There’s a lot of kids – and a not too insignificant number of adults – who dream of being a superhero. Superman might be the ultimate, all powerful aspiration, but there’s those who’d rather have the power to turn invisible, perform the utterly terrifying acrobatics of Spider-man or fly to work in Iron Man’s suit. Donning Batman’s cape and cowl to solve crimes and dole out vigilante justice might be a much more realistic scenario, and Batman: Arkham VR lets you do just that.
Compared to Rocksteady’s main trilogy of Arkham games, this is much less about flying fists and acrobatically taking down crowds of enemy goons. In fact, you don’t get to punch anyone at all in the hour long story. This is much more of a detective story, piecing together clues in the hunt for the killer of one of Batman’s closest friends and allies.
As good as Batman is at what he does, there are certain regrets and failures that he has to live with, after decades of stories told in the comics. Those around him have died because of who he is, who they are, and their relationship to him. Of course, his defining moment comes from his parents’ death in a dark alley, and Arkham VR takes the opportunity to revisit that moment. Honestly, I’m sure many people would rather it be left alone, but for a couple of minutes, Rocksteady use VR to paint a very traditional take on their deaths in a new light.
But the more pressing matter for Batman is the murder he must solve in the here and now. Descending into the Batcave, there’s a nice sequence of suiting up, putting on the cowl, the armour, gloves and testing out your three main gadgets. Alongside simply reaching out and picking things up, you also have a grappling hook, scanner and an infinite supply of throwable, homing batarangs. These are all easily grabbed from the utility belt that floats around where the game reckons your waist is, making switching from one to the other simple, fluid and intuitive.
Of course, I’m talking about the game and how it’s best experienced – stood up and with a pair of PlayStation Move controllers in hand – but it’s just as easy to play while sat down and with a DualShock 4. Instead of dropping your hand to your belt to grab the grappling hook, you simply press circle, and then aim where you want to fire by turning your head and looking. In some instances, it makes things easier, such as when having to hit a particular target with a Batarang, but is it as immersive? Almost certainly not.
There’s little need for fast reflexes and timing in this short adventure, with the focus being on solving puzzles and interacting with the environment, so if you have them, the Move controllers are the way to go for your first play through at least. Moving around isn’t reliant on analogue sticks either, keeping you quit simply rooted to one spot and teleporting between set standing points. One thing that Rocksteady do well is getting you to look around you. A holographic representation of a fight sees the two human lightforms go round behind you, making you turn around in the process to keep track of the action.
As mentioned, this is a fairly short adventure, taking you around an hour the first time or far less if you know what you’re doing. It’s a nicely told story and one that actually offers a surprising nuance in the end. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of the finale, and it managed to surprise me with a more psychological conclusion than I was expecting.
It’s a good twist – if one that more diehard fans than myself might have expected – because it means I want to go back through and explore some more. You can’t jump from scene to scene, annoyingly, but the world is now filled with clues and puzzles from a certain Edward Nigma – it wouldn’t be an Arkham game without them, would it? While the Arkham series’ Riddler has never been too concerned with what a riddle actually is, there’s thirty little secrets tucked away in all corners of the world, again pushing you to really look around you as you play. For that reason, your second play might actually be much longer than the first.
There’s similar depths to the Batcave, with various different areas for you to zip between using the grappling hook. The surveillance area lets you dial into the GCPD radios, for example, while the case files section briefly recounts the events of the first records to go through and secrets to find. I particularly enjoyed listening as the Batcomputer read out a long, long list of Joker’s crimes.
For my money, Arkham VR manages to be one of the best, if not the best looking game on PS VR at launch. There’s detail in every corner and some gorgeous views of Gotham city to enjoy, building on the familiar art style of the Arkham series. This is, of course, aided by the movement system, which shifts you from one predetermined spot to the next, allowing Rocksteady to completely control what’s in view.
Perhaps the only real disappointment about Batman: Arkham VR is that it’s over so soon, but there is certainly plenty of value for fans of the game in replaying and searching for secrets. As more of a detective story, it’s a very different exploration of the world of Batman than we’ve seen before – I’m feeling a sense of déjà vu here – letting you embody the character for the first time.