‘Batman: Arkham VR’ review: Every Batman fan should experience this

Batman Arkham VR Box Art

If you are a Batman fan, you owe it to yourself to try Batman: Arkham VR, the latest release from Rocksteady Studios for the Playstation VR. It’s not like any other Batman game you’ve played before and, really, I hesitate to even call it a game. Arkham VR’s gameplay is quite shallow and only two of its levels are what I would describe as being genuinely interactive (a crime scene recreation and an autopsy) plus there are a few mini-games where  you throw batarangs at targets. No, I’m sure you’ve heard and read it a thousand times now, but Arkham VR is more of an experience. It’s not about combat or complex puzzle solving, it’s about feeling like you’ve been transported into your favorite fictional world. It’s the next great leap forward in fan wish fulfillment.

For instance, you’ve seen the Waynes murdered in crime alley more times than you can count. Hell, Thomas and Martha have probably died more times on screen than Dracula and Jesus. We get it! They walk out of a theater, bang-bang, pearls fall– let’s get on with it. But Arkham VR opens with the all-too-familiar scene by putting you in Bruce’s shoes! You’re watching the murder play out from the perspective of an eight-year-old whose world is about to fall apart and suddenly this stale, but necessary staple of the Batman origin is terrifying once again. Hide behind your mother or stare down the gunman defiantly, it’s up to you! All I know is that from now on, when I think of the Wayne murders, the Arkham VR opening is likely to the be the first thing that comes to mind because I experienced it here. It’s incredible! And that gets me excited about even more possibilities! VR will result in some great games, of course, but what really makes it unique is material like Arkham VR that answers the question of “Wow, what would it have been like to be there?” And I have to say I want to sit in the courtroom when Maroni throws acid on Harvey Dent, I want to sit in the Wayne study when a bat crashes through the window, I want Gordon to hand me a case file and then I want to duck into the shadows the second he turns his back on me–because that’s my thing. In fact, why is there not a Hide from Gordon game out there somewhere already?

After the alleyway flashback you’ll go to the menu screen, which is a beautifully detailed world itself. You’ll stand before the Bat-Signal atop the GCPD surveying Gotham and your jaw will drop. I was particularly impressed that I could take a step in either direction (literal steps, physically in the room that then registered in-game) to create an even greater sense of being present in Gotham. And if I raised my hand and squeezed the Move controller trigger like I was Batman tapping his cowl, I could zoom-in on the architecture or a zeppelin floating high above.

Starting the actual game will teleport you to Wayne Manor and you’ll go through the stages I talked about after the San Diego Comic-Con demo. The game’s mostly made up of lots of gorgeous sets to look at and items to pick up by squeezing a trigger on one of the two Move controllers (I highly recommend you play with those). You’ll visit a variety of iconic locations and come face-to-face with characters you never thought you’d come face-to-face with like Alfred, Robin, and more villains than I had anticipated. I was particularly blown away by a death trap scene that felt like a darker re-imagining of something from Batman ’66 where I was locked in a cage with Robin and he and I had to work together to escape. Truly extraordinary.

Strengths

Graphics

It’s the best-looking game you can get for the PSVR right now.

Voice Acting

I’m so glad Rocksteady got the original cast to return for this, I just wish that there was more story and we could hear them perform longer.

Easter Eggs

From the bright red Bat-phone to the giant penny, this game is loaded with little nods (some hidden, some not-quite-so-hidden) to classic TV shows and comics that are sure to delight die-hard fans.

Arkham Lore

This is kind of a strength and a weakness because I think the story of Arkham VR is really rewarding for those who have played the previous games (City & Knight especially) and it actually makes me want to go back and replay those games. But on the other hand, I can see the Arkham VR story being confusing to newcomers who will wonder how and when Joker died, who Jason Todd is, etc. etc.

Riddler Challenges

I already wanted to replay Arkham VR because I simply love looking at everything, but having riddles to solve on a second play-through makes coming back for seconds irresistible.

Affordability

If we went back in time and told five-year-old you that you could stand in the Batcave for $19.99 they’d slap you for even hesitating at the offer.

Shortcomings

Length

Seeing as how I awarded the game an 8.5 and not a perfect 10/10, there are definitely some shortcomings I need to address and the big one is that it’s too short. Not so short that I felt cheated, but short enough that its ending felt abrupt. I remember being told at SDCC that it would be about an hour and a half long with three hours of total gameplay time when you factor in the various Riddler challenges. I haven’t completed all of the Riddler challenges yet, but I doubt that my first play-through of the story lasted more than an hour. On the plus side, I did say first play-through. I’ve gone back in to just admire the level of detail in various locations about a dozen times already.

Walking

Selecting view points with the Move controller and teleporting around these 3D environments kills the immersion. Let players walk freely.

Transitions

The game is missing cool transitions between scenes. When you’re finished with a level, you’ll grapple to the Batwing or call the Batmobile, but the game simply plays a sound effect and fades to black before you actually reach either vehicle. It would’ve been amazing to have had an animation where we ascend into the sky while the grapple reels us up. Arkham VR gave me the sense of an elevator lowering me into the cave and now I really want to have that sensation of riding the Batgrapple or hopping into the Batmobile. I’m not saying they needed to add a level where we fly or drive, but just to feature an animation to get us from point A to point B. This felt like a missed opportunity.

Where are my arms?

I see a lot of VR games where my Move controllers are represented by disembodied hands. Why aren’t there arms attached to those hands? I’m sure there’s a good reason for it and it’s a small thing that you get used to over the course of playing any of these VR titles, but I would certainly feel a lot more immersed if I had arms connected to my hands.

Tracking

The Playstation camera and VR headset have worked almost flawlessly for me on every game except for Job Simulator, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, and Arkham VR. With Batman: Arkham VR, I would typically get excellent performance, but there were a couple nights when my surroundings would jolt back and forth or drift slightly to one side. To remedy this I had to turn the lights off in my room and play in darkness so the camera could more easily track the lights from the headset. Or at least I think that’s what fixed it. I’m not a scientist.

OVERALL

Arkham VR is a must-own for anyone with a PSVR and something every Batman fan should experience at least once. It’s a pity that it isn’t longer and that there wasn’t more interactive gameplay, but the experiences it does provide are unforgettable and totally worth the affordable $20 price tag.

8.5/10

What did you think of Batman: Arkham VR? If Rocksteady did a sequel, what would you like to see in it? Let us know in the comments below.

Special thanks goes out to Brooke Bauguess of Violet Kai, Inc. for making this review possible.

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