When Rocksteady released Arkham Asylum in 2009, they did the unthinkable. They tried, and largely succeeded at placing you, the player, directly in the carbon nanotube enhanced, moulded rubber boots of Gotham City’s Dark Knight.
Their follow up greatly expanded the Arkham Universe, allowing players to break free of the shackles of the Asylum itself, and explore a wonderfully realised (though, in my opinion, overstuffed) Gotham. You moved like Batman, you fought like Batman and sometimes, you had to think like Batman. Like its predecessor, it was perfect at letting you be Batman. But it was always Batman from a distance; Batman in third person.
That’s changed with Arkham VR, which brings with it an incredible immediacy. In VR, you really, really are Batman. Set within the very same universe set up in their superlative superhero games, it differs wildly from the action games that spawned it. Where those were great big, sprawling worlds that seamlessly blended strong storytelling, exploration, sleuthing and revolutionary combat, this is a much more muted affair.
Here, once you’re suited up, you’ll mostly be playing the role of the Greatest Detective – piecing together clues from a first person perspective. I don’t want to detail the story too much because that’s its crucial hook, but from the onset, Arkham VR is gripping. It starts off with the same Batman Origin story you’ve seen and played through a million times, only this time it feels real – and you get, perhaps, a deeper understanding of little Bruce Wayne’s shattered psyche.
Soon after, you’re faffing about in Wayne Manor. Using two Move controllers – one, naturally, in each hand – lets you interact with objects in the world in a natural, intuitive way. Starting you off as Wayne is genius. You feel like just a man, a regular old dude (who just happens to live in a mansion and has his own butler). Soon, you’re riding an elevator to the subterranean Batcave, putting on the fabled suit, bit by bit after you descend. Putting on the gauntlets alone makes you feel powerful, but that transformation feels complete when you put on the cowl.
The adventure takes you to a number of locales in the Arkham universe including the aforementioned Batcave and Wayne Manor. You’ll also visit the Iceberg Lounge, the morgue, and other bits of Gotham’s seedy underbelly. You’re given three tools to explore and interact with these environments, which you’ll take from your utility belt. You’ve got a scanner, that you can use to piece together evidence, a grappling hook that lets you move between areas and grab on to levers and the like, and an infinite supply of batarangs to throw at switches, or just at whatever you like, really. I probably spent far too much time grabbing the things from belt and just hurling them in to the distance with giddy excitement. You’re not Batman the action hero here, you’re Batman the detective.
There’s quite a bit to see and do, much of it not really central to the short, rather guided narrative – but that’s okay, this game implores you to soak up all of its atmosphere, looking at every nook and cranny. Once it’s all done – which takes around an hour and a half – there are Riddler challenges to pad it out. Of course there – it’s an Arkham game. They’re physical little puzzles, and fun for a while.
In truth, it’s a pretty controlled, guided experience. There’s no combat – so you won’t be busting any thugs’ heads – and there’s no free movement, with most of your locomotion confined to predetermined teleportation. I understand why it is that way, because free movement would result in living room floors being covered in Batvomit. Other areas that might induce cognitive dissonance (and thus, nausea) – such as grappling to the Bat plane – cleverly fade to black, using audio to guide you.
It’s a proof of concept, an experience more than it is a game – but it’s a worthwhile one. There’s a powerful moment I don’t want to spoil, but it was one of those revelatory moments for me – one of those “oh my god” things that convinced me that VR has potential to change things.
There are a few problems of course – most of them down to the limitations of the PlayStation VR’s hardware. Sometimes, hand tracking would be a little off, making the objects in my virtual hands jitter, which is a bit of a jarring experience. Because it’s based so much on using light for tracking, and there happens to be a complete lack of illumination from my belt, sometimes my utility belt would feel out of place.
If you are planning on picking up a PlayStation VR, then this is definitely one of the games you want to grab alongside it – particularly if you are a Batman fan.
Last Updated: December 1, 2016