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Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Batman

Is this the hero virtual reality (VR) deserves? You’re perched high above the streets of Gotham, watching its citizens go about their lives completely oblivious to their silent guardian looming overhead. Gunshots ring off in the distance and you take off, diving face-first towards the ground before spreading your arms and letting the air swoop you back up into the night sky as you glide towards the disturbance. Gotham seems peaceful for the few seconds you get to survey the area, before landing in the middle of a group of thugs. Five of them surround you. You assess each one’s stance and position, and then get to work.

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Rocksteady Games has already delivered on the promise of becoming Batman. It’s Batman: Arkham series proved to be one of the defining ‘new’ franchises of the previous generation of videogames, with the 2009 Batman: Arkham Asylum leading into the tremendous Batman: Arkham City in 2011 and Batman: Arkham Origins in 2013. Each one is a stunningly faithful adapt of the iconic comic book character, perfectly replicating tone while realising the importance of balancing a strategic, innovative combat system with empowering, predatory stealth mechanics. But we can always be brought closer to the experience, and with Batman: Arkham Knight preparing for a 2015 release, perhaps Rocksteady Games should consider VR as a new way to become Batman.

As VRFocus has discussed in the past, superheroes can be a tricky area for VR. Though a Superman or Spider-Man title in VR could prove to be one of the most empowering experiences available with the technology, being able to maintain a sense of presence as players sat in their chairs would prove challenging. Fortunately Batman benefits from being a much more grounded superhero. The Caped Crusader doesn’t actually boast any superpowers of his own, rather relies on expert combat skills, a keen tactical mind and high-tech gadgets, all three of which can be applied to a VR experience.

The Batman: Arkham series is renowned for its rhythmic combat, which forces players to be aware of their surroundings and enemies rather than simply repeating a punch attack 20 times over. VR could provide an exciting new layer to the action. Seeing the world through Batman’s eyes and using the Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus’ head-tracking capabilities would keep players on their toes, always considering what’s behind them. If you’re surrounded by enemies, then you’ll constantly need to be peering over your shoulder to guard your back. Perhaps positional audio could aid the player, as they judge when and where to attack.

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Then there’s stealth, another pillar of the Batman experience. The series has always nailed a feeling of calm, collective control as you hunt down enemies and pick them off one by one. Stalking your prey in VR would prove to be all the more empowering, as you silently watch enemies sheepishly walk right under you before catching them. Waiting under grating for enemies to walk past and vanishing into vents as one catches a glimpse of you could all be greatly enhanced with the immersive powers of VR.

Combat isn’t the only area that could benefit; the detective side of the titles could also become a much more immersive experience. Imagine arriving at a crime scene and being able to tour it yourself, using the headset’s positional tracking to lean in closer to clues and inspect areas that you couldn’t reach with conventional camera controls. Not to mention that the series’ own detective mode vision could be a perfect fit for VR, highlighting points of interesting directly in your view.

Gadgets could also provide new ways to immerse yourself in the experience. Batman: Arkham Knight is set to feature a driveable Batmobile, but VR could actually put us in the cockpit of the vehicle, operating it ourselves. Travelling from building-to-building using the zipline or hacking doors and more with the sequencer could all be improved upon at the same time.

Grounded as he may be, Batman still poses some issues for VR. Traversal, for example, remains an issue. Much of the gliding, swinging and climbing the character does to get from A to B would be hard to replicate as players simply sit in chairs. We wouldn’t be able to feel the rush of wind on our faces as we floated around the city, and we’re yet to see a peripheral to either the Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus that can replicate such a sensation. That said, this is only a small part of the Batman experience and given that VR seems like such a good fit for other areas, shouldn’t hinder developers from tackling it.

Batman is one of the most iconic fictional characters in history and with good reason. Over the past few years we’ve seen the character lead in the charge in comic books, movies and, more recently videogames. We’re confident that the character could do the same once again in the VR space. He might not be the hero VR needs right now, but he’s certainly the one it deserves.

‘Make it a (virtual) Reality’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes the videogames we already know and love and looks at how virtual reality (VR) could enhance them. From retro classics to modern blockbusters, we examine the pros and cons of bringing a franchise to VR headsets.