Reviewed on: Playstation 4.
There are two kinds of people in this world: people’s whose life-long dream is to be Batman and people who are filthy liars and cannot be trusted. I’m not going to get too bogged down in a discussion as to why Batman is the best superhero character there is, because you either already agree with me or you never will and you’ll continue on with your wrong life, being wrong in all your wrongness.
OK, I’ll stop being a fanboy jerk now and just clarify I’m a huge Batman fan, so of course Batman Arkham VR, the Playstation VR exclusive game from Arkham series developer Rocksteady, is something I was going to lose my shit over. And lose my shit over it I did, and while I can acknowledge its faults, it’s still an amazing experience that is possibly the best thing I’ve done in VR to date. Yes, that’s including the shark cage dive and facing down a T-Rex.
First things first, yes the game is short by video game standards, especially if you consider it done once you complete the story for the first time. It took me just over an hour and fifteen minutes to complete the story the first time around, but what it lacked in length it certainly made up for in quality of the experience, for the most part. And the experience does extend beyond the base narrative, with post-game Riddler challenges and hidden easter eggs providing players with more to explore. Suffice it to say while I wish it were longer, and I don’t like to get caught up in comparing a game’s length to its price, I feel with Batman Arkham VR’s AU$29.95 price point, I got my money’s worth.
On the subject of the story, Arkham VR takes place following the events of 2015’s Batman: Arkham Knight, with Batman venturing out into the night to solve a murder. Given its short length I don’t want to say much for the sake of spoilers, but what begins as a gimmicky simulation throwing Batarangs very quickly became a compellingly dark, albeit predictable, conclusion to the Arkham universe. The final act in particular is a haunting experience in VR. After the dissatisfying ending of Arkham Knight, Arkham VR’s bleak culmination of the Dark Knight’s adventures is weirdly refreshing. But I’m a sucker for a gut punch of an ending, so perhaps I might be alone in that feeling.
Arkham VR’s narrative plays out like a point-n-click adventure, comprising mainly of Batman standing around and investigating crime scenes. Going from the Batcave, to the streets of Gotham and the halls of Arkham Asylum, players must find clues and solve basic logic puzzles in order to unravel the mystery. This premise plays to VR’s strengths, as it relies on feeling a sense of presence in the virtual space, but its static nature doesn’t require players to walk through a 3D space. In fact, it tackles the locomotion issue by letting players teleport to certain areas by highlighting them, either by Batman jumping or using his grapple gun. Is it realistic? No, but it’s an acceptable compromise to allow exploration of a larger environment without risking nausea, or requiring a VR treadmill (which may not help with the nausea anyway).
But on top of creating a sense of presence in the space, Arkham VR goes a step further by creating a sense of presence as BATMAN. It does this by having us play two things, firstly a retelling of his parents being murdered. Yes, we’ve seen this a million times before, but seeing it like you were actually there, as a short, young Bruce Wayne, made it feel new again.
The second thing is putting on the Bat-armour. Following the harrowing intro, players soon descend beneath Wayne Manor and get to put on the suit, gauntlets and cowl, before trying out the grapple gun, forensic analyser and throwing a couple Batarangs. As a huge Batman fan, this was nothing short of amazing. Unbeknown to me at the time, my girlfriend was filming me play this particular section, so here’s the candid proof of how amazing it felt. This what dreams coming true looks like.
As you can probably see, the gameplay is very suited to the Playstation Move controllers, allowing players to tangibly pick up and investigate clues and properly use Batman’s gadgets rather than using the DualShock 4 and simply highlight objects to pick up. While the DualShock 4 is supported, it’s a woefully inferior alternative to the Move controllers. Like I said in my review of Playstation VR, if a game supports the Move controllers then they’re practically a necessity in order to sell the immersion.
But speaking of immersion, and my review of PSVR, Batman Arkham VR‘s biggest let down is tied to PSVR’s biggest letdown: the inferior tracking technology. While Arkham VR has been designed so that nothing you need to interact with is situated where you’d have to have your back to the Playstation Camera, you will often turn in that direction looking for things and as a result your in-game hands will vanish a lot. As soon as the Camera can’t see them they just disappear, which becomes particularly frustrating when trying to solve the Riddler puzzles in a second playthrough. It isn’t a deal breaker, but frequently having your answers shot down because they would be outside the tracking zone was a constant reminder that this was all an illusion, which is disappointing.
On the subject of the Riddler challenges, they directly link to one of my favourite aspects of Arkham VR which is the character model viewer. Completing challenges unlocks realistic recreations of Arkham series characters to inspect, which in VR makes them appear life size before you. Each one is impressively detailed, and are worth checking out just for the experience alone. I cannot tell you how imposing it was to be standing in front of Batman himself, in all his muscly glory. I can however tell you that I had to really force myself to make eye contact with Joker, because goddamn is he way more terrifying in virtual person…
It’s experiences like these, along with all the little easter eggs hidden around throughout the game, that made Batman Arkham VR a blast for the Batman fan in me. For the games reviewer in me, I still had a great time, but was let down by the frequent reminders of PSVR’s poor hand tracking. Having said all that, Arkham VR is the kind of VR game I’d like to see more of: an engrossing narrative experience that pushes beyond the “wow, VR” gimmick and truly absorbs you in its world.
And, you know, more Batman, because as we established at the beginning, he’s the best.