Batman: Arkham Asylum Digital Foundry

Face-Off: Batman: Return to Arkham

Digital FoundryFace-Off: Batman: Return to Arkham

A dynamic duo of Unreal Engine 4 remasters?

At the very least, the Batman: Return to Arkham remasters are an interesting technical exercise, bringing the newer features of Unreal Engine 4 to two older classics - Arkham Asylum and its sequel Arkham City. Each were originally built on a modified Unreal Engine 3, but developer Virtuos (best known for the Final Fantasy X and X-2 HD remaster) chooses to revamp its character models, overhaul its lighting, and add higher resolution effects across both. The visual changes are often striking - but sadly, glaring issues with performance can't be overlooked.

In the absence of a PC release, the brute force offered by a hardware upgrade can't address the struggling frame-rates. However it does create an interesting setup for a comparison, letting us pit these PlayStation 4 and Xbox One conversions against the original PC code running at max settings. It's worth stating right away that the Nvidia PhysX enhancements on PC remain locked to that platform, and neither console gets the physics-based smoke, particles and debris. But putting this aside, what are the key changes of this remaster?

First up there's the obvious: the character models. Much like Virtuos' work on Final Fantasy X and X-2 HD, the game's vibrant cast of heroes and villains are given facelifts to varying degrees. Such changes may irk those familiar with 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 a complete revamp of skin shaders across his face, adding more stubble in the remaster, and generally rearranging all scarring detail on his forehead. Even his monocle is given a crisper glass material, now uncomfortably crammed into his eye socket. It's one of the most striking changes in the game - but better? It's up for debate.

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Face-Off: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Face-Off: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Holy anti-aliasing.

Some might say we're late to the party with the face-off coverage of Batman: Arkham Asylum, but we've got two very good reasons to explain the delay. First up, our demo showdown did a fairly effective job of discerning the key talking points with the console versions. Secondly, developer Rocksteady has put a great deal of effort into the PC build and we wanted to cover that in-depth too. Since Eidos wouldn't supply PC or indeed PS3 code, we ended up buying them, which meant waiting for the official release like everyone else.

In many respects Arkham Asylum is a perfect convergence of technology, art and design. While some developers have managed to break free of its stylistic shackles Rocksteady has instead embraced the core look of the Unreal Engine 3 technology, with a hardcore-pleasing rendering of Batman and his world that looks fantastic. On a similar theme, the gothic renderings of Arkham Asylum often have echoes of some of the architecture seen in Epic's own games featuring UE3 technology.

Combine this with a game design that truly reflects the character of the Dark Knight, the key voice actors from the animated series plus a great story from Paul Dini, and it's pretty easy to see why Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the best games of the year.

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