Batman Return to Arkham 

Version reviewed: PS4

Without question, the Arkham series – including Origins – is a shining light of gameplay, style and story. Since trying to escape the Gerudo Prison in Zelda: Ocarina of Time I dreamt of grapple hooking my way around Gotham. Now, nearly 10 years since its introduction with the Dark Knight delivering Joker to the infamous asylum we take a retrospective at last years remaster bundle.

Prior to playing the collection I would have ranked the games as:

  1. Arkham Asylum
  2. Origins
  3. City
  4. Knight
  5. VR
  6. Blackgate 

However, revisiting the games has changed this order and perhaps my memories of some of the games. Before Arkham Knight, I replayed the original game through PS Plus. It was a great playthrough. The atmosphere of the iconic Setting along with the attention to detail of environmental storytelling were unrivalled in my opinion by the other games in the series. Skulking in air vents with bat-eared shadows echoing the stylised silhouette, which instantly puts fear in the hearts of Gotham’s rogues, felt as good as it did all those years ago. The smaller, focused setting had always been my preference over the vast expansiveness of the later games. However, this is a post Knight world which for all its flaws was a slick, smooth experience. The team at Rocksteady had learnt from their prior work. 

When popping back in to Arkham Asylum, the combat felt sluggish and clunky. Not being able to deploy all the tricks I’d developed over the more recent bat-games also felt off. The graphical update adds a layer of polish but this is now markedly a game of the previous generation. City, too, felt clunkier plus literally and figuratively smaller than Knight. 

The two games on offer here are both 10/10 unmissable experiences. Though in 2017, their mechanics have been surpassed by the games of the current console generation. The game was recently on sale for £15.99 on PSN and if this is your first time with these games it is a steal. However if you already own them from the previous generation (and penniless!) it is difficult to justify buying them again. In 2017, gameplay-wise there are better ways to be the bat. Controversially the list now reads:

  1. Origins (should have been in the collection)
  2. Knight
  3. Asylum
  4. City
  5. VR
  6. Blackgate (we can all agree on that one!)

Perhaps the original list could be proof of the existence of rose tinted glasses. Although it could just be defective vision on the fritz…

Virtually Over

Whilst perusing the PlayStation store – like a lost lamb – I’ve found myself scrolling, sorting and just staring at the PlayStation VR section. When announced, I remember saying it looked promising but I wouldn’t commit until there was a Batman game…Well after E3 2016, I made my commitment. Having played Arkham VR as well as a handful of other experiences (Battlefront, Rise of the Tomb Raider among them) I now find myself desperately seeking the next game to justify my expensive new purchase. 

Full disclosure; Resident Evil 7 was too scary in VR. The Killer Croc bit in Arkham VR led to a rapid removal of the headset and hiding behind the settee. Playing the Kitchen demo and the cat jumping on me was the last straw. The off screen benefits of PlayStation VR can not be ignored but what outweighs the minority of essential experiences and this facility is the growing noises  – or lack of – from Sony.

Now 6 months in, PlayStation VR – and VR in general – has already started to mimic the slow, undignified deaths of Wii U and PlayStation Vita. An initial sense of optimism, coupled with a smattering of launch curios has led to a worrying roadmap for my sleek, beautiful visor. Where are the first party offerings? Why aren’t lesser VR apps etc ported up to the PlayStation headset? There’s only so many Minecraft 360 degree videos one can watch on YouTube. 

Desperately trying to justify the purchase, the lack of anything of interest now or on the horizon, signifies what this ultimately always was; a tech experiment. Splintering user bases has never worked in the console space (32x, N64 expansion pak, Kinect etc). Nor, has sharing of development resources. Microsoft, Sony and now Nintendo have all had more optimal output with just one clear focal point. All of which has led me to a sad conclusion. PlayStation VR is done. The slapped on Move controllers already outdated with the lack of a z axis and chugging on the now 3 year old PS4 hardware. Couple this with shoddy Pro support, this was never going to be the next big thing. Just Sony not wanting to miss a trick. I backed the wrong horse so PlayStation VR, say hello to eBay…hashtag sad face

Off-Screen Play

Whilst our younger selves would no doubt be glued to our 4K 3D 1080p HDR 60fps pro S set ups (back then widescreen, composite, 60hz, 56k internet), an arguably higher priority is the increasing presence of off-screen play.

Since child number one was born – coinciding with the launch window of Wii U – the time share of television has become a much smaller fraction. And so began the birth of the idea of console quality gameplay without the need to dominate the living room. Daily fixes of FIFA career mode were in danger of reducing severely without the facility to play off screen. And this is how the story of off-screen play unfolded…

Confused messaging regarding off screen functionality for Wii U (it was later added as a symbol on the back of boxes) – in my eyes – was one of many missed opportunities for the console. What about all those who now had to fight for the TV? What about those whose playing time was at a premium?

The confused messaging was also mirrored in the PS4 Vita Remote Play ‘compatibility’ as despite a universal approach, the two did not make good bed fellows. The – at this point – pipe dream of FIFA off screen (I’ll keep returning to this FYI) remained that. PS Vita’s lack of second shoulder buttons and inconsistent lag led to the novelty of remote play remaining a novelty.

Fast forward a bit.

With the death of the Wii U and PS Vita, new ways to play off screen were born. The Remote Play functionality with PS4 was transferred to PC via a free app. This remains a great way to play PS4 away from TV and home. However another contender ushered forwards from Sony – PS VR.

Virtual reality aside, a great asset to the Playstation’s VR expansion is the ability to play games in a variety of modes off screen. Forget 4K 3D 1080p HDR etc etc for a moment. Stylized games like Disney Infinity look great on the headset and it is by no means a lesser experience. I played Rise of the Tomb Raider and the PS2 port of Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer Revenge on the headset and they were both enjoyable experience. The recent update to 3D Blu Ray compatibility is also a major plus. But…what about FIFA? Although passable, something does seem ‘off’ about playing FIFA this way. It gives the player models a chunkiness akin to ISS 64. Which leads to the obvious question and the latest contender in off-screen console games – Nintendo Switch.

It is with regret – as a penniless dad – getting a one is not in the cards at the moment. The last great purchase before becoming a single income household was the PS VR. However, the ability to take the exact console experience anywhere, on screen or off screen is a major selling point. Dads will surely be interested but perhaps mums (or vice versa???) may be more interested to keep the off-screen ball rolling. The recent phenomenon of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (dusted off the Wii U for it) proved that the market for this is there and may be expansive than Nintendo first anticipated. The blue ocean strategy Nintendo had shot for with the Wii could have been there for all perhaps with a clearer message. Now, the opportunity is out there for someone to join the dots together, for the stars to align and erm..the Matrix to sync so this – in my opinion- untapped potential market is explored to its fullest. And hopefully…finally, perhaps the Switch version of FIFA might be the one to finally nail that true console experience without the need for a TV.