Arkham VR gave Rocksteady a new angle for their Batman obsession

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You don’t often get a solid trilogy of games, but Rocksteady managed to create something special with their Arkhamverse. From the dangerous corridors of the Asylum to the streets of Arkham City and the eventual clash with the Arkham Knight himself, Rocksteady created a series that escalated massively over the years to become the ultimate Batman simulator.

And then they took things a step further with Arkham VR. Their first foray into the world of the new PlayStation VR hardware, Arkham VR gives players the chance to really be the Batman, and with zero chance of your parents being murdered in an alleyway in a haunting scene that would shape your mind, body and soul into a tool of crime-punching vengeance.

But why? Say what you like about Arkham Knight, but the third act of this Batman game really hammered in home the idea that Rocksteady was ready to say farewell to the franchise. Why return? “As a studio, we were laser-focused on making a spectacular conclusion to the trilogy with Batman: Arkham Knight,” Rocksteady’s Gaz Deaves told us.

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When that game released in June of 2015 there was no question in our minds that our story was complete. But there’s something uniquely fascinating about having Batman as your player character. He embodies all of these conflicting characteristics: power, justice, darkness, and light, all at the same time.

Once we realised that VR could give us the opportunity to explore that fascination from a completely new angle, it was almost an academic obsession – we all wanted to see what was possible, how far we could take it. Tonally, Batman: Arkham VR is very much at home with the other games in the series, but as an experience that gets to heart of making you feel like Batman, I think it’s some of our strongest work.

One of the great things about Batman is the many different aspects and interpretations you can make of the character. The stories that we wanted to tell with the earlier Arkham games were inspired by what was possible using the platforms and technology that they were developed on, and the same is true for Batman: Arkham VR.

Working in VR opened up so many opportunities to do things differently – it was almost irresistible for us to create something that uses the characters and settings in a way that feels unique to the medium.

Arkham VR is Rocksteady’s first big jump into a virtually real world. Naturally, there were some technical challenges that the team had to overcome, as they shifted their experience from third-person action to first-person mind games as Deaves explained:

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Around a month into the project, I remember having a series of conversations with different members of the team that all had the same theme: people were learning how to make games all over again! Everyone at Rocksteady was finding that the methodology we had established making third person games needed to be tweaked to make the most of VR.

Since then, I’ve spoken to developers at other studios and they’ve all said the same thing. For us, it’s incredibly important that the game we’re making feels completely right for the platform it’s being played on, so we weren’t interested in making a cross-platform VR game that also worked on screens. That gave us a lot of freedom to realise our vision of a quality VR experience, but it meant we had to learn a whole new set of skills at every stage of the production process.

More than a step towards being the Batman more than usual, Deaves also revealed how VR allowed them to take players to locations that are iconic to say the least, to truly explore the streets and alleys of Gotham in a way that had never been done before:

The sense of presence that you can create with a VR headset is particularly impressive, and it’s one of the main compliments that we get from fans who’ve played our game. In terms of making you feel like you’ve actually been transported to those iconic locations – Wayne Manor, the Batcave, Gotham City – VR is totally unbeatable right now.

Visually, Arkham VR looks like a Batman game straight out of the Rocksteady studios. There’s a certain sense of style that has become a signature from the developers and that has managed to transition into virtual reality seamlessly. But VR is more than just visuals. It’s also audio, something which Rocksteady paid careful attention to for Arkham VR.

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“Our audio team, lead by Nick Arundel, has always been incredibly creative in using sound to sculpt the feel of each location in our games, and working in VR allows us to really ramp up the level of immersion across the board,” Deaves said.

Audio plays a massive part in creating the intensity that we want the player to feel as they explore Gotham City, and players who stop to listen to what’s going on around them will definitely find the kind of attention-to-detail that our fans have come to expect from us.

Batman: Arkham VR is out right now for the PSVR as a launch title. It’ll of course be available when PlayStation VR releases locally on our shores next year. And as a VR game built on providing a new angle on the Batman experience? It’s rather bloody good stuff that I want more of.

Last Updated: November 1, 2016

Darryn Bonthuys

Word-slinger at Critical Hit. Inventor of the macho Swiss gym chocolate known as Testoblerone. That's...that's about it really.

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