While Virtual Reality in gaming is all the rage at the moment, I have to confess that up until recently, the hype left me cold. To be clear, I’m all for advancements in gaming, but VR for the most part seemed like a surplus requirement.
VR’s cheerleaders point most of the time to the tech’s unmatched ability to completely immerse players in the games they’re playing, but I’ve never felt the need to obliterate all trace of the outside world in order to become lost in a game. I remember playing a dungeon crawler back in the days of dial-up called NetHack and to say it was minimalist in its visual presentation is an understatement. But the fact that a dragon was only represented by a ‘D’ and my hero was a simple ‘@’ didn’t mean it was any less immersive than any other game I’d played – or have played since.
That having been said, a quick demo of Batman: Arkham VR was all it took to convince me that I’d better start saving up for PSVR. At a behind-closed-doors demo at rAge I was given a brief taste of Rocksteady’s latest Arkham game and it left me itching for more.
The quick sell for Batman: Arkham VR is to imagine playing one of the Arkham games from a first person perspective. Naturally, the VR tech limits player movement somewhat – don’t expect to be free-flowing between opponents in hand-to-hand bust-ups, for example – but if the rAge demo is anything to go by, Rocksteady has packed its first VR outing with more than enough to keep the Arkham faithful happy.
The demo kicked off in Wayne Manor, with Bruce Wayne (that would be me) having a chat with Alfred about some shady goings-on in Gotham. After a quick conflab with Wayne’s butler, I was handed a key to a piano in the room and was encouraged by the the Rocksteady official on hand to play a tune. Using PS Move controllers I tapped out a couple of notes on the ivories and then things became a little weird and awesome at the same time.
One of the greatest appeals that every one of Rocksteady’s Arkham games has boasted is their ability to make players feel like they’re the caped crusader. Batman: Arkham VR takes this experience to the next level; after hitting a couple of notes on Wayne’s piano, the floor beneath me opened up and an elevator took me down to the Bat Cave.
Rocksteady laid things on thick; the trip to the Bat Cave was a lengthy visual showcase, a 30 or so second passage in which I viewed waterfalls, stalactites, platforms containing Batman’s (that would be my) assets including the Batmobile and the Bat Computer and yes, flocks of bats flying past my field of vision.
Once in the cavernous bowels beneath Wayne Manor, it was time to get my Batman on. After donning the Batsuit and cowel, I was handed three gadgets: the BatClaw, Batarangs and an evidence scanner, which I was told would come in handy later.
There’s really no way to put into writing how incredible this experience was. I can expound at length about how amazing it felt to hurl Batarangs at a target or how staring at myself in a mirror and seeing Batman glowering back at me made my skin tingle. Suffice to say that no Rocksteady game before this time has made me feel more like I was the Dark Knight. And that’s saying something.
Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to explore the Bat Cave as the demo switched abruptly to the mean streets of Gotham and a crime scene involving one of the DC Universe’s better known characters. As much as I’d like to reveal the identity of said victim – who was lying in an alley with his neck broken – I feel like I’d be heading into spoiler territory if I did so. On a personal note, though, could Rocksteady stop killing off lynch-pin Batman characters already?
It was here I was able to use the evidence scanner, which set up a crime scene and allowed me to view what had happened in the alley ahead of the murder using augmented reality. I not only was able to see who killed the victim in the alley, but I uncovered the existence of a witness – who helpfully left his hand print on a wall nearby. According to Batman’s (that would be my) records, the witness was part of the Penguin’s crew.
It was here the demo ended and the bump back to reality was palpable. If VR’s backers want to make an argument for the tech, Batman: Arkham VR should be their exhibit A. While one could never mistake the visuals presented in the game for real-life, Rocksteady’s newest offering plunges players into its universe and only stripping off the VR headset can bring them back.
It’s too early to tell whether Batman: Arkham VR is going to be a worthwhile investment, but as a system seller, the rAge demo was utterly convincing. Time to start saving up…