If you really want to push your new gadget, you’ve gotta have a killer app. We’re talking a new, hot title that gets the blood flowing and the wallet opening. The Wii had Wii Sports, for instance, and that was free! For the PlayStation VR, it’s pretty clear that Batman: Arkham VR is trying to serve as the headlining game…but is it successful or is this the PC version of Batman: Arkham Knight all over again?
Arkham VR’s a pretty easy game to explain: thanks to the power of the PSVR, you’re finally able to be the Batman. You can finally slip on the Caped Crusader’s cowl and utility belt, then take to the streets to fight crime in Gotham City. Well, that’s as long as you can forget that in reality you’re wearing a goofy-looking helmet and waving around some goofy-looking wands, since a pair of PlayStation Move controllers are all but required to really get into the experience.
This is a sort of side-story set in the Arkham continuity that we’ve come to know and love from the same series of games. The story hits hard right away, as Batman discovers that his ally and protege Nightwing has been murdered…and if you know anything about Nightwing, you know that it would take someone pretty fearsome to pull that off. It’s your job as Batman to investigate the crime, find out what you can and stop the culprit in the classic Dark Knight style.
In practice, this is a very, very short VR “experience” that plays out a little like classic adventure games. We’re focusing on Bruce’s cerebral side here, the sort of problem-solving that makes him the World’s Greatest Detective; I admit I was a little disappointed that we didn’t also get to experience Batman’s martial arts, stealth or driving in any serious fashion, but one step at a time, right? Anyway, this means that most of the game is spent using Batman’s gadgets to find clues and make inferences.
You’re Batman, so of course all of those gadgets are found on your utility belt. Just reach down with a fairy princess wand…er, Move controller and grab them! You’ve got a scanner, a grappling hook, Batarangs and more. You’ve got two hands, so grab two gadgets and use both! Need to Batarang something? Grab it and fling it at whatever straight from your belt in true Batman fashion! When you aren’t gadgeting things, you can use the mighty mitts of the Dark Knight to interact with stuff in the world, picking up items, dropping items, picking them up again when they respawn in a location you can reach and so on.
These are Move controllers, not actual fairy princess wands, so we’re dealing with six-year-old hardware and there’s no real magic here. This means you’ll want a clear, open space, a clear view between you and your PlayStation camera and a properly lit room to make all of this work properly, and when it’s not working properly Batman’s hands flip out like he’s being electrocuted. When everything comes together there’s a real sense of immersion, though the fact that you can’t freely move around your environment as you might in a traditional Arkham game is likely to disappoint some players. This is also one of the nicer-looking VR offerings out there, able to stand up to many PC VR titles. That’s saying something given the relatively low power of the PS4 compared to a VR-ready PC.
Despite this, that immersion does a lot to make Arkham VR an enjoyable experience. Living the live of Batman is great. Admittedly, a lot of concessions are made between the hardware and the fact that VR is still a burgeoning technology, like the aforementioned lack of free movement and the game’s slower-paced feel, and this can make Arkham VR feel like a collection of Batman-themed vignettes and toys to play with more than a cohesive “game.” What’s there is still pretty cool, don’t get me wrong, and this one shines compared to the lion’s share of early VR titles.
Still, spending too much time as Batman could prove dangerous, or at least I assume that’s why Arkham VR is so short. Determined crime-fighters can make their way through this one in literally half an hour, while you can expect an hour or so if you take the time to fool around with all the fool-aroundable parts of Arkham VR’s world. If there’s anything disappointing about Arkham VR, it’s that it ended at right around the same time I started to really love the concept.
With that in mind, it’s really up to you as to whether or not Batman: Arkham VR is worth your time. $20 for a high-quality half-hour of VR isn’t too bad in my book, but if you’ve just dropped a bunch of cash on a new headset you might be itching for something a little more substantial. The PSVR can accommodate you on that front…but not with Arkham VR, which is best used as a foot-wetting experience, an endearing snack for Bat-fans and a cool way of introducing friends and family to virtual reality.