Sunday, June 18, 2017

Batman: Arkham VR

One of the earliest titles available for the PlayStation VR was Batman: Arkham VR, developed by Rocksteady as part of the Batman: Arkham universe. The idea behind the game is to use the relatively new VR technology to make you feel like the Dark Knight himself. For the most part, it works really well, but it still falls a little short as an experimental title.

Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) is informed by his butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Hugh Fraser), that Robin (Tom Austen) and Nightwing haven’t reported in for an unusual length of time. As this is cause for concern, Batman must go out and investigate their whereabouts, finding that both of them are in unusual locations. When he sees that Nightwing is dead, the investigation turns into finding out the identity of the killer as well the location of Robin.

The story is fairly easy to follow and, in true Arkhamverse fashion, grows darker and creepier as the game continues. This all leads to a very tense and frightening finale, which takes full advantage of the VR environment and shows a lot of potential for the technology. Unfortunately, while the story is well-written and engaging, and ties in well with Batman: Arkham Knight, it only lasts about thirty minutes to an hour and that’s if you’re not looking for secrets. At that point, it doesn’t completely feel worth the MSRP of $20.

What also doesn’t help is the general lack of replay value. After completing the main story, you gain the option to search most of the levels again for the obligatory Riddler trophies. Finding these trophies unlocks additional character models and bios you can view in the Batcave, as well as additional vehicles, the latter of which has no real effect on gameplay. These vehicles are drawn from Batman’s television and film history, including as recent as the Batmobile from 2016’s Batman v Superman and as old as the Batmobile from the 1966 Adam West series. Apart from Riddler trophies, there are also a number of destructible objects and optional easter eggs related to Batman lore, as well as some foreshadowing to Arkham VR’s ending and Batman’s mental state in Batman: Arkham Knight. Unfortunately, even if you did take the time to check every nook and cranny to find or destroy every single object, the entire game is still only about three to four hours long at the most.

One of the puzzles is recreating the crime scene for Nightwing's death.

That said, the gameplay is rather impressive for an experimental VR title. Arkham VR does an excellent job of making you feel like Batman, especially since you go through a phase at the beginning where you have to put on the Batsuit. Over the course of the game, you have access to three gadgets on Batman’s utility belt: the throwable Batarang, the Grapnel Gun and the Forensic Scanner. Using these gadgets at the right moments will allow you to solve puzzles during each of the game’s nine chapters and get Batman one step closer to finding Nightwing’s killer. It feels really cool to be able to throw a Batarang with your own motions and to control each object in the game with 1:1 movement.

However, there are some limitations to the gameplay, likely due to its experimental nature and the relative infancy of the VR market. You are not allowed to move around freely throughout each environment, as movement is restricted to teleporting to predetermined locations in your line of sight. Despite this, you are still able to use your own physical movements to move a couple steps around you, as well as look around objects or lean in for a closer look (Tip: looking around digital objects with physical movement is required to access a couple of Riddler trophies). Additionally, there isn’t much to speak of in the way of action. Instead, you spend much of your time using Batman’s gadgets to solve puzzles in a 360° space. While this does emphasize Batman’s role as a detective, it may leave fans of his action side wanting more. Also, while the game does generally do a good job of telling you what you can and can’t do, it doesn’t explain that you can zoom in on the environment by holding the Move controller to your head and pressing the Trigger button.

On a technical note, the graphics are very impressive, fully capturing the look and feel of the Batman: Arkham universe down to the color palette and level of detail. The environmental sounds also help to sell that you’re within the world of Gotham and the voice acting is top notch, seeing as you get to hear more Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill among others.

While by no means perfect, Batman: Arkham VR is a very solid experimental title. The game does an excellent job of pulling the player into the world of Gotham and making them feel like the Caped Crusader. In exchange, the player has to contend with restricted movement, a lack of combat and a heightened emphasis on detective work and puzzle solving. Even with the game’s shortcomings, it’s worth playing for the ability to feel like Batman and become a true part of Gotham’s dark atmosphere. However, its short length, about three to four hours at the most, and lack of long-term replay value barely justifies the $20 price point. If you can get it at a good price, it’s one VR title worth picking up.

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