I already gave a brief rundown of Batman Arkham VR in my overall review of PlayStation VR, but I think it’s actually deserving of a full review in its own right. Mostly because it’s pretty freakin’ awesome as a VR experience, but also because I really want VR to succeed, so I’ma go ahead and bang on about VR games as much as I possibly can.
Anyways, if you did read my PlayStation VR Review, you’ll already know that actually ‘being the freakin’ Batman’ was something of a highpoint for me, so, like, let’s start with that, shall we!?
In Batman Arkham VR you get to actually be the freakin’ Batman!
Like, bodily. As in, you’re him! As in YOUR HANDS ARE BATMAN’S HANDS, YOU’RE WEARING THE BATSUIT, AND….. get this….YOU CAN ACTUALLY TAKE A BATARANG FROM YOUR UTILITY BELT AND THROW IT AT STUFF!!
Thank you, goodnight. *drops mic*!
I jest, obviously – though, to be honest, that would’ve been enough for me to go straight out and buy it, but I appreciate most people don’t have the same kind of impulse control issues I have, so I’ll continue with a bit more of, like, a proper review.
But, again (in case I was unclear) you do get to actually be the Batman. From the very outset of Arkham VR, your perspective is that of Bruce Wayne and/or Batman, and from the get-go, that’s all different kinds of awesome. Indeed, given the success of Rocksteady’s Arkham Games, it’s not too hard to imagine some PlayStation VP somewhere – thinking about how best to get people onboard the VR train – suddenly having an epiphany, then running around screaming ‘they can actually BE Batman, people. BATMAN!!‘, because it’s exactly the kind of fantasy fulfilment shit that people pay good money for. Whether that actually happened or not is besides the point, but whoever did come up with the idea for Batman being a showcase for VR deserves some kind of medal, because it is just the kind of thing that a Virtual Reality experience can knock out of the park.
And within the first few minutes, you’ll get a real taste of just how immersive VR can be, and particularly as you enter the (obligatory) ‘watching your parents get gunned down’ scene. It’s something we’ve seen play out countless times – across multiple media formats – but it’s immediately different here; more real and affecting. From your vantage point of a young Bruce Wayne (you’re obviously quite small, with everyone and everything else towering above you) there’s an immediate, palpable sense of vulnerability and fear as you cower behind your mother’s legs. I honestly felt the whole scene was much more emotive and powerful, not least because watching your parents get shot in 3D VR is really quite shocking and visceral.
To kind of prove my point, whereas ordinarily I’d be all like “Yeah, seen this shit a million times – get on with it“, I was seeing it all as if it were (reasonably) new, or at least as if I were getting an entirely new kind of perspective on it – in a literal and more emotional sense. I’ll freely admit I was more than willing to buy into the illusion, but even so, I genuinely found myself – for example – torn between a desire to run to/look at my parents and run away from/look at the bad dude, and I even toyed with the idea of kicking him in his nuts, such was the sense of his proximity and menacing realness. I mean, I’ve invested in Video Game characters before, and I’ve often empathised with them to a (possibly unhealthy) degree, but there’s just something so incredibly absorbing about being in their shoes (literally), smack bang in the centre of a 3D environment.
After all the feelz of the obligatory flashback/origin story thingy, you’ll eventually find yourself suiting up (which is cool in itself) and then heading off to the Batcave (also ridiculously cool). For a change, all is not well in Gotham, and more specifically, you’ll be informed by Alfred that both Nightwing and Robin have gone AWOL. This being the Batcave, however, you can then mess around with all your ubercool, expensive gadgetry in an attempt to locate their trackers – as opposed to, say, sending them passive/aggressive text messages like you or I would have to do.
Now, obviously me telling you this doesn’t really do justice to quite how great it all is, but remember… When I say you get to use the Batcomputer, I actually mean you get to use it. As in, you push the buttons and shit – and elsewhere, you actually get to pick stuff up to inspect it, play around with vials and various pieces of Bat-tech. This being immersive VR shiznizz, you also get a scanner, Batclaw and Batarang, which you can go ahead and clip onto your utility belt before, if you’re anything like me, immediately whipping them off again, cowboy stylee. When you’re done with all your quick draw stuff, you’ll then head to the garage, and you’ll get to see a stunning, VR version of the Batmobile.
It really is impressive (ditto the Batplane), and as you rotate it not more than a few feet in front of your face, I’d be very surprised if you didn’t find it jaw-dropping. Again, there’s a definite “weight” to it, a sense that is a real, solid thing – and it really is beautiful to behold. When you’re done admiring the shit out of your ride (take as long as you want, I know I did), you can then ‘launch’ off into the Gotham night.
But when I say “launch”, unfortunately you don’t actually get to experience driving – or even being in – the Batmobile, which, I’m not going to lie, was incredibly disappointing. Like, properly gutting. See, there’s no forward motion of any type in Batman Arkham VR, so in the case of getting from A to B in a vehicle it’s just a fade to black deal, and moving around on foot just employs a fast-teleport type mechanism. Whilst I understand this approach (time pressures, the limits of the new tech, even the fact that VR games currently seem to either allow forward movement with the controller, or hand movement with the move controllers – but not both) it does feel like something between an unfortunate omission and being robbed fucking blind of what would, let’s face it, be a brilliant opportunity to drive the Batmobile! Perhaps in the future, but for now, not so much….
Anyways, just as I was dealing with that disappointment – even thinking of abandoning my Arkham VR adventure because of my non-driving strop – the game won me back over. And with gusto. Without wanting to spoil anything, you’ll then find yourself in a situation where you have to do a crime scene reconstruction. This kind of thing is common in the Batman games, and utilising scanners and suchlike is S.O.P. for the World’s Greatest Detective but, again, Arkham VR turns it up a notch. Or eleven. Because this is VR, you’ll get to take part in a Virtual Reality reconstruction – and by golly it’s amaze-balls.
Honestly, it’s one of the coolest things ever. You’re stood there, watching life-sized figures, freezing and rewinding the action, and scanning stuff with an actual scanner. That’s in your fucking hand. And, even though you can’t walk around, you can use the fast-teleporting mechanic to change your position and angle, and I genuinely felt like I was detective-ing the shit out of it. Ditto a little later when I was in the morgue, and I was actually scanning full, 3D bodies – even physically pulling them out of the freezer to do so. I mean, seriously, that shit was brilliant, and brilliantly immersive. For example, you know how in regular games you often find yourself walking around slowly to see if a button prompt will appear, allowing you to pick up/interact with something, yeah!? Well here, you just go ahead and actually pick stuff up, turn it around in your hands, then decide if it’s important or not. At one point, I was stood next to a tape recorder for a few minutes – no prompts on screen or nuffink – when I just kind of pressed the play button on a whim and BOOM, it started playing. It’s exactly this kind of thing, the little, subtle differences that make VR a more involving, tactile experience, I think, and Batman is just fantastic at them.
Likewise, all the Batarang stuff, finding bits and pieces to solve a puzzle with your Batclaw, picking up Riddler doodahs and physically putting them together – all of it feels really, really great and hugely absorbing. I said it in my full VR Review, but it all resembles the really cool kind of stuff we’ve seen in various Sci-Fi/Futuristic films, and that added an extra, almost subliminal, element of magic (and wish fulfilment) to the proceedings. It was all just sooooo much fun whilst it lasted!
Which brings me to my second biggest complaint about Batman Arkham VR; it’s too damn short. Really, you’re likely to finish the “story” in a few hours, and precisely because it’s such a great VR experience, that is disappointing – painful, even. Just as I was starting to think “fuck real-life, I’ma be the Batman forever”, the game was all like, “that’s your lot, mate. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here”, and then I was all like, “But why, I reeeeeaaaally like it here…..” and then it was…..well, you get the picture. I mean, there’s a token amount of replayability with some Riddler challenge type stuff, and I’ll almost certainly replay the story several(/eleventy-twelve) times, but whilst everything’s still going to be cool, that sense of wonder and amazement that I got will inevitably decrease with each subsequent playthrough, I imagine. Because, like, human nature and whatnot!
That said, though – and in fairness – Batman Arkham VR is very much a “taste” of VR, a little som’thin-som’thin to highlight its potential and possibility. It’s slightly longer and more substantial than a mere Demo, but it’s not a full game either. At around £15/$20, that’s (mostly) fair enough, I guess, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want more. However, as a taste of VR, as a showcase for how spectacular and different it can be, it’s hard to argue with Batman Arkham VR – because it certainly delivers on that front. Aside from being genuine fantasy fulfilment smack, it’s really quite polished and well-made. Having dicked around with a few demos prior to it, I was starting to get the feeling that a lot of VR games would be decidedly old-school in terms of Graphics and stuff, but Batman disavowed me of that fear quicker than I could whip out a batarang.
And that’s great in its own right, but it also makes me excited and optimistic about VR in general, because if Arkham VR can be this good at launch, it bodes well for the future of VR gaming, I think. There seems to be a general consensus that EVE Valkyrie’s the “posterchild” for Virtual Reality – and whilst I see that argument (watch this space) – for me, I’d argue Batman Arkham VR is at least as good an advert for it. It’ll certainly be the game I load up when friends want to try VR out, not least because it’s immediately immersive, and given use of the wands and whatnot, it’s also quite accessible and intuitive.
Indeed, if you’re thinking about VR, this is a great game to try precisely because it expertly embraces what’s so cool and unique about the medium, and even if you’re not (for whatever reason?) dead keen on being Batman, it’ll certainly make you appreciate how much potential there is in VR in general, I’d wager. Sure, it’s super short, and you can’t physically move around properly, but I’d be very, very surprised if you didn’t come out of the Batman VR experience feeling like you were genuinely, spectacularly immersed in a “game” like never before! And that, right there, is exactly what a VR experience should feel like, and it’s why I properly fucking loved it!