I’ve always felt connected to Batman. My parents weren’t gunned down in a dark alleyway, I’m not a handsome billionaire bachelor, I don’t own a cave... and I have the physique of a cream-puff. But in every other aspect, we’re basically the same person. So the idea of finally becoming Bats was appealing to me.
Batman: Arkham VR finally gave me that opportunity, and the end result was a riveting, albeit short-lived, fantasy come true. Strapping on the Playstation VR headset and wielding two Move controllers, it put me in the Batsuit, giving me control of everything from the waist up. I could raise my fists, which appeared as black gauntlets in front of my eyes, rotating them and flexing them into fists by pressing the triggers. The moment where I saw my reflection in a mirror, and watching Batman move as I did, was one of the most surreal gaming experiences I’ve ever encountered.
Being the fifth title I’ve played on Playstation VR, this is by far the most immersive and captivating one yet. I wouldn’t call Arkham VR a game as such, it’s an experience - and one unlike anything I’ve come across before. Rocksteady have packed in an incredible amount of love and detail into this VR world, an attribute that made their traditional Batman titles so enjoyable.
The less you know about the storyline the better - so all I’ll say is you’ll be stepping into one of Batman’s darkest nights. In the hour or so of gameplay, you’ll play as Bruce Wayne before descending into the Batcave to suit up (in what must be one of the most exciting on-rails experience I’ve had). As you’d expect, you have access to the Dark Knight’s gadgetry, using your Move wands to control three main tools - batarangs, a forensics scanner, and a grappling hook.
Cleverly, players have access to these on their utility belts, and by looking down you’ll be able to see them situated around your waist where you’d expect them. Reaching down with your controllers, you can grab them intuitively, as if you were just unholstering your weapon, and vice-versa you place them back by the same action.
Batarangs are located where your belt buckle would be, and grabbing at your navel with the trigger pulled brings one up where you can study it, twisting it in front of you as if you were holding it in real life. Throwing batarangs around the room with a natural wrist flick provided hours of fun, and the game includes a target range for such an occasion.
As mentioned, you’ll play a single night as Batman, solving crimes and meeting familiar faces from Gotham’s underground. The story is short, and the narrative is weak, but with such an immersive environment where you are literally in the center of everything, it’s enough to keep things moving along. Where Arkham VR excels is how it profoundly interacts with you from start to finish, and takes full advantage of the VR tech.
A lot of the mechanics, such as scanning a cadaver with your forensics tool - revealing x-ray cut-aways of bones and tissue to uncover the cause of death - never feel like a tacked on gimmick. Studying objects by picking them up and rotating them can reveal clues, and there are a number of basic puzzles to solve as you progress through the game.
The only sacrifice is of course with movement, which is something that current VR tech will struggle with unless it’s vehicular movement. Most of the gameplay revolves around having your feet rooted to the spot, and getting around instead involves pointing and hitting a button toward predetermined destinations - warping to that area with a gentle fade.
Unfortunately it’s the only thing that removes you from the experience, and some people will be disappointed by how scenes revolve around having to stand in one spot. But Rocksteady have done some amazing things to ensure that everything in between these transitions are captivating. The final scene alone is an amazing example of what can be achieved in a VR space.
It’s not all perfect however. Players will need to calibrate their headsets everytime they play, which doesn’t take long, but is quite restrained in the fact that you need to stand in a very particular spot, and you may need to adjust your Playstation camera up or down to suit the game’s constraints. Also ensure you have plenty of distance to the left and right of you, as you don’t want to be punching the walls (or people) when throwing your batarangs.
The game allows you to play standing up, or sitting down, which is a nice touch - but the game is almost impossible to play in a seated position. Often action will be taking place behind you so not being able to turn right around would put you in a disadvantage. Also accessing items from your utility belt is much harder when not standing up, so it’s likely that the sitting down option is purely for accessibility reasons.
As mentioned before, this is one of the most immersive VR games I’ve had the pleasure of playing, and the VR tech holds up nicely. I noticed a couple of stutters (mainly back and forth a little) but they were minimal and often when turning my head excessively). Obviously, because the controllers act as hands, two Move wands are definitely the ideal setup if you have them. While it only clocks in at around an hour, there was no discomfort from start to finish, and the only sweaty palms I had were from the final moments in the game, where they execute an unsettling sense of fear perfectly.
The only real thing I wished is that they were able to draw the rest of Batman’s arms in, rather than just the floating hands - it’s the only thing that pulls you out of the realism on a constant basis. Ultimately though, Arkham VR is an amazing, adrenaline filled first person experience for anyone who’s wanted to be the Caped Crusader. It would be a discredit to pass this off as a tech demo, but it’s not exactly a game as such either. It’s an experience. And despite it being a short-lived one, it’s certainly one you won’t forget in a hurry.