The first thing you do when you start Batman Arkham VR is peer over the edge of a building. This is quite possibly one of the best designed moments in VR and certainly one that isn’t spoiling any of the plot (there is a another of these moments but it is a huge spoiler). The game starts you atop of Gotham City Police Department by the bat signal. All around you is the sprawling metropolis of Gotham and, despite this only being the menu of the game, you can’t help but walk forward and peer over. It turns your stomach, even with the identical low resolution cars driving below.
This is very clever design. Before you start, you’re encouraged to stand. Once stood, you calibrate where you are standing. Now this game is not a room VR game, (being a PSVR game naturally) but it does allow for simple movement, especially a few tentative steps that you cannot help but take. Attention to detail of Batman is incredibly subjective because A) there has been so many ‘Bats’ in both games and other media, and B) you are limited by what you can do. However attention to detail in VR is different, bat suit or not, and Arkham VR not only nails that attention but Rocksteady completely understand what it takes to make a person inquisitive enough to take a step forward.
For most of Arkham VR, you are static, which is an interesting choice given Batman’s penchant for flying, but one that is whole heartedly rewarded. As the game progresses and you descend in to the bat cave through Wayne Manor, you are presented with many options that will certainly sate some of the more hardcore of fans, especially with the Riddler’s challenges as the game goes on. The teleportation methods are great as well with the grapple gun that hurls you across the bat cave really giving you the tactile feeling of Batman (this is with the move controllers) and it can really help to immerse you in to the role.
Which is where we get to nub of the issues with Arkham VR. It is mostly a detective game, where you go out in search of the missing Robin. You have two controllers effectively with the move controllers, one of those being the aforementioned grapple gun, and the other being a detective scanner. You scan the scenes of certain moments and disseminate the events. There are a few moments of what are essentially quick time events where you can target certain actions by looking, and then there’s the use of the batarangs which is few and far between outside of puzzle solving and a target range.
Whilst they are a great experience to have, and the execution of the narrative is very well done, they don’t lead to much in your experience which, in comparison to other Batman games, is incredibly short and, slightly shallow. It also doesn’t help that the story is probably a confusing one for those unfamiliar with the previous Rocksteady outings, and also one that doesn’t seem to instinctively fit in to any particular part of those games canon. Not that it’s a problem, in fact I have several theories and the fact that a relatively short VR experience can generate that is certainly a strength.
And so we come to another issue – the length. To be honest, as a full on experience, it’s kind of the perfect length. It’s a game you can and complete the main story within an hour, maybe a little longer depending how inquisitive you are for the world around you, and one that’s easily replayed. Whilst that replay includes the Riddler collectibles, it doesn’t necessarily mean that is the only post-game content. It’s an experience that can easily be returned to depending on how you originally experienced it (rushed through or laboured over certain areas) and one that all your friends might also want to play. Let’s be honest, most of us have had a house full of people with less itchy trigger fingers on their wallets who are all equally intrigued by this new technology, and Batman’s length will certainly be a prime candidate for introductory experiences.
Of course that does bring in to the discussion the price. Is it too much for such an experience and should all games that are of similar length be equally judged/reflected in the price? Well – no, put simply. Whilst a publisher can charge what they want, £15.99 is a fair price. If it was £2-3 less then, sure, that’d be a lovely bonus but there is definitely enough replay value and fan service here to warrant repeat visits and justify that cost. Especially when you realise you can play the Batman TV series theme on the piano at the start of the game.
Should it have more? Well, possibly, but that depends what you’re after. It’s a game that is crying out for another game mode, although some of these are well incorporated in to the main game in the bat cave. It is definitely an interactive, almost cinematic, experience more than a game but one I thoroughly enjoyed, if not to hear Mark Hamill in his infamous role just one more time. The attention to detail in how you play the game and the little things, like looking over the railing in the menu, show just how excellent a game designer Rocksteady is, whatever the viewpoint. Future developers of PSVR games should take note exactly how they make you take that first step, because it’s the key to immersive VR experiences.