E3 2016 – Batman: Arkham VR Hands -On Preview – Becoming the Batman (PSVR)

“You’ll be needing this, sir,” Alfred said to me as held out his hand. I took the key from his outstretched fingers and turned back to the grand piano. Inserting the key into the lock, I opened the lid and tickled the ivories. Suddenly the elevator beneath my feet lurched to life and I actually stumbled. I should clarify, I wasn’t actually standing at a piano talking to Alfred in Wayne Manor. I was in PlayStation VR playing as Bruce Wayne in Batman: Arkham VR.

Rocksteady’s last Arkham game, Arkham Knight, lacked a lot of those moments that made Batman feel like the world’s greatest detective. The experience of scanning a crime scene and figuring out what happened was left behind in favor of massive fight scenes and excessive use of the Batmobile. The one crime scene where you had to piece together the car crash left me aching for more that never happened. As Rocksteady’s last Batman game, I felt hope drain that I would ever get those awesome moments again. Then E3 2016 happened, Batman: Arkham VR was announced, and I got to play it. 

Put on the Cowl

The first section of the two part demo introduced me to Batman’s gadgets — or perhaps I should say my gadgets. I was Bruce Wayne. I was traveling down into the Batcave. I put on the cowl. Let me reiterate that:

I put on the cowl.

Literally, I grabbed it and made the motion to put it on my head, after seeing the infamous suit right in front of me. We’ve had Bruce Wayne see the suit before in other games, but somehow the moment is different looking in first person, reaching out and grabbing it myself, putting the mask on and becoming Batman. It’s unreal and empowering, proving very early on that Rocksteady is taking special care to use the VR medium to create a unique experience that can’t be achieved anywhere else, short of putting on a physical Batsuit yourself.

Next up was a brief training session to teach me how to use my gadgets. This was done under the guise of suit calibration, and gave me the opportunity to utilize the Move controllers for shooting the batclaw, activating the scanner, and even throwing batarangs — each of which I had to put back on my utility belt using the actual physical motion to do so. From here I was dropped further into the Batcave, the expansive environment suddenly opening up as the elevator lowered further down.

I’m a bit scared of heights, so this moment was another that proved to me how effective VR is at fooling the mind. Safe in a meeting room in WB’s booth, I was nervous to glance over the edge of the metal disc I was standing on. I knew it wasn’t real and yet my brain couldn’t wrap my head around that as my mind was being fed logical information through sight and sound that it was real. That’s really the immersive nature of VR in a nutshell.

The Death of Dick Grayson

Rocksteady has been known for taking the more mature nature of the Batman comics and incorporating it into their games. Seeing the broken corpse of Dick Grayson — Nightwing — in front of me as I started part two, proved that it was no different with Arkham VR. I scanned his body and found that he’d been killed from a broken neck, but had numerous other wounds like a broken arm and fractured ribs. Poor Nightwing was in bad shape, and it was up to me to figure out what had happened. Time to go to work. 

Batman Arkham VR Header preview

The scanner could fast forward and rewind the events of the fight by simply twisting my hand one way or the other. This allowed me to find the specific moments when Nightwing sustained his injuries and scan him for further details. As the fight whirled around me I had to turn my head this way and that to see what was going on. At one point I even needed to look up as Nightwing attempted to grapple to the roof. Though I knew that the fight was a virtual recreation, I tensed up for the moment when the combatants may have gotten a little too close to me. 

When the action moved further away I needed to move myself to get a closer look. Using two Move controllers as Batman’s hands meant that I didn’t have an analog stick to move myself. This is where Arkham VR does something unique to help alleviate some of the problems that developers have with VR. Instead of walking around the environment myself, by looking at a fixed point, I could press the move button on the Move controller to instantly teleport there. While this may sound like it hinders and cheapens the experience, it actually helps it a lot. 

A More Thoughtful Batman

Arkham VR is meant to be a thoughtful and stationary experience, focusing on the intelligent detective side of the World’s Greatest Detective. By giving pure focus to staying in specific locations and only being able to use VR to look at the environment, it causes a greater immersion and connection. And what else are you going to do without an analog stick? As far as I am aware, Batman Arkham VR will require the two Move controllers, so there are no other options and Rocksteady have handily solved this problem for their experience.

Analyzing multiple clues from the recreation, I had found that there was a witness and was able to scan his hand print. The Batwing flew overhead and I used my batclaw to grapple up as the demo ended. Before taking off the VR headset, one of the developers from Rocksteady urged me to take another moment and look around. “It’s not everyday you get to stand on the rooftops of Gotham,” he told me, and despite how many times I’d done that very thing before in previous Batman games, there was nothing quite like standing next to the bat signal looking upon the rainy and darkened city, feeling like I was actually there.

Rocksteady has always pushed the boundaries of gaming, and they’ve done it yet again to not only give fans an incredible Batman experience unlike any other, but to create a unique experience that really proves the capability VR has for offering up a total sense of immersion and being. For my final moments on the show floor at E3, I put on the cowl. I was the cowl. I was Batman. And I’m more than eager to wear the mantle again and solve Nightwing’s murder when PlayStation VR releases later this year.