We’ll come out with a bold claim right from the off, not only was Batman: Arkham VR the last game we saw at this year’s E3 before its doors were shut, it was also the best. Of the whole show.
That’s a personal opinion, of course, and it doesn’t mean we didn’t like other stuff at the event; Battlefield 1 and Zelda impressed greatly, for example. It just means that nothing quite blew us away as much as Warner and Rocksteady’s first dalliance with virtual reality.
This being E3, there wasn’t much of a game on show and the two distinct segments of Batman: Arkham VR we played were more like proof of game concepts than the game itself. They were more than enough though to convince us to give the main game a try when it arrives in October as one of the first wave of PlayStation VR titles.
It also reaffirmed our hope in VR as a gaming technology. A couple of other experiences of late had made us feel queasy or uncomfortable, throwing doubt on the medium. But it was clearly the software at fault and when a VR game is good, you get a sense of immersion no other format can offer.
There were two different sections in the demo. The first starts in Wayne Manor, with butler Alfred informing you that you’ll need to step out of the clothes of Bruce Wayne and into the cowl of the Bat.
The game uses the PlayStation Move motion controllers rather than a joypad, so you have complete control over floating hands that appear in front of you in the game. Using these you unlock a piano, press a few keys randomly and the process of donning the costume begins.
You descend on an elevator pad down through the bowels of the Batcave, which is magnificent and awe-inspiring in scale. You’ll look around as much here than in any other game we’ve seen to date, to take in every visual cue.
When you finally arrive at the bottom, the process of becoming Batman begins, from putting on the gloves, the cowl and testing every one of the gadgets that you store on your utility belt. It’s an experience rather than a game at this stage, but is still completely immersive, especially for Batman and comic book fans.
The next section takes you to a grim alley, where ex-partner and friend Nightwing lies dead. Yep, we just said that Nightwing has been murdered. We were just as shocked.
It is up to you to piece together some of the clues at the scene of the crime in order to advance the investigation.
Regular players of Arkham games will recognise the drill: scan the body, then fast forward or rewind through a re-enactment of what took place in order to find out why Dick Grayson lies in a bloody heap. The one major difference is that you are right in the middle of the action. Literally.
As you spin through the events, looking for key moments in the fight with an unknown assailant, Nightwing and an avatar go to it around you. And considering they are your height, it’s a surreal and exciting moment for sure.
Once you’ve found the relevant clues, which ultimately lead to the possibility of a witness, the demo essentially ends. However, you do get to use your grappling hook on a hovering aircraft first.
Unlike some VR games that we’ve tried in the past, which we can’t wait to finish, the Batman: Arkham VR experience for E3 was too short – in that we didn’t want it to end. We were about 15-20 minutes in the headset, we feel, although we can’t be 100 per cent sure.
There are some things that will take further investigation when we review the game fully. For example, the movement mechanics are based on blink hotspots, in that you look at a target on screen, press the button and instantly move to that position. That removes the fun of swinging around the rooftops, but also prevents motion sickness.
We’d also like to see if there will be more to it than basic investigation, CSI stuff.
For now though, it made us leave E3 for the last time this year with a beaming smile on our faces. And that’s got to be a good thing.