Batman: Arkham VR review – a brave and bold thriller that plays to the strengths of VR

By Matt Martin, Wednesday, 5 October 2016 13:00 GMT

Intense, brutal and personal, Arkham VR will leave you gasping for more.

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“PS VR’s visuals aren’t great for distance and Rocksteady seems to know this, so its villains are so in-your-face you’d expect to get a sniff of fetid breath.”

Batman: Arkham VR’s main story mode only lasts around an hour, but it crams more into that 60 minutes than most blockbuster games can manage in their entire campaigns.

From Crime Alley to the Batcave, Rocksteady once again lavishes the world it creates with rich references and detail. You don’t do a lot of moving around in Batman: Arkham VR, but there’s such an incredible sense of scale, whether a vertigo-inducing view from the roof of police HQ or gazing up from a claustrophobic backstreet, you’ll see Gotham like never before. This is Rocksteady working to the strengths of VR and dwarfing you in its gothic, steaming city.

There are major villains and other iconic characters, gadgets and computers to use, switches to pull, Wayne family photos to peruse, and secrets to uncover. Rocksteady know The World’s Greatest Detective inside out, and it throws decades of history at you even before you’ve put on the black cowl. The story may only take an hour, but there’s every reason to return, and that’s not just because a familiar foe pops up at the end with a whole bunch of challenges for you. You’ll do yourself a disservice if you dismiss this as an hour’s worth of entertainment.

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Wisely, Arkham VR focuses on detective work and story with simple interaction. You can throw Batarangs but it’s only really used on one occasion in a combat capacity (which I’m sure is a reference to 60s camp Batman as much as it is a way around limitations in virtual reality) but you’ll do a whole lot more looking using a scanner to help with an autopsy, find fingerprints and uncover other hidden clues. It’s a delight to interact with a world when its this detailed, right down to the purple bruises on dead meat.

Arkham VR is about observation and its puzzles are inventive even if the methods and results seem simple. You’ll get to watch, rewind and examine a brutal fight, scan grisly corpses, and cause an enemy serious pain up close and personal. PS VR’s visuals aren’t great for distance and Rocksteady seems to know this, so its villains are so in-your-face you’d expect to get a sniff of fetid breath. Or else it hangs back, with atmospheric foley sound effects and taunts from the shadows. It’s never not an intense experience.

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“Arkham VR grabs you by the collar and pushes you from one set-piece to another like a bully. It’s violence is more brutal because it’s inches from your face, the voices more mean-spirited when whispered in your ears.”

The best use of virtual reality seems to be when it draws you in close and holds you there. Arkham VR grabs you by the collar and pushes you from one set-piece to another like a bully. It’s violence is more brutal because it’s inches from your face, the voices more mean-spirited when whispered in your ears. Eventually Arkham VR is brave enough to spin your head with psychological tricks that honestly disorientate and unnerve the player in a way only a handful of regular games have ever attempted.

I was a massive VR cynic before Arkham VR, but it’s games like this that are managing to slowly change my perception of what VR is and can be. Batman: Arkham VR is one of the best uses of virtual reality in games I’ve experienced. It plays to the strengths of the format exceptionally well. You may be wearing the batsuit but it’s a horror game, not a superhero game. It gets into your head and messes with it, throws you around Gotham, and leaves you a little closer to Arkham Asylum than you may be comfortable with.

Batman: Arkham VR is out October 13.

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