You’re expecting something dark, but the world before you is bright. It’s very bright, the light’s almost golden, and you’re surrounded by polished hardwood and marble. Opulence is everywhere except for that gaudy red telephone to your left, but since you’re obsessed with this stuff you know that that’s the Batphone from the ’66 TV series — this is Wayne Manor. Gotta be. Right there, atop the grand piano before you is a framed photograph of what has to be Thomas and Martha Wayne. Instinctively, you reach out, pick it up and bring it a little closer. As you study the photo, an Englishman calls to you from across the great hall and despite the echo in this vast space you’re able to zero in on him immediately. You put the photo back in its proper place and turn to face none other than Alfred Pennyworth as he walks across the marble to alert you to a case that needs your urgent attention. He hands you a small, ornate key, which would be a perfect fit for the heavy mahogany lid hiding the piano’s keyboard. You slip the key in the lock, turn, and lift the cover to reveal the ivories. Unsure of which keys are the right ones, you tap three perfectly in-tune keys and suddenly there’s a terrible earth-shaking rumble. Guess deep down you knew the code all along, you are Bruce Wayne after all. This is your mansion, that’s your valet, the couple in the photo are your parents and passage has just been granted to the Batcave. Your Batcave. You begin to descend. Down. Way, way down into the darkness you expected to find when you put on the Playstation VR headset. The time to be Bruce Wayne is over. Now it’s time to be the Batman.
I Have Stood in the Batcave, You Just Didn’t See Me There
Rocksteady wouldn’t pass along screencaps or gameplay video. According to Dax Ginn, their brand marketing producer, no trailer or screen-capture would do the game justice. And in a way he’s right, but I wish I had SOMETHING to give readers (the hyped and cautious alike), anything to meditate on other than my words. We tried taking video of me playing the demo in the DC booth, but this is VR (Virtual Reality) we’re talking about here! And when all audio and visuals from the game are only perceivable to the one playing the game… Well, all we ended up with is a video of me in an over-sized visor looking around slowly with a goofy grin on my face as I awkwardly reach for nothing, and turn back to more nothing before reaching out again, turning my wrist and muttering “Wow” over and over again.
It’s a video that we honestly couldn’t have made more boring if we tried. Meanwhile, what looks like the least eventful experience in the entire convention hall from an outsider’s perspective is actually me having the time of my damn life!
Now, I’m not going to say that the line between gamer and character has finally vanished and that I honestly felt that I had become Batman. I didn’t. But what I will say is that this is an experience every Batman fan should have. Some mechanics are still a little clunky because all this tech is still in its infancy, but holy crap was I wowed. This is the start of something amazing. Take the same level of detail Rocksteady gives to all of their Arkham games and then imagine surrounding yourself in that completely. No matter where you look, you are in that world and the 3D audio provided by the headset makes it all the more believable.
The demo is divided into two parts. There’s Wayne Manor/The Batcave and there’s a Gotham alley that’s far more detailed and complex. The Manor/Cave is a fairly simple tutorial stage that gets you used to grabbing items and learning the few buttons found on the two identical Playstation Move controllers you’re holding. These controllers are lightweight and comfortable, and all movements register with precision. And with only two buttons to remember (trigger for grasping items, top button for switching vantage point) even the most casual gamer should learn their way around quickly.
But was the Batcave gameplay fun? Well, it’s fun in the way that you feel that you’re actually in that environment and interacting with it, but it’s not all that challenging. Part one of the demo is an experience to be had and little more. However, I just don’t see myself, a Batman fan, getting tired of the experience of actually entering the Batcave soon. I absolutely had the sense that when I leaned forward in the elevator that lowered from Bruce’s study that I was actually viewing an underground waterfall spilling into a great chasm! That sort of spine tingle that continues on to jolt down through your legs happened– as if my mind was convinced that I was doing something very dangerous and should definitely move back from the edge. As the elevator lowered deeper and deeper I saw the penny, the T-Rex, and more iconic features of the cave. It was phenomenal. Of course, once the ride was over I was reminded I was in a game as the Batcomputer rose up and taught me how to put on my suit and equip and operate the gear. Seeing armless hands float up where my hands/the controllers should be was kind of an odd sight as well. I slipped on the gauntlets, cradled the cowl in my hands and brought it down over my head, selected tools and tested them out by pointing and shooting them, and… that’s about it. End of part one.
Who Murdered Nightwing?
Now this is where we get into some real gameplay and I started to get pretty active, whirling around in the booth and whatnot. It’s where I got so caught up in the details that Dax Ginn had to give me a little nudge and remind me that I had a crime to solve (and only XX minutes to try out the game). It’s where I grew to hate those funny bat-ears they attached to the headset because they made the visor fall back when I wanted to look up at the Gotham sky (don’t worry, the ears aren’t an actual part of the game, just a silly thing they tacked on at Comic-Con because it looked hilarious).
Here’s how it worked:
I, Batman, am in a narrow alleyway that is now a crime scene (it’s night, obviously). In that dark crevice between Gotham’s crumbling cityscape we have a handful of orange batarangs floating on ledges as well as street level. These icons are much like those floating batarangs you’re familiar with from other Arkham games, each of which would signify an AR challenge or some other side mission. The difference is that here those symbols represent a VANTAGE POINT. There’s no walking around in Arkham VR. Instead, you teleport. Remember when I said I wasn’t going to lie and say that I felt like I had truly become Batman? Well, here it is. Batman doesn’t *bamf* around crime scenes. When it comes to just examining the world from a specific position, you’ll be totally immersed and forget yourself, but when it’s time to move from point A to point B you’ll be reminded that the technology still hasn’t quite gotten to the point where gamer and character are one and the same.
Down on the ground you find the body of Nightwing, his neck broken. The voice of shock you hear– your voice– is none other than Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series, The Arkham games, 90% of everything good that’s been animaed… honestly if you’re at a site called “Batman News” you gotta know who his man is). He mourns for a moment and then tells himself (you) that it’s time to get to work and look for clues before the trails goes cold. Now we see what Arkham VR is: it’s the Arkham Origins Detective Mode only here the scene plays out around you and it is incredible.
Just like with Arkham Origins, you’ll fast forward and rewind time (using the forensic scanner gadget and a simple turn of your wrist) as the cowl’s built-in computer and Bruce’s own intuition try to recreate what happened. You’ll switch to the vantage points of your choice, get a little closer to where you think something significant happened, and you’ll scan an object or a victim with the forensic scanner (the Playstation Move controller in your left hand) hoping that it picks up a clue and progresses the story.
The mechanics are really easy to learn and piecing together the clues is quite rewarding, but above all it’s the sensation of standing there in the middle of the alley as an incredibly convincing fight scene plays out around you that makes the experience so worthwhile. You see, to find out what happened to Nightwing, I had to rewind all the way back to the moment he was confronted by an unknown attacker (who was represented by an androgynous yellow avatar in the cowl’s replay mode) and watch their fight play out. The fight choreography is on par with what you’ve come to expect from the Arkham franchise only now you’re standing in the thick of it. And even though you’re only a spectator the action is heart-pounding! I even found myself jumping aside and fully turning my body away from the PS4 and to he back of the booth when Nightwing was tackled by his assailant and thrown to the ground behind me. As they fought, I had to pay close attention for the moment when the attacker broke Nightwing’s arm, ribs, and neck, and scan at the exact instance they were damaged beyond repair. It was the ribs that I missed on the first playthrough because I was just so awed by the intense combat.
Imagine Nightwing has been beaten so badly that he just wants to make it out of the alley alive. He’s lost his eskrima sticks, his arm is useless, and the killer hasn’t even broken a sweat. Nightwing reaches for the grapple, fires it and tries to zip away, but just as he’s almost reached the roof high above, the attacker picks up an abandoned eskrima stick and hurls it at the grapple. The weapon collides with the hook, breaking it free from the stone ledge and Nightwing falls. Hard. Crashing his chest into the railing of a fire escape on his way back to earth.
“Don’t you think Dick might’ve hurt his ribs there, Andrew?” Ginn asks.
“Oh,” I laugh, remembering I’m in a hall filled with thousands of people. “Yeah.”
- The same terrific graphics and great attention to detail we’ve come to expect from Rocksteady are all there.
- Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are back!
- You see the same jaw-dropping fight choreography only you’re up-close and personal.
- Riddler trophies and other challenges WILL be part of the game, I asked Ginn about it.
- The game is only going to be about one and a half hours long on your first playthrough and three hours long if you try to complete every challenge (riddler trophies, etc.) 100%.
- The good news is that this is not going to be a typical $59.99 game. Arkham VR is going to be $19.99 at launch and I would GLADLY pay that much for three hours worth of what I experienced in that DC Comics booth.
- Moving your character is jarring. You won’t really feel like you’ve “become the Bat” when movement is restricted to teleporting to specific vantages.
How does the story fit into Arkham canon? Does it fit into Arkham canon?Thanks to reader favre1fan93 for finding a video interview with Sefton Hill explaining that the game definitely does fit within the timeline we know somewhere.
- No combat or driving. I asked Ginn about whether or not we would fight or get to drive the Batmobile and he explained that the technology just isn’t there yet to give fans a convincing Batman-quality fight scene or an extreme Batmobile ride without making them sick.
It was an amazing experience for me and one that I needed. Delta Airlines had lost my luggage the previous day and that was just the latest mishap in my streak of bad luck, but for the ten minutes I had that PlayStation VR headset on I forgot about EVERYTHING that was distracting me from enjoying Comic-Con. Hell, I forgot I was at Comic-Con. I was in Gotham for those ten minutes. Does the technology feel a little limited? Yes, but it’s still the coolest possible thing we have right now and it is absolutely the next great step in gaming. Nobody with a horse and buggy turned down a Model T because it couldn’t fly. It’s time to get excited about VR, folks.
PlayStation VR core ($399.99) and PlayStation VR Launch Bundle ($499.99 including camera, VR Worlds disc, two Move controllers, and more) will be available on October 13th.
Batman: Arkham VR will be a launch title available the very same day.
It is exclusive to PlayStation VR.
For full PlayStation VR specifications, click the spoiler tag below:
|Panel Size||5.7 inches|
|Panel Resolution||1920×RGB×1080 (960×RGB×1080 per eye)|
|Refresh Rate||120Hz, 90Hz|
|Field of View||Approximately 100 degrees|
|Sensors||Six-axis motion sensing system (three-axis gyroscope, three-axis accelerometer)|
|Processor Unit Function||3D audio processing, Social Screen (mirroring mode, separate mode), Cinematic mode|