Virtual reality (VR) can do a great many things. One of its biggest assets is to let you travel to somewhere very different, or become some else. Batman: Arkham VR aims to do both of these things while letting comic book fans live out one of the greatest fantasies of our day-and-age: be the Batman.
Developed by Rocksteady Studios, Batman: Arkham VR follows the critically acclaimed Batman: Arkham videogame series that featured innovative combat, exploration and puzzle solving gameplay as you became the world’s greatest detective. Batman: Arkham VR concentrates solely on that last element; there’s no combat and no exploration in Batman: Arkham VR, just examination and deduction work.
And that’s the key here: Batman: Arkham VR, at present, feels like work. There’s two parts to the demonstration version VRFocus has played, the first of which is a short and simple gearing-up: descending into the Batcave, tooling-up the utility belt and donning the infamous cowl. A moment to admire your new look in the mirror and then it’s off out into the city. This kind of sequence may impress newcomers to VR, but for aficionados of the technology the idle time spent with little result feels like a tech demo from 2013.
The second segment is that of detective work. Nightwing has been killed, and it’s up to Batman – you – to examine the crime scene and apprehend the murderer. Well, at least discover their identity. Using the PlayStation Move controller, the player can fast forward and rewind the scene, piecing together the clues as Batman’s monologue offers hints as to the information needed to complete the puzzle: where was the adversary lurking? How was Nightwing’s back broken? What was the final blow?
There is some movement in this sequence: interesting if limited opportunities to use a grappling hook to propel between preset locations. It’s this aspect above all that provides the most interesting argument for a Batman experience in VR. Whether or not this mechanic becomes a core part of the experience – and indeed, how each of these desperate sequences will piece together as a cohesive whole – is very much in question at present.
Ultimately, Batman: Arkham VR feels like franchise for franchise’s sake. It’s as if Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Rocksteady Studios were determined to get Batman into VR as soon as possible, and rather than waiting until the technology reaches a point where a genuinely thrilling experience is possible they have instead settled for a money-grab from fans. With launch day rapidly approaching VRFocus very much hopes to be proven wrong, but as it stands it’s hard to see how Batman: Arkham VR could be recommended amongst a very strong looking launch line-up for PlayStation VR.