Batman: Arkham VR was uncowled at Sony’s pre-E3 PlayStation press conference to explosive cheers from the audience. The game promised to let players “be the Batman” like never before through a PlayStation VR exclusive experience scheduled for a pre-holiday release in October later this year. PlayStation VR was also revealed to have an October launch window and a $399 suggested retail price point during the conference presentation.
Developed by Rocksteady Studios, the team behind the Arkham series of Batman games, the demo for Batman: Arkham VR was a prime attraction at both the Sony and Warner Bros. booths at E3 2016.
The E3 demo consists of two segments: The first part of the demo puts the player into the Batsuit to become Batman, and the second segment lets players get into Batman’s head with some detective action. Fair warning, the E3 demo is described in detail from this point forward. If you want to avoid Batman: Arkham VR spoilers, do not continue beyond this point.
Before becoming the Batman, the player is put in the expensive shoes of a battered and worn out Bruce Wayne. Perhaps the PlayStation Move controllers aren’t meant to be fully extended, but I find it jarring to see Bruce’s floating hands detached from his arms while getting acclimated to the controls. Floating hands almost immediately break the suspension of belief; however, it doesn’t take long for Arkham VR to earn it back. After some scolding from Alfred and playing a few key notes on the piano in the mansion, a hidden area on the floor opens up to take the player into the Batcave.
Descending into the Batcave is trippy, exhilarating, and everything long-time Batman fans have likely dreamed of. During this scene, the player remains stationary, but the visuals evoke the sensation that he or she is moving. It’s like being in a car at rest, but when adjacent cars move forward, the people inside the car feel as though they are moving backward. The illusion is brilliantly done, and it serves as an excellent build up to putting on the Batsuit.
Once in the Batcave, the player uses the PlayStation Move controllers to reach out and grab the Batsuit, gloves, and cowl. It serves as both a training sequence to familiarize oneself with the PS VR controls, but it also sets up the grand role-playing adventure. You may have played as Batman in Arkham City or Arkham Knight, but in Arkham VR, you become Batman. Hitting this point home, the suit-up sequence concludes by showing the player their reflection in a mirror. Instead of seeing their own face, the player is presented with the familiar visage of the Dark Knight.
The Batsuit isn’t just for looks, as players get to make use of the gear in Batman’s trusty utility belt. Attached to the player’s right hip is Batman’s grappling hook and tapping the bat insignia in the center puts a Batarang in the player’s hand. After some target practice, it’s time to move on to the next segment of the demo.
As the story goes, Nightwing has gone missing. Batman finds him, dead, in an alleyway. Batman’s voice can be heard through the headset, speaking in first-person as he does, as each scene plays out; they are, in a sense, intended to be your thoughts. There’s raging anger in his voice, torment at the loss of a young man who was more than just a student and like a son. Then, the detective takes over. Why is Nightwing dead? Has he been murdered, and if so, by whom? Why doesn’t Nightwing have his guard up like Batman has taught him? In this way, Arkham VR really allows the player to get into Batman’s head.
A simulation of Nightwing’s final battle unfolds with a silhouette of his mysterious attacker. It’s clear from Nightwing’s stance that he isn’t putting up much of a fight. He seems to go out of his way to avoid hurting his aggressor, who has no problem beating him down and ultimately snapping his neck. In the detective portion of the Arkham VR demo, the player, as Batman, goes through the simulation seeking clues about Nightwing’s murder. Once all the clues in the alley are uncovered, the demo ends with the player using the grappling hook to enter the Batwing.
Overall, the sights and sounds of the Arkham VR seem like they are unfolding right in front of you, and it adds to the sensation that you are feeling the events of the game rather than just watching them unfold. You feel it when descending into the Batcave or donning Batman’s cape and cowl, but it really hits hard when dealing the blow of emotional plot points — like Nightwing’s death. Personally, I couldn’t bear to watch the unknown perpetrator snap Nightwing’s neck. As a longtime fan of Nightwing, it’s painful to see, but experiencing Nightwing’s death while in Batman’s armored shoes is an experience like none other.
Although the gameplay is not as robust as previous Arkham games, Batman: Arkham VR is still shaping up to be an exclusive experience that may help PlayStation VR take the lead in the coming VR platform wars.
[Image via Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment]