PlayStation VR and VR in general is all very new, and many brands (such as Tomb Raider and Project CARS) have taken their IPs into the virtual realm, but possibly the biggest name to make the leap into this new territory is Batman, or more specifically, Rocksteady's Arkham series. Batman: Arkham VR was revealed back at E3 and has since become one of the most anticipated VR titles, with demos being shown all over the world and the emphasis being on how you can really "be the Batman." When we finally got our hands on the finished product, then, we couldn't wait to become the Dark Knight himself and fight some crime.
You don't fight crime in the traditional sense in Arkham VR, however. Rocksteady has made clear that the focus is not on combat and that knocking bad guys' heads together isn't the emphasis here as it has been in past games. Instead you fill the role of Batman as "the world's greatest detective", and the game certainly runs with this idea. From the get go you are tasked with analysing crime scenes, piecing together information and finding clever solutions to problems, piecing together a mystery that involves not only Batman but his sidekicks Robin and Nightwing as well.
Shifting the emphasis of a series isn't always easy, and can sometimes be a bit awkward, but Rocksteady has done this very nicely with Arkham VR. It's very confident in its identity as a detective game and the satisfaction of solving a puzzle or unravelling a mystery replaces that of beating a whole group of thugs in a fist fight. What's more is that positioning players as Batman himself through VR also adds something very exciting to the series, making up for the lack of combat.
Gameplay, for the most part, involves entering scenes and warping between different static positions within them, using this mechanic to solve puzzles in order to progress. One example is when you're in Wayne Manor and you can jump between the piano, the model of the city, or the globe in order to explore each section. In this way the problem of movement and motion sickness is alleviated and instead you get little areas to explore and scrutinise as you see fit. Of course, each position boasts a 360 degree view as well, allowing you to really take in the scenes that have been built.
The other aspect of gameplay is the detective work and problem solving. These involve using the tools at your disposal, which includes a forensic detector, a grapple gun and batarangs (an unlimited supply of them, no less), to interact with the environment and gather clues to help the narrative unfold. These are all smooth and accessible to use, allowing players to feel like they're untangling a mystery without making things too easy. There's also enough variety in the challenges to keep people entertained as well, like reconstructing a sequence of events or analysing materials found on the scene.
The world Rocksteady has crafted and the visuals they use to express it are what stand out the most, and this means that you not only feel like the Batman but also feel like you're in Gotham. Fans will no doubt love how they can now see iconic locations up close, and the detail that has been put into these is impressive. They all look nice visually as well, even when you move your face up close to everything to look at the detail. Sometimes things are a little blurry if you get in too close, such as writing on clipboards, but that's very minor and doesn't impact the experience in a major way.
The story and the narrative was puzzling, however. It started off well, positioning itself as a murder-mystery very early on and unfolding as such, but the last acts, and the conclusion in particular, were very strange and we were surprised and a little confused when the final credits rolled. We won't spoil what happens, but after an hour of play (which isn't a problem, since the length had been made clear before) we were plunged into the credits after a sequence which suggested there was more to be done. It didn't feel like it was gearing up to finish like that and it left us a little underwhelmed.
After you finish your first playthrough, though, 30 Riddler challenges are placed into the campaign, giving you an incentive to replay. These range in difficulty and it took us longer than the two and a half hours quoted as being the length of Arkham VR to work through them. Some of them are particularly challenging, especially when you have to find them or they involve obscure riddles (shock). As you unlock them, though, you get new vehicles, character models and more, so along with the chance to explore the world in added depth, there is definitely an incentive to replay the campaign for these challenges as well.
Technically, the game works well and everything runs smoothly, and only with the occasional minor issue. Sometimes the Move controllers weren't detected in positions you would like them to be, like extending your arm to fire the grapple gun, but that's not so much the fault of the software. One thing that is a little odd is that the hands you use in the game are disembodied. Maybe this was to counter clipping issues, but it's a bit off-putting sometimes and cracks the immersion slightly. As a whole, however, it works well as a VR game, the motion tracking being sufficient as well as the sense of immersion, without any hint of motion sickness for us.
The game can be played with a DualShock 4 controller and PlayStation Move controllers, but the experience will be severely limited with the former. A DS4 only allows you to control one hand at a time and you have to look where you want to aim, rather than aiming and looking in different directions. This makes not only for slow progress but also frustrating gameplay and more limitations when it comes to what you can do and how easy it will be. The PlayStation Move controllers offer a far better experience, feeling like actual hands in the game and making everything easier to use, and more satisfying too. Anyone who has thrown a batarang in the demo can attest to that.
So as a whole there is a lot here to excite Batman fans, and the game truly makes you feel like you're in the shoes of the Caped Crusader. This, along with the appearance of various Batman enemies and allies, makes it a Batman fan's playground, but a bizarre story hampers it somewhat. This is a good game and one of the most rewarding PSVR titles that you can buy at launch, and it's sure to entertain and captivate for the limited amount of time you have with it. What's more, it comes in at a fairly reasonable price of £15.99, so it's certainly worth checking out if you've got the headset and you're looking for something to play.