The entire Batman: Arkham series from Rocksteady has been amazing, in my opinion. It wrestles with issues core to the Batman mythology and realizes both Gotham City and the Dark Knight’s villains in interesting ways. It isn’t afraid to plunge into the darkness and face the creatures that haunt Bruce Wayne. Which is why getting to actually be Batman should offer plenty of interesting situations. Fortunately, Batman Arkham VR does just that. But it has to fight against technology that simply doesn’t want to dive into the darkness.
What you realize quickly is that Arkham VR is more designed around the idea of Batman as a detective than it is Batman the vigilante. There is only one real instance of combat in the entire game, and it isn’t even interesting. You just tell the Batwing to take out a couple thugs by looking at them. Focusing on Batman as a detective helps flesh out the one component that I have always felt was lacking in execution from the Arkahm series. Rocksteady consistently nails the combat and stealth, but the investigative sections are a real bore most of the time.
The story of Arkham VR is short and sweet. Robin is missing and you have to find out where he has gone. You spend a tiny bit of time as Bruce Wayne in his manor, but then quickly get acquainted with Batman and the Batcave. The Batcave acts as a hub world to let players explore some of Batman’s lore, do some Batarang challenges, and just get a sense that you are truly the Dark Knight. There’s plenty to interact with and you can move between areas of the Batcave pretty quickly by just grappling with your grappling hook to swing through the cave.
In comes the first disappointment with Arkham VR (though this is something other games have as well). Because there is no analog stick when using the Move controllers, the game only allows you to move from one screen to the next. There isn’t even an animation of Batman grappling to the next area. Your screen just cuts to black and then comes back to you just standing where you need to be. This is a huge bummer, and something that feels more like a missed opportunity than anything else. You don’t even have to let me drive the Batmobile, but let me at least see what’s it’s like to be inside it. The grappling hook effectively acts as a fast-travel button and not as a “get there faster” device like it does in the Arkham games.
Worse than that is the inclusion of Batarangs. They exist for a puzzle that happens late in the game, and for a throwing competition that is set up by the Riddler. So they are there, but barely used. The most time I spent throwing Batarangs was in the Riddler challenge that demanded it, but I only spent so much time because the aim assist in the game is so frustrating. When you throw Batarangs, they curve in-game. The curve is the aim assist essentially. This would be a helpful tool if aiming with the Move controllers wasn’t a mess.
The main issue with Arkham VR is its need for things to work 100% effectively. Alfred hands you a key early on to open your piano and start playing it. I tried for an entire minute to grab the key from him. But because tracking is so wonky and always stuttering, my hands kept moving in and out as I held my Move controller completely still. It got to a point where I was just pressing the button required to grab something repeatedly and hoping eventually the two would just clip each other for long enough to recognize the button press. Needless to say, stuttering like that means throwing Batarangs is quite the challenge.
But when things work, the game is extremely immersive. A scanner for analyzing crime scenes and bodies is used perfectly in the game. You can fast forward and rewind crime scenes, analyzing them by just pointing and clicking, and then holster it at any point. It’s simple and effective. My largest problem with the Arkham games was that it never really felt like I was doing something to solve the crimes. It instead felt like the characters around me were doing all the investigative work while I flew around Gotham, beating up thugs. Now it really does seem like I am the detective solving things.
There’s some developments later in the game that echo a lot of the themes from the previous Arkham games, but are used well in VR. Once you’re in that head space, it’s hard to come out of it. Even when Batman refuses to stop jittering through the geometry of the world. As a demo of what virtual reality is capable of, Arkham VR is a good showcase. But it also demonstrates the issues that need to be overcome and what shortcomings are present with the current technology. Sure, you can be the Batman, but you can’t do much of what Batman does. That’s the biggest crime of all.