Batman: Arkham VR Is Smart, Scary, and (Very) Short
Batman: Arkham VR is quite a short game. You step into the Batsuit for just a little over an hour. In that span of time, it can be quite a frightening experience. But it’s definitely worth playing if you’re an early adopter of PlayStation VR.
Giving this game a $20 price tag, Warner Bros. is not exactly trying to sneak one by anybody here. It’s a bite-sized Bat-sperience to be sure, a series of brief VR vignettes strung together into a short murder-mystery storyline. You’ll explore a dozen small environments full of VR surprises that seem to be mostly built around the idea that you haven’t done many other VR demos before. And you probably haven’t, so that’s OK.
The teams behind the core console Arkham games are behind this one, and they bring their signature dark and grimy, yet playful and surprising take on Gotham City to bear here as well. Of course, if you’re like me, you might find that the city you’re so familiar with at arm’s length becomes truly scary when it’s surrounding you on all sides.
Here’s the technical rundown: You need a PlayStation VR (on sale October 13) and two PlayStation Move motion controllers. You can choose to play the game seated or standing, although it recommends that you stand up so that you can turn around 360 degrees. (You can use controller buttons to spin Batman if you do choose to sit.) Of course, the way the game is set up, there’s usually nothing of interest behind you. (Good thing, because the PlayStation Move controllers become invisible to the camera as soon as they’re behind your body.)
After a brief dalliance in Wayne Manor, you suit up and enter the Batcave. There’s a bunch of junk to play around with in here so you can mess around with your three tools: the Grapnel Gun, a grappling hook fired with a trigger, the ubiquitous Batarang, and the, uh, I forget what it’s called. The investigation gun? Anyway, it’s a handheld tool that lets you solve crimes by pointing it at things. Useful!
These three items are on your virtual utility belt, and you use them by reaching down and pulling them off the belt. The Crime-Solving Gun is on your left hip, the grappling hook on your right, and the Batarangs are on your crotch. Dear reader: I rarely make these sorts of guarantees in a piece of gaming criticism, but I will tell you now with one hundred percent certainty that at some point while playing Batman Arkham VR, perhaps multiple times, you will punch yourself directly in the reproductive organs.
Arkham gets into the horror genre pretty fast. Once enough people are offed, Batman (you) has to go to the Gotham morgue to check out some decaying bodies real up close and personal-like. Are they gonna come to life? Is there someone behind me RIGHT NOW? I won’t say what actually happens, but it simply doesn’t matter what actually happens when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder, not sure what’s next. Didn’t I tell myself I wasn’t going to play any of these games?
Surprisingly for a production that presumably is going for mainstream appeal, there’s very little action gameplay in Arkham VR and many, many puzzles. In fact, that’s predominantly what you’re doing; solving puzzles in the environment to find clues to advance the story. Once you finish the hour-long game, the Riddler will add a bunch of hidden objects to its levels, which you can seek out by being thorough in your investigations, or by solving more puzzles. Puzzles for everyone! As a puzzle fan, I’m starting to like this whole VR thing.
Things wrap up with a beautiful piece of psychological horror that would only work in virtual reality. That’s what Arkham VR seems to be, an experiment in trying things out that would only make sense in VR—manipulating small objects with two hands, exploring the fine details of a mystery, playing tricks of perspective. The downside to this is that it kind of feels like early 3-D movies, where the plot keeps finding excuses to have somebody point a spear directly in the face of the viewer: the more mainstream VR gets, the cheesier this all will seem.
For now, though, it’s a fun introduction to virtual reality, the sort of showpiece you can have your friends try on if they’ve never stepped into VR before. After all, is there any better selling point for VR than “Be the Batman?” Would that we could do something more engaging as him, in the future.