It’s well-suited to do what it does
I took off my headset just long enough to incredulously ask “Wait, you fucking killed off Nightwing?!” It wasn’t so much the confidence and spunk to do it that took me by surprise. Hell, comic books off main characters all the time. It’s that Nightwing’s body unceremoniously slumped in a seedy alley is how Batman Arkham VR chose to kick things off.
Remember those murder mysteries from Arkham Knight? That’s mostly what Arkham VR is. It’s the world’s greatest detective only playing detective, following a crime scene from spot to spot and (presumably) capturing Nightwing’s killer. The PlayStation Move wands attached to my hands served as means to both rewind and fast-forward approximations of the assault; it was also a handy way to move short distances to look at the area from a different perspective.
Virtual reality makes for a fascinating take on this overlooked and somewhat ill-fitting part of the Arkham series. As Nightwing and his attacker duked it out on the streets, I watched on and moved around them so as to not get in the way. This last part was completely unnecessary as they were nothing more than holograms. Still, it felt real enough that my instinct was to sidestep them.
Completely grimdark in tone as it was — the hologram fight ends with Nightwing getting his neck snapped — Arkham VR isn’t without the silly moments of levity that often accompany player involvement. While the whole thing is extremely straightforward, access to the Dark Knight’s arsenal of tools helped lighten the mood. As Batman growled something or other about who could’ve done this and how, I hurled batarang after batarang at Nightwing’s face. Then I shot my grappling hook at his chest. These bits of genuine interaction, preposterous as they may be, go a long way toward making Arkham VR feel more like a game and less like a theme park ride.
The demo ended as I grappled to a blimp, likely off to wherever the next clue is. Batman grumbled too much — “I’ll never forgive myself for not stopping this!” — to leave this mystery unsolved. Talking with a Warner Bros. representative, we were told that Arkham VR‘s murder-mystery portion would last approximately an hour and a half, and that other side-content things would make up another 90 minutes or so. A good candidate for some of that alternate stuff would be the scene that kicked off the demo: A descent from Wayne Manor into the Batcave to don and test out the Batsuit.
Arkham VR worked very well for what it was, maybe completely because of the world it was set in. A lot of already-released virtual reality games make up their own settings. Warner Bros. is in a fortuitous position with Arkham VR in that it’s taking the player to a universe that fans desperately want to experience. A dark alley is just a dark alley most of the time; in Gotham, it’s an alley full of possibilities and wonder.
When Arkham VR releases this October, it’ll be a timed-exclusive to PlayStation VR. Warner Bros. declined our line of questioning about pricing, but it’ll presumably be reasonable for three hours’ worth of content. If that’s the case, Arkham VR seems like a must-have experience for anyone interested in Batman. It’s not as interactive as you’d expect most video games to be, and it’s certainly not throwing you around the room in freeflow combat. But, it’s well-suited to do what it aims to do, and that’s to offer an immersive experience on the streets of Gotham.