If there is one thing that I’d love to become at some point in my life, it’s Batman. Well, at Gamescom 2016, I had the opportunity of doing just that (I must state, it was a PlayStation VR experience and I didn’t actually manage to cruise around Cologne in the Batmobile unfortunately). It was the next best thing though thanks to a VR session on the highly anticipated Batman: Arkham VR for the PS4.
Straight off the bat (excuse the pun), I’ve got to be brutally honest and say that I was a very lukewarm on the whole VR scene and had never really been blown away by anything on the PSVR that I had experienced previously to trying this out for the first time. Well, after my time with Batman: Arkham VR, my opinion has changed greatly and I am now a supporter of the technological behemoth that is VR.
After adjusting the VR headset to my big and oddly shaped head, putting on a Batman-shaped headset (see pic below) and getting told what each button/movement did on the PS Move controllers, I stepped out looking like a cross between a stick-thin Batman and a glow-stick loving 80’s raver.
The demo we played was split into two parts. The demo starts with an interactive title screen that sees you on top of the GCPD building with full 360 movement around you to see Gotham City in all its glory. You can look in whatever direction you want, you can walk to the edge of the building and look over the edge to see the sheer scale of the city that has been rendered in all its glory and behind you in typical Rocksteady fashion (for those that have been familiar to the Arkham games of the past), is a Bat-signal lighting up the dreary nights sky over Gotham. It looked absolutely incredible and it surprised me just how nice it did look on the PSVR when considering it has a lot less processing power when compared to say, the HTC Vive or the Oculus Rift for example. Word of warning to those that are scared of heights (as my partner in crime, Ben will testify to), standing on the edge of the GCPD building looking over the edge does make your legs stop co-operating with your brain for a few seconds!
After looking at the sheer beauty of Gotham City that has been created by Rocksteady in Batman: Arkham VR, the real magic starts with becoming THE BATMAN! This section of the demo sees you speaking to Alfred, taking a key, unlocking a secret layer and then it’s your time to suit-up as The Dark Knight himself. This section blew my mind as everything that you can see in front of you is interactive and by using the PS Move controls to reach out to each item and place them on your body like they’re real items, you become the Batman. You get the armour, the gloves, the grappling gun, the batarang and the cowl and It all feels so incredibly tactile, giving you a nostalgia rush like I’ve never experienced before. Once you’ve got every piece connected to your utility belt, you then get to see yourself in a mirror as the Batman himself and this was something that made me realise just how special this VR experience was. Nothings better than seeing yourself look in a mirror to then have Batman looking back at you. Its a simple design mechanic, but its so clever and makes you feel like some sort of god. You even get the chance to try out Batman’s weapons with targets in front of you that need to be hit with a batarang. This is done by looking down at the right-hand side of your leg (where the batarang resides on your Batsuit) picking it up by pressing a button on the Move controller, and then doing a forward motion on the same controller to hit each target. Its very simplified in the way its implemented, but it doesn’t need to over-complicate itself as it works fantastically well.
Once this part of the experience was up, you then see yourself descend into the Bat-cave which looked absolutely incredible and was a fully rendered 360 visual representation of Batman’s den in all its beauty. Water streaming from all sides, bats flying through the cave, Bruce Wayne’s tech aplenty dotted around. It was all there and this part of the whole demo really wowed me and left me speechless. It was so beautifully recreated in gorgeous detail from top to bottom and made you feel a part of Batman’s world as we all know it from other forms of the medium over the years.
So, onto the second section of the demo that sees you take your skills as Batman to a different part of Gotham City. This time round, you are placed into an dingy alleyway where you need to find out what happened to your friend, Nightwing who has unfortunately been murdered. It’s up to you (as Batman) and with your detective skills, to find out exactly what happened to Nightwing on that fateful night. For those that are familiar with the detective work in Rocksteady’s previous Batman Arkham titles, it works very similar to how it does in those titles in terms of scanning the body, rewinding and fast forwarding time but this time round, because of the VR being an immersive experience, and the change of angle of the camera, it feels as though you’re right in the thick of it like you are a real-life Batman in that Arkham world. This section also had parts where by looking around, you had PS Move icons (around 4 or 5 I believe) that you interact with that then takes you to that section of the alleyway. Once you’ve found all the clues as to what happened to Nightwing, you then look up to see the Batwing flying over head and you then get to use Batman’s trusted grappling gun to hook onto the Batwing to take you away into the Arkham skyline and the demo ended.
My overall thoughts with Batman: Arkham VR is pretty simple…..I absolutely loved every minute of it. It was a breathtaking experience that not only played fantastically well, but to have the chance to play in a world that I’m extremely fond of over the years thanks to the previous Arkham titles and to do it in the way it did in such an immersive way, was something that I never thought would not only work, but would never happen on a personal level. Rocksteady Studios, I salute you, as Batman: Arkham VR has pulled me back onto the VR hype train. Anyway, I better be off as my Batmobile needs polishing.