Holy VR Batman! Were jokingly my thoughts when I first saw the announcement of Batman Arkham VR for the Sony’s headset. With little to no details about what to expect all we got during the E3 2016 reveal was a trailer and the tagline: Be the Batman.
Truth be told I didn’t think much of the reveal. This was mainly because I didn’t have much of an interest in VR (you seen how much the headsets costs?) but one thing for sure was that I wanted to at least try it. I needed convincing for the price admission. When I got my chance to play Batman Arkham VR at gamescom with Warner Bros. and developers Rocksteady my opinion on VR completely changed.
Batman Arkham VR is being developed for PlayStation VR, which was great as I was very intrigued to see how Sony’s VR headset performs. Considering it will be cheaper than the rivals and is powered by the PS4 and Pro, they’re still both underwhelming compared to the very powerful PC system that is required to use Oculus or Vive, so I was certainly interested in seeing how console performance VR handled.
As I talked with one of the developers at Rocksteady he gave me a hand in getting all setup. The PlayStation VR headset itself isn’t difficult to put on and offers plenty of adjustment. You can adjust the visor and headband to get a comfortable position. Once I had immersed myself, I put on some appropriately styled Batman headphones and were handed the PlayStation motion controllers. Now all I had to do was brace myself and become the Batman.
From the very start of the demo, everything had full 360° degree view, taking place during a rainy night on the rooftops of Gotham. It was incredibly detailed throughout. The motion controllers acted as my hands, so lifting them showed Batman’s gauntlets and the triggers on the controllers allowed me open and close my hands.
There were two different modes to try. The first was the experience of becoming the Batman. This was an awesome cinematic sequence. You begin at Wayne Manor, just casually chilling out all while admiring the decor in incredible detail. Alfred then approached me and handed me a key to one of the Batcave entrances, this is where I had to use the motion controls to grab the key. With the key grasped in my hand, I turned to the piano beside me and placed the key inside, again using the motion controls. I was asked to play the piano so after a few random key presses the floor below me started to go down - obviously, it wasn’t for real, but it was certainly a weird sensation.
All while doing this, I was speaking with one of the developers. He explained that Batman VR is being built on the Unreal Engine 4 and with the power behind they’re are able to create high quality and very detailed environments. He wasn’t lying as the work so far was almost awe inspiring, even in its early stages.
As I went down I slowly got kitted out in the Batman armor, then was given the grappling hook and got to test my Batarang throwing skills at some practice targets. As I reached the bottom I was greeted by the Batcomputer and that’s where the demo ended.
It was an incredibly immersive experience, even if it was simply taking you through the steps to becoming Batman. There wasn’t much interaction in the first half, but the second part of the demo was where you can truly shine as the world's greatest detective.
The second demo took place on the streets of Gotham. A close ally has been murdered and it’s up to Batman to solve the mystery. Just like detective mode in Arkham games, the second part of the demo allowed me to investigate the environments for clues. While I couldn’t move around the area, if I faced a part of the street I would teleport to that area using the motion controller.
As well with the controllers, I could scan the environments and re-enact the scene to find out how they died. As I rewound the time, I watched as my ally fought an unknown assailant. The attention to detail was outstanding and the movements in the characters appeared motion-captured as they were very free flowing. Once I had found all the clues and worked my way through the scene, I pieced together evidence and found a suspect from a fingerprint. There, using the grappling hook, I worked my way to the rooftops of Gotham and that’s where the demo ended.
As my first time experience of PlayStation VR, it was mighty impressive. I noticed very little issue in using the headset and the visual quality was incredible, but I would point out I did notice some crosstalk but nothing that some headset adjustment wouldn’t fix. As for the game itself, my only criticism would be the lack of anti-aliasing, so edges weren’t entirely refined and had jaggies. Although, as it was an early build further optimisations are likely being made for the final release.
Still, Batman Arkham VR was an awesome experience, the talent at Rocksteady know their stuff and the Unreal Engine 4 is increasingly becoming one of my favourite engines. Although it overwhelmingly screams tech demo, if it is reasonably priced or perhaps bundled with PSVR kits, then Batman Arkham VR is definitely a showcase for Sony’s upcoming headset.