Game Review: Batman – Arkham VR (PS VR)

Be the Batman.

That’s the phrase printed on the back of the packaging for Rocksteady’s first Batman VR title, and well, if this is what it is like to be Batman, then I am not sure how he’s overcome so much. Batman: Arkham VR is a short VR driven experience where you, as a somewhat clunky Batman, must track down both Nightwing and Robin. This mystery of missing sidekicks lasts just over an hour, with small but effective ways to bring you back for more.

You’ll start this adventure in the alley where Bruce lost his parents, reliving the events as a young Bruce Wayne. You’ll then cut to Wayne Manor, with Alfred breaking the news to you that both Nightwing and Robin haven’t checked in, and that it is unlike them not to do so. You can tour around the small portion of the Manor you have access to, teleporting to specific interactive areas, as this click based travel is less taxing on the stomach than say other movement based PSVR games like Robinson: The Journey or RIGS: Mechanized Combat League, that each made me fairly lightheaded after a short play period. Once you have wrapped up exploring the Manor then you can trigger a trip into the Batcave via the Piano and start your interactive experience as the Dark Knight.

You’ll equip the suit, the belt, your grappling hook, scanner and baterangs, and then eventually the gloves and the cowl. Each of these events is pretty satisfying and enjoyable to see happen around you. You can tackle everything you need to do with one Move Controller, or two should you want both of the hands to be available to you. I opted just for one hand, even if it was the left hand of Batman moving around via my right hand, it still worked. Even though I am myself left-handed, I tend to find comfort here using my right hand instead.

After tinkering around the Batcave at different stations to check DNA samples, case files or standing toe to toe with character models like Robin, Nightwing, and Batman, with more to unlock later, you’ll start your adventure to track down your sidekicks. You can also sling target-homing baterangs at various targets that float around you in the Batcave.

The first location brings you to a dead body that you’ll need to investigate how the murder came to be. Bringing out your scanner you can check things like what injuries there are on the body, as well as rewinding events to see what occurred so that you can piece together who the killer might be. Some clues will lead you to more and eventually you’ll figure out what has happened to both Nightwing and Robin. With regards to when this occurs in the Rocksteady timeline, I am not sure. Some moments in the game mention events that took place during Arkham City, while others make it seem like it takes place after Arkham Knight, but that just wouldn’t make sense given how that one ended.

Getting back to the movement options this title offers, it does its best to limit the stomach turning you’ll find in more active VR titles. I only ever got a bit dizzy from a few movement issues that the title has that sees Batman bumble into objects or get too close to something and the camera shakes, which is often. You’ll use buttons on the Wii-mote inspired Move Controller to select items, holding them to then spin them around in your hand, as sometimes seeing all sides of an object will be part of amassing clues. You’ll teleport to set areas of a location to then interact with the zone around you. This is most apparent in the morgue, where you’ll scan bodies for pieces of a bomb trigger. There are around five areas that you can interact with here that give you access to clues, keys, or lore items like the gun that crippled Barbara Gordon, or a sample of Joker’s blood. It is moments like this that has me excited for other crime scene investigation games that use VR as its means of immersion.

Other moments that have been streamlined to assist with VR motion sickness is anything vehicle or grapple hook related. You have access to the Batwing, Batmobile, and the Grapple Gun, but any action taken with these is an audio-only affair and features a cut to a black screen. While it would have been cool to see these in motion as Batman, I don’t think my stomach could have handled it, so this type of fast cut to the scene is the right call, despite how uncool it appears to be.

Batman himself is clunky, walks into stuff and his hands shake or disappear when he is too close to objects or his reach extends out too far. It also doesn’t help that the PlayStation Camera tends to lose your positioning from time to time. You’ll reach down to your belt for your gadgets, and those motions work extremely well if you don’t drop your baterangs, that is. You will need a fair amount of space to fully engage the game’s environments and standing is almost mandatory as sitting just failed to make many of the game’s mechanics shine or work at all. I would suggest a solid thee to four feet around you in all directions to allow all the movements needed to explore each nook and cranny the game offers.

The game has an almost no-fail system that makes the experience very linear each and every time you play. There is no failing any of the detection as the game has audio cues to make sure you are on the right track. Once you complete the game you will unlock a new game plus mode that adds in various Riddler puzzles and hides them throughout the various stages in the game. These puzzles will unlock character models and other bonus items intended on adding a bit more to an already shallow game.

Visually the title is fairly good with some pretty decent visuals for a VR experience, but keep in mind that you can’t fully explore your environments and are limited to teleport stations to interact with, so while Gotham may look pretty striking in VR, you cannot visit it, and becomes nothing more than mere window dressing. Character models look amazing and seeing them close up can be a real treat, especially characters like The Penguin and Killer Croc. It is also great hearing Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil back as Batman and the Joker, respectively.

The limitations of how the VR headset is read by the PlayStation Camera is occasionally hit and miss, but overall the experience is satisfying if a bit on the short side. The problem with gimmicks like VR, or even 3D for that matter, is a lot of the shock and awe is worn out after that initial ‘wow’ moment and lessens greatly on repeated attempts. At $20-30 dollars, depending on your location and sales, the cost isn’t a high one, but one that you should at least know what you are getting for your purchase.

Batman: Arkham VR requires the following accessories: PlayStation VR Headset, PlayStation Camera and at least one PlayStation Move Controller with two recommended.

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