Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on October 13th, 2016 for the PlayStation VR (PSVR) version of the game, but has been updated for its release today on the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Additional details can be found at the end of this review.
The caped crusader has a long and storied history with video games. To this day, one of my favorites arrived on the original NES and it was simply called: Batman. It featured gameplay similar to that of Ninja Gaiden, but it plays like an excellent rendition of the World’s Greatest Detective and his more ninja-like tendencies. There have been lots of bad games too, and most recently, lots of even greater ones.
Rocksteady have delivered the excellent Arkham series of Batman games, creating a wonderful balance of stealth, action, investigation, and cinematic storytelling. It doesn’t get much better than that. As a result, you’d understand how excited the world was when it was revealed at E3 2016 that Rocksteady would be crafting a VR-exclusive Batman adventure coming directly to Sony’s PlayStation VR called Batman: Arkham VR. Some might even argue that it seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately, it seems like this is neither the Batman game that the VR community deserves, nor the one that it needs right now. That adventure is now also available on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive starting today.
In Batman VR, you put on the cowl and become The Batman himself. The entire game is played from the first-person perspective and is undoubtedly, as a result, one of the most immersive Batman games ever made. Visually, it’s splendid, the music and voice work is fantastic, and the atmosphere alone is worth the price of admission for hardcore Bat-fans. There is certainly enough fan service in the game’s opening moments to warrant a giddy squeal of delight.
While playing, I got to peruse the entry hall of the Wayne Manor. I spun a world globe, played the piano, and listened to a music box. Family portraits and regal decorations adorned the billionaire family’s home and it truly made me feel like I was living out the life of Bruce Wayne — or at least peering into his life through my VR headset.
Once the descent down into the Batcave began, that’s when the game was as its strongest. Reaching out and putting on the gloves, placing the cowl on my face, seeing myself in the mirror, and testing out my gadgets in Batman VR made me feel more like the titular character than anything else I’ve played to date. Unfortunately, the opening 10-15 minutes are the best part.
After this montage of a power fantasy, the actual game begins with me ushered from short scene to short scene. I run into the likes of Penguin, his henchmen, Nightwing, Robin, and several other classic characters. I don’t want to spoil any of the details, since the actual narrative itself is worth experiencing if you’re a fan, but it moves too quickly to really carry any weight.
From start to finish, Rocksteady are banking on you entering each moment with a high-degree of understanding for the events and characters. The entire experience plays out more like a highlight reel of a single episode of a Batman TV show than it does a completed game in and of itself.
When I first went hands-on with Batman VR at E3 2016, all of the warning signs were there. This was always marketed as a brief VR experience, but I didn’t quite think that strictly meant only a single hour of content. Once you’ve completed the core storyline, you can replay missions to find Riddler secrets, but that’s essentially all there is to do in the entire game.
I could stand on a launch pad in the Batcave and choose my vehicle, but then the loading screen plays the sounds of me driving without actually putting me in the driver’s seat. I can ignite a fire extinguisher to cloud a rooftop and make the jump on an enemy, but the sounds of fighting and scuffling are all I hear as the screen dims again and fast forwards to after the action. I can investigate the remains of a crime scene, but are forced to point and highlight specific “clues” without any real challenge or deductive reasoning required.
To be frank, plastering the Arkham label on Batman VR feels like a bit of a disservice to the legacy that franchise has built and a major missed opportunity. Its a beautiful, immersive, and downright believable simulation of what it feels like to wear the suit and don the cowl, but it forgets to let us feel the rush of excitement that comes along with actually doing something as Batman.
Playing the game on the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift with Touch yields a more visually impressive experience and the inclusion of 360-degree tracking enhances the sense of presence, but at the end of the day the game was designed for 180-degree setups and the additional movement doesn’t make a big difference. Ultimately, it just never asks you to move around or take advantage of the space in the first place.
Update: This review was slightly modified to account for its release on Rift and Vive. The previous paragraph about Rift and Vive support was added, references to specific headsets have mostly been adjusted, and additional purchasing information has been added to the end. The score and content of the review remain the same since the game itself is the same.
Batman: Arkham VR isn’t a terrible VR experience — it even manages to deliver a satisfying twist ending to the short narrative — but it’s a far cry from the type of game fans want or expect. What was shipped here is little more than a tech demo, or a museum of objects and features that are never fully realized. Just as each scene from the game starts to feel like its picking up some steam, it’s over and you’re onto the next vignette of content. Die hard Batman fans will find enough fan service to warrant a purchase, but if you’re looking for an actual game featuring the Dark Knight in VR, then you’re better off waiting a while longer.
Batman: Arkham VR was made available on October 13th, 2016 for PlayStation VR at the price of $19.99 with HTC Vive and Rift versions on Steam, as well as Rift on Oculus Home, also available for $19.99 as of April 25th. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.