E3 2016: You Can be Vengeance and the Night in Batman Arkham VR
Just about every kid has a dream of one day being a superhero. It's not something that's actually practical, but it's a noble ideal to think you could be saving the world and standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Batman. While video games have given us ample opportunities to somewhat play out those fantasies, there's still enough of a disconnect between the real world and the gaming world that it doesn't quite scratch that childhood itch.
Then Rocksteady Studios went and announced Batman Arkham VR at E3, and changed the game completely. Little was shared by the teaser trailer about what the experience would entail. It still didn't quite sink in even after strapping on PlayStation VR and finding ourselves transported to Wayne Manor. Once we were lowered into the armor chamber and had a chance to virtually grab the cowl and place it on our head, it finally struck a nerve. We were Batman.
Our demo was split into two parts, with the first introducing us to the game's controls and the second throwing us into a murder investigation. When it releases, the lion's share of Batman Arkham VR will be focused on this mysterious case. All told, it will take about an hour to play through, but Rocksteady's promised a bit of replayability will be in there as well when it comes to fully exploring the world. If you were worried about having to experience some of Batman's acrobatics in virtual reality, that won't be an issue. Most of the game is presented from a standing vantage point, though Batman can move freely around the level by selecting hot spots and being instantly transported to the new location.
That said, there are some movements you experience in first person, like taking the elevator down to the Batcave and using the grappling gun to zip to some locations. It wasn't very disorienting overall, but during the trip to the Batcave --- which is absolutely stunning to witness --- we did have to reassure ourselves we were actually standing still in a room. It's a long trip from the great room in the mansion, and the depth of field really does give the impression you're making your way down through a massive cavern underground. Descending past the waterfall and having bats circle you on your way down goes a long way in selling the fiction, too. For anyone that's dreamed of actually being in the Batcave, this is everything you ever could have wanted come true.
The second half the demo took us to the rooftop of Gotham City Police Department. It was a dark, rainy night in Gotham, but the world was lit up by those numerous neon lights that signify Rocksteady's vision of this famous comic locale. If we turned around, the Bat-signal was right there, blasting its call for action into the night sky. Despite being stylized, you feel like you could reach out and touch it. Of course, nothing is actually there when you reach, but that's just how well Arkham VR immerses you in this world. From there, we teleport to the alleyway where the crime was committed.
If you're familiar at all with the Arkham series' crime scene investigations, that's primarily this virtual reality experience's core gameplay. You find the body, you recreate the moments leading up to the crime, and you investigate from numerous angles. Watching the action unfold around you is wild, as there's a nicely choreographed fight to witness unabated. You can watch from any one of the vantage points, but being there on the ground while the kicks and punches are landing all around you is thrilling. The fight makes great use of the space too, so you'll have to turn to keep following the action.
There were some clever Easter eggs hidden just in this alley, and we won't spoil them here, but needless to say, should you play the game yourself this fall, definitely check all the apartment windows surrounding the alley. We even found a partially eaten apple on a fire escape, which you can reach out and pick up if you want. It doesn't do anything in particular, but Rocksteady has a number of these interactions scattered throughout.
Disappointingly, we were taught how to use the batarangs in the first portion of the demo, but never got to unleash them in the second half. They'll likely come into play later, as the few tools you have at your disposal are used at some point during the action. If you've ever wanted to feel like an absolute bad-ass, throwing virtual batarangs is certainly one way to get you started. It's amazing just how fun it feels to use them even though you're only playacting in the room, and the actual batarangs are being whipped around on a screen in front of your eyes.
We've seen a number of virtual reality experiences over the last year that have given the impression this new hardware is going to be more than a flash in the pan, but none have made quite an impression on us as Batman Arkham VR. You get to be Batman. It's the closest we'll ever come to stepping into the suit, walking through Gotham and observing the solitude of the Batcave. It might not be enough to get you to pony up for a PlayStation VR kit, but it certainly presents a solid case for making the investment.
Batman Arkham VR will be available this October exclusively on PlayStation VR.