Batman Arkham VR is an upcoming virtual reality game for PlayStation VR developed by Rocksteady Studios. It's going to be one of the PlayStation VR's launch titles and will be available to buy in October. During E3, we were invited by Rocksteady to don the midnight cowl and step into the batcave.
Guys. Guys. This game is going to be goddamn amazing.
Of all the surprise announcements at E3 2016, Batman Arkham VR was arguably the most unexpected and exciting. Becoming Batman is something boys and girls have been dreaming about since the 1930s. Thanks to PlayStation VR, this generation-spanning childhood fantasy is finally about to happen.
Alongside Resident Evil VII and The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, this was easily the most popular demo booth at E3. Non-media attendees literally waited in line all day just for the chance to play.
Before we got suited up (both in real life and in the game) we spoke to Rocksteady's social marketing manager Gaz Deaves about the development of the game. As Gaz tells it, one of the reasons Batman Arkham VR was such a well-kept secret is because it initially wasn't meant to be released commercially.
"We started the project around the time we wrapped up Arkham Knight last year," Deaves explained. "At first it was just an experiment, then it turned into a tech demo. Pretty soon, we realised we had something we really believed in."
For his first VR adventure, Batman will be toning down the fisticuffs in favour of his true calling: detective work. When you consider how impossibly acrobatic Arkham's combat is, this is surely a good thing: trying to pull the moves off in virtually reality would probably result in your head falling off.
"This time around we really wanted to focus in on the detective aspects of Batman's personality," Deaves said. "This has actually been very liberating from a story point of view."
Sounds good to us.
The game requires two Move controllers which are essentially Batman's hands in the game. The controls are very reminiscent of other first-person VR games we've played: you press the main triggers to pick stuff up and press them again to either drop or activate what you're holding. It feels intuitive in seconds.
With VR headset donned, I was immediately transported to a seriously swish Wayne Manor. At this point, Bruce is wearing regular civilian clothing which is indicated by his arms and hands in-game. (There are visible cuts and bruises on his knuckles, which was a nice touch.)
If you want an idea of how opulent his pad looked, you open the game standing in front of a grand piano. That's some lord of the manor shit right there. After a brief conversation with your butler Alfred the game prompts you to start playing the piano. Why? Because bashing on the keys unlocks the secret entrance to your Batcave. Oh yes. The floor you're standing on turns out to be an elevator which slowly sinks downward.
What unfolds is one of the most impressive cinematic reveals I've experienced in VR to date. The Batcave looks bloody amazing. As the elevator takes you deeper and deeper into the bowels of the Batcave you are treated to an astonishing birds-eye view of the area as bats flutter overhead. It feels like being in a big-budget movie.
Finally, you reach Batman's base of operations and it's time to don the suit. Rocksteady ain't stupid: they milk this bit for all it's worth. First comes the chest armour, followed by your gauntlets and scowling cowl. This isn't a cinematic: you physically pick the batsuit up and place it on your body with the Move controllers. I did the mask slowly, almost reverently. Natch.
Once you're suited up, the Batcave dispenses a huge robotic mirror and the sense that you're Batman is palpable. You're standing there, square-jawed, built like a brick shit house and dressed like the goddman Batman. Every movement you make is replicated in the mirror. This profoundly special moment lasted around five seconds, before I made Batman do a monkey dance and jerk off at his reflection. He remained stern-faced throughout.
Next up, the game equips you with Batman's tools of the trade: batarangs, a grappling hook and a forensic scanner which we assume will be his chief tool throughout the adventure. You get to test them all out on a target range. The physics of the batrangs were a bit naff to be honest, but the grappling hook and scanner worked really well.
And with that, the demo ended.
This thing is going to be huge guys. If Rocksteady can keep up the immersion and sense of fun during the main campaign, this could well be the killer app that wins the VR race for Sony. (It's coming exclusively to PlayStation 4, sorry HTC Vive and Oculus Rift owners.)
Our only real reservation is the length of the campaign: Rocksteady reckons it will take you roughly one hour to finish, which isn't a whole lot. Replay value really isn't one of VR's strengths. The same goes for puzzle-solving, which will presumably form the backbone of this game. Still, for many gamers just putting on the batsuit and wanking into a mirror will be enough.