When Rocksteady kicked off the Arkham franchise with Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009, I don’t think the world was really ready. Even though Batman has a relatively clean track record in video game history when compared to his Man of Steel counterpart, it had still been awhile since we’d seen a truly great superhero game, let alone a game based on a licensed property.
Now, 7 years and multiple games later, the Arkham franchise is the gold standard by which other superhero games are judged and it popularized many mechanics that are still being used in action games today. Never before have we been able to truly embody the Caped Crusader in a way that felt authentic and realistic.
With Batman: Arkham VR, also from Rocksteady Games, all of that’s about to change. After Sony’s E3 press conference, I got the chance to go hands-on with many of the latest PS VR games that were just announced moments prior.
One of the very first demos I was able to try was none other than Batman: Arkham VR. It was split into two distinct scenes for the sake of the demonstration, one focused on exploring the Batcave, and the other focused on inspecting a crime scene.
Naturally, I dove into the Batcave experience first. It began with me standing in the middle of the living room of Wayne Manor, surrounded by an inordinate number of fancy items. Clearly, Rocksteady understand the grandeur of the Wayne family name and how that would be reflected in the designs of Bruce’s home.
Alfred approached me and started talking about something related to my less-than-safe nightly activities, but I frankly was hardly even listening because the allure of the outdoors from my cracked open porch were calling me. The setting was so gorgeous and immersive, I desperately longed to explore the area more. I wanted to poke around every inch of the house and walk up the stairs to explore every bedroom.
But alas, other than the small movement space Sony provided at their demo stations, I couldn’t actually move around the game world via any kind of movement or locomotion system.
Eventually, Alfred handed me the key to unlock the piano in front of me. I reached out and pressed a random assortment of keys that resulted in the piano shifting backwards and the floor opening up to swallow me as my world slowly slid down below the Manor into what we all know as the Batcave.
Becoming the Batman
After playing Batman games for years, it somehow never really occurred to me that I’d never gotten to explore the Batcave. Once I’ve completed my descent, the steel holding case that keeps the batsuit slide forward and opens. I reach out with my right hand and grab the bat symbol and place it on my own chest. Suddenly, I can look down and see my utility belt around my invisible waist.
Then, I reach out and put on my gloves and physically place the cowl onto my face before testing out a variety of gadgets. First, was the grappling hook gun, followed by the scanner. Finally, I got my hands on batarangs in VR for the first time and I never want to throw a batarang any other way ever again.
Having to reach down to my utility belt, grasp the batarang, reach my arm back, and throw it in a sweeping arc across the cave to hit targets felt much more satisfying than it had any right to. Beyond that, the entire environment I was in felt so authentic, thanks to Rocksteady’s immense attention to detail.
After I finished initializing all of my different systems, I was transported across the batcave, slowly, which allowed me to toss out more batarangs for no reason and gaze around at the surroundings.
World’s Greatest Detective
The other half of the demo involved investigating a crime scene as you explore the detective side of Batman’s fame. The entire story of Batman: Arkham VR is focused on crafting a much more personal narrative.
According to Bill Green, Principal Designer at Rocksteady, “The switch from screens to headsets was a fascinating creative and technical challenge for us, as it has inspired us to really focus on Batman’s detective skills and find new ways to use them.”
The final game itself will take you on a journey that has much more in common with the original comic series that Batman is based on, particularly in terms of his detective traits, than other Batman fiction. Green describes Batman: Arkham VR as an “intense murder mystery in the style of the classic Batman comic books, but with a strong dose of the dark psychology that the Arkham games are well known for.”
Batman: Arkham VR is an interesting concept that has potential to be compelling, but it’s unclear how all of the pieces fit together to create a completed game. In the meantime, I’ll keep remembering what it was like inside the cowl as I patiently wait my turn as Batman once again.