Batman: Arkham VR Review (PlayStation 4)
Becoming a superhero is the lifelong dream of many comic fans. Whether it's during their formative years, running around with a towel draped over their shoulders as a cape, or as an adult with time and a budget to craft something more authentic to the page, living more than vicariously through the page has always had massive appeal. With the arrival of PlayStation VR comes the first opportunity to truly step into the role of the world's greatest (and grumpiest) detective. Though Rocksteady Studios' Batman: Arkham series has already allowed us to feel how great it is to fight as Batman, Batman: Arkham VR literally puts you inside the cowl for the first time. It's so many dreams come true.
If Batman: Arkham Knight was Rocksteady's finale for the franchise, consider Batman: Arkham VR the encore. A brief trip back into the life of Bruce Wayne, Arkham VR tasks you with investigating the disappearances of Nightwing and Robin, both of which have gone MIA in the course of one night. The story will take you from the back alleys of Gotham's streets to the Iceberg Lounge, then through the sewers and of course, the Batcave. There are some other locales involved, but to say more would spoil much of what happens. You will encounter some familiar rogues along the way, but if you haven't played the previous Arkham games, some of the narrative might be a bit confusing or muddled. That's not to say you can't just jump in and play, but newcomers to the franchise might not get the whole picture without knowing what transpires in earlier Arkhams.
Batman: Arkham VR is light on action, but incorporates crime scene investigation and some light puzzle-solving to give players some sense of accomplishment. If you were hoping to swing or drive through the streets of Gotham, you'll be a bit disappointed. Arkham VR is solely focused on Batman's investigative elements, with a bit of light puzzle-solving thrown in for good measure. The scanning device will be your primary tool throughout Arkham VR, and you'll use it to reconstruct crimes and evidence. Pointing it at things and pulling the trigger on one of the Move controllers is about as intensive as it gets though.
Yes, you'll get to use batarangs and the grappling hook, but not in any way that will satisfy a combat itch. Batarangs are mostly used to hit unreachable buttons, while the grappling hook is a mode of transportation around the Batcave or a tool to grab objects too far to reach. There is a batarang target range, but there isn't much to do in Arkham VR but observe locations, interact with them in a handful of ways --- picking up items, opening drawers, scanning things --- and solve the puzzle to bring up the next area.
The areas in Batman: Arkham VR are a treat to explore. Whether you're in the Batcave or in the alleys of Gotham, Rocksteady has put just as much detail into the world as it did for the more traditional action games in the series. This time however, you can interact with them a bit more too. It's still a tremendous feeling to be transported down into the Batcave, and to see the familiar trophies, to use the Bat-computer, and to just stand in that (virtual) space. If you don't feel all tingly putting the cowl on as you descend into the cave, you might just be a robot without feelings.
Granted, Arkham VR does look slightly downgraded visually from the current gen entry Batman: Arkham Knight. That's the trade-off for having a virtual reality headset running at 60 frames per-second, and it's something that will be a constant in the PSVR arena. It might be a bit jarring at first, but once you're in that world, concerns about visuals fade because you're in Gotham. You're not only there, you're Batman, and the sensation of living in that space is still the same, even if you can see it's a little rough around the edges.
Batman: Arkham VR isn't a long experience, but it does just enough to provide for an entertaining evening. It's a small coda for Rocksteady's time with the character, and does a nice job showing off what's capable with PlayStation VR. Fans that haven't yet experienced the Arkham series might not get quite as much out of the story as those who've invested years into Rocksteady's version of the Bat-universe, but this is still one of the first "can't miss" titles of PlayStation's foray into virtual reality.
This review is based on a digital download of Batman: Arkham VR provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.