VR has made it easy to immerse oneself into games like never before. While most have spent at least some time, either in their youth or sometimes still much later in life, pretending to be a super hero, Batman: Arkham VR from Rocksteady Studios and Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment gives players the chance to put on the iconic Batman cowl. Already being familiar with the Arkham series of games, I was excited to see what this new dimension brings to the game. While being familiar with the original series of Arkham games, I could never really get into them as, of all things, the camera was not really in a position in which I find enjoyable in games. Hopefully, this change in perspective will allow me to enjoy the experience much more.
The game starts out in a familiar setting, the alley in which Bruce’s parents are murdered. It is immediately clear exactly how outstanding the visuals in Batman: Arkham VR are. The graphics are truly amazing, everything is really brought to life in great detail. This probably isn’t what I am supposed to be getting out of watching my parents get murdered, but really, at this point who hasn’t seen Thomas and Martha Wayne gunned down multiple times? It is a little harder than most times to see the action though, as seeing it through Bruce’s eyes means that his mother is also trying to shield him from it. I did peak around her, of course, but it’s still well done, especially the scaling so that you get the perspective of Bruce and his then smaller size included.
After a brief stopover at Wayne Manor, players get their chance to head into the Batcave. Here is a good chance to inspect the iconic suit up close. Suit, gloves, batarang, grappling gun, forensic thing-a-ma-bobber, and of course, the cowl, all set and ready to go. Once fully clothed, the elevator descends finally into the full Batcave. It is quite the site to behold. Standing in front of one of the stations, Alfred comes over to mumble something at me, probably would have helped if he didn’t try and talk over the video I was watching of Joker kidnapping my latest version of Robin.
It seems that the game thinks I should know exactly what to do here. Maybe if I had spent more time with the other games in the series it would all be rather elementary. The game certainly didn’t give me any indication of what I was supposed to do, or at least not in any meaningful way. Eventually, I figured it out, mixed some blood samples and figured out my mission. Once done, I needed to move around the Batcave. Let’s just say I was particularly dense about it. Seems that they just assumed that everyone would already be familiar with the basic movements of the series. After a few minutes of me staring at the Bat-computer longingly, would it have killed Alfred to give a pretend cough and say “grappling gun” in the middle of it? Eventually, I figured it out after what is most likely an embarrassing amount of time.
Now, having figured out how to get around in here, I got all the info I needed for my mission and headed over to the garage. I checked out the Batmobile and Batwing, picked one and headed out. Not sure it actually mattered which I picked as the screen went dark while traveling. I’d say it was a bummer, but I was relieved because there was some serious potential for an upset stomach there. Finally, I had arrived at the scene of a crime. Even though the game has been out for about a year on PSVR before PC, I won’t spoil it by saying what exactly is there, but it’s a chance to test out Batman’s CSI skills.
Recreating the crime scene and analyzing key moments is what it’s all about. This is the closest you get to fighting. Though it’s just viewing a fight, not actually participating in one. Again, the visuals are a sight to behold. I’m not one to really get so lost in a game that I forget where I am, but Batman: Arkham VR did actually make me unaware of my actual position in the room compared to the VR space. The amount of immersion is really incredible. After completing my investigation, I had a witness to track down to one of the city’s crime kingpins, no less.
Standing high up in the city was, again, an amazing sight. This was more of an informational session with some minor bits of interactivity, nothing too fancy though, gameplay-wise. Still standing on a ledge, I did really feel like there was a drop of several hundred feet just a few steps ahead of me. After gaining the info required, it’s back to the Batwing to continue the search. Some more CSI and reconstruction lands me another clue, and off we go again, this time making full use of my scanner.
Down in the sewers, there is quite a bit more to do; another relatively simple puzzle to solve, again amazing visuals and with some rather predictable attempts at some jump scares thrown in. Oh look, trapped in a sewer and surrounded by water, gee, I really hope that something doesn’t jump out at me…but at least there are ample opportunities to use the batarang and grappling gun. From there it’s on to the final destination. I sat there and refused to be baited into what seemed like another attempt at an obvious jump scare, and after about 5 minutes, I relented and just did what they wanted. Thankfully, it wasn’t an actual jump scare.
After viewing the final scene, the adventure is complete. Even with my extended moments of being a bit clueless, the whole thing clocked in at under an hour. The game informs me that next time around there are some Riddler puzzles to be found. I do spend time putting together some in the case files at the Batcave. Trying to twist and manipulate the puzzle pieces is not exactly easy with the Vive controllers. Turning pieces completely around wasn’t a lot of fun, and trying to use two hands, which might seem the natural thing to do, is impossible since it only leads to the two controllers banging into each other. But experiencing the death of the Wayne’s and suiting up, running through again should take little time, even with the search for all the puzzles. That might add another hour to the gameplay, but most of it will have been seen before.
I usually don’t factor price into my equations, with the main reason being that not everyone is going to value $20 the same way. But, for Batman: Arkham VR, we can look at it this way. The cost is 1/3 rd the cost of a normal full Arkham game. But there is at best an hour of the main story, maybe 2 total hours with extras, and that might be on the generous side. Would 3 hours of story be worth $60 if we were to expand out the price tag to a “full game”? Most will probably say no. I would absolutely love to see a full Batman VR game some day, but I hope it would last longer than 3 hours. I certainly wouldn’t be alone in that assessment. While it is a bit of an overly simplistic version of a valuation, it’s one that most will probably make. What’s there in the game is pretty great. While maybe not the most engaging in terms of player action, the visuals make up for that fact. I love what’s there, it’s just that there isn’t a whole lot there to begin with.
The look and sounds of Arkham VR do well to fully immerse the player in the environment in a way that few VR games really do. Yes, they are all more immersive by nature, but this really transports you there. There were zero technical issues for me in my playthrough, no freezes, skips or anything of that nature. Everything is extremely well optimized, and I didn’t even notice any heat coming out of the PC. The only real bother I had technically was when the scenes go total black, my left eye saw an almost total black while my right eye saw more of a grey shade. Being left eye dominant, this really threw me off and actually had my left eye aching a little after I was finished. Not the worst thing ever, I could just close that eye, and did, when it came up.
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive
Platforms: PS4, PC
Release Date: 11th October 2016 (PS4), 25th April 2017 (PC)