
Regardless of where you stand on the characters, one aspect that’s clearly improved is the use of materials used across both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Clothing gets an enormous upgrade: stitching on Harley Quinn’s corset is higher resolution, and there is a more crisply detailed material used across Batman’s cape. The remaster mimics the looks of leather grain here, where before there was an easier, plastic-like look to suits and capes. That being said, it isn’t always an improvement: texture quality on Hugo Strange’s lab-coat is swapped to leave a planer normal map in its place, now missing the knitted pattern of the first.
Batman return to Arkham: Improvements.
In other words, the Return to Arkham changes are appreciated in some cases, but clearly there’s an inventive misstep in others. Improvements that are undeniably a breakthrough include the added textures and objects across the planet, especially in Arkham City. PS4 and Xbox One enjoy completely new assets, like the freshly laid out carpets on the very first scene with Catwoman, adding to the décor of the space. Everything else appears in situ, but these subtle touches help fill out otherwise barren spots – and apply to the planet outside too.
Batman return to Arkham: Changes.
The other significant change Unreal Engine 4 brings is within the lighting. On the rain-slicked roads below, the sunshine even produces wider, more exaggerated reflections than the first game. an equivalent goes for flames within the smelting chamber – and fire now directly casts light onto nearby surfaces, where even particle effects produce light within the remaster. On the opposite hand the PC original has its strong points here too; in an early sequence with Bruce chained up, it’s curious to ascertain a way stronger bloom and lens flare instead.
Batman return to Arkham: Drawback.
There are some drawbacks to the remaster’s approach to lighting. The fashionable light shaft effect is missing for several scenes during Arkham City and while still used around objects obscuring the moon, it’s massively dialled back in those cases. Everything is in clear view, and therefore the same goes for interior shots with attention on a foreground character; PS4 and Xbox One versions skip this effect.
Batman return to Arkham: Graphics.
The range of graphical changes is considerable. Some are a marked improvement in bringing out the original’s details, others a step back – while there are a number of points that lay somewhere in-between. The core gameplay and physics are an equivalent as ever though, and with cloth physics on Batman’s cloak working to an equivalent logic it had before. We even see a transparent upgrade in effects quality for fire, where alpha is delivered at a far higher grade than the PC’s best settings. It is a chicken feed, and you’ll see everything around it animated as before, but with a sharper, higher grade alpha effect.
Putting the PC aside for a flash, let’s specialise in the difference between PS4 and Xbox One. Native resolution may be a big detail that weighs heavily on how each version looks. A dynamic framebuffer is employed on both consoles, adjusting the pixel count supported on a scene-by-scene basis. Curiously, this is often handled by permanently fixing the vertical resolution to 1080 pixels on PS4 and Xbox One, while the horizontal axis scales up and down supported load. For PS4, this suggests we go between 1600×1080 at lowest to a full 1920×1080, but we also see numbers in between. However, Sony’s machine spends the lion’s share of its time at the upper end of the spectrum, producing clearer results even while within the more GPU intensive outdoors section of Arkham City.
On Xbox One we get less encouraging results. rock bottom pixel count we saw may be a cut-down 1024×1080, and sadly, even in Arkham Asylum’s barren corridors this is often a recurring figure. It’s rarer to ascertain Xbox One hit a full native 1920×1080 at the best, but it’s certainly doable within the first opening battle with Catwoman in Arkham City where there are several demands on the engine. We see numbers in between these values, but sadly, the shortfall adds up to make an appreciable gulf in image quality between the 2 platforms – with textures visibly blurring over at range.
Other graphical differences are worth mentioning. For one, there is a stronger bloom effect on PS4, notably because the camera works its way round the neon signs of Arkham City. Most aspects of those games are identical on either platform, outside of resolution, but the more vibrant bloom effect stands proud consistently in favour of the PS4 release. Another curious dividing point is in ambient occlusion – a softer shading on PS4 around corners of the planet. It is a minor change, but does suggest a special screen-space technique used on Xbox One, though there’s not much between them.
The extent of the Return to Arkham remaster’s visual changes is impressive but what of the frame rates situation? This might be a straight port of the older PC edition, potentially giving it a stronger run at hitting 60fps on PS4 or Xbox One. Instead, developer Virtuous’ option to boost visuals in each game ups the ante on each machine, leaving us with performance that may not be as consistent as we’d like on either.
PS4 and Xbox.
Each game within the package features a different approach. To start out with the more ambitious, open-world Arkham City, both PS4 and Xbox One run with an unlocked frame-rate, where v-sync is engaged to avoid screen-tearing. However, this setup means we’re left with a fluctuating reading on our graph that does not equate to a smooth visual feedback (where ideally it would be capped to 30fps, or go the complete hog and hit 60fps). On PS4, performance wavers from 20fps at lowest right up to 60fps – though for the foremost part we’re within the 30-35fps region. Arkham City seldom holds 60fps longer than a flash on PS4, and for a way of consistency, a frame-rate cap at a flat 30fps would help hugely. Alas, this is able to still haven’t any impact on dips below that figure.
On Xbox One it is the same story, though typically running at a lower frame-rate than PS4 – with lows of 18fps. Generally, we’re watching a Sony lead by as little together as frame per second, and the maximum amount as 20fps and beyond in matching cut-scenes. It is a wide margin that reminds us of areas within the recent Hitman reboot (another game with the choice to unlock frame-rates), where the GPU is evidently a key bottleneck. Having tested these two back-to-back there is no question PS4 puts during a better, smoother delivery of Arkham City, but neither is 100 percent ideal to play during this state.
Again we’ve v-sync working on both PS4 and Xbox One, but in placing a performance ceiling at 30fps we see the increase of another familiar issue: frame-pacing. In other words, Arkham Asylum trades one problem for an additional . Both consoles stick with the 30fps line for lengthy segments of play, but we still see frame-times jut upwards to 16.7ms and right down to 50ms (and below). It is a common affliction for games this generation employing a sub-optimal implementation of half-refresh 30fps, and sadly creates a persistent judder sensation to camera movement.
Moving towards a replacement corridor of the asylum, we see drops to as low as 22fps, likely as a result of streaming subsequent spots, which only increases the speed of the frame-time spikes. These drops blight Xbox One’s delivery of the sport from the word go: the instant the Joker escapes and you’re fighting your first trio of enemies it’s already sat at the 25fps line while PS4 turns in an unusually frame-paced 30fps. This is often an enormous disappointment, especially given the linear nature of the primary game within the Arkham series.
Now , it’s clear why there have been doubts surrounding this remaster package’s development. The project’s release status switched to ‘indefinite’ only a couple of months ago, and supported the turnout on its launch week, we will understand why. Even with the improved graphics to its credit, the fact remains we’re watching two messy playing experiences when it involves simply controlling its cast – hitting some stuttering lows on Xbox One especially.
We hope you find this article helpful. Let us know if you have any further query or comment regarding this topic. Looking forward to your reviews. Checkout our other article on Batman games.