Warning: Spoilers for Batman: Arkham VR (however the latter-third has been left out)
Whether a long-term Batman fan or more recent, everyone can agree upon the incredible impact that British developers, Rocksteady Studios had on the caped crusader. The Batman Arkham Trilogy is still seen as the standard to meet for superhero games, with Arkham Asylum, in particular, being a revolution for the genre as a whole. Concluding in 2015’s Arkham Knight, Rocksteady wrapped up the trilogy in a fitting way. So, you can imagine everyone’s shock when a dark, mysterious screen faded in at Sony’s E3 2016 show, only to be encompassed by the chilling voice of Mark Hamill’s Joker. Yes, this is Arkham VR. One of the most unexpected titles to transition to the platform for numerous reasons – above all, its horror factor.
Like any die-hard fan, seeing what Rocksteady had cooked up in their first foray into VR was a tantalizing proposition. Nothing could prepare me for the terrifying realism of Gotham in full 360-degree fashion. Since holding off on a PlayStation VR unit until last Christmas, avoiding spoilers was a difficult task. Nevertheless, I managed to resist – no matter how hard YouTube’s recommendations tried. Going in blind was an exciting feeling. It was time to become the Bat.
Donning the cowl is truly an irreplaceable moment. Being lowered into the Batcave as Alfred walks you through the latest criminal activity, that connects you to the disappearance of Nightwing and Robin is pure story-telling bliss. Batarangs: check. Grappling hook: check. Forensic scanner: check. This is Batman through and through. Gotham’s villainous scum wasn’t prepared for what I had in store.
Arriving at a dingy alley, covered in blood lay Nightwing. We were too late. Using reconstructive technology, Dick’s last moments were tragically recreated. Seeing a fight of this magnitude up close is completely different to anything you experience lying back on the settee. Punches and kicks are thrown from every direction. Feeling in the way (or more likely that I will be on the end of a mighty thump), I dodge from left-to-right. It’s a hologram I remind myself. This footage won’t affect me in the slightest. In reality, the whole experience is a hologram of some sort, yet for those that have ventured into the world of VR, it’s far too easy to get lost.
After taking out a number of Penguin’s enforcers and interrogating Oswald Cobblepot face-to-face, quickly the realization sets in of how nightmarish Batman’s rogue gallery truly is. Shouting profanities in your face, while threatening your very existence, Penguin felt more real than ever. His scars, monocle, and rough demeanor prove how much detail the character bares. Thankfully, compared to a number of other enemies, Penguin felt like pilot fish.
Moving on, things start to become grimmer as our detective work leads us to a morgue. A dead body lies in front of me. While I nervously scan the corpses for clues, my breathing increases in preparation for a jump scare of some kind. Nothing transpires but the tone has changed dramatically. Living the life of the Bat may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Piecing the clues together we identify Robin’s location. A sewer. A sewer that echoes the voice of the clown prince of Gotham.
Carefully making my way through the nauseating pipes, I agonizingly turn my head to the right, peaking through an open vent, only to see a large tail of a creature pull away. “Oh, God!” I yell. All of a sudden, I’m not ready for this. I’ve not had the years of training that Bruce endured. Regardless, my love of this lore keeps pushing me until coming across the Boy Wonder confined in a cage. Grappling over, another cage captures me. Clearly a trap. Whatever The Joker has up his sleeve, I’m not sure I can take it.
Working alongside Robin, we start making our way through the electrical system in hope of freedom. Cogs for Joker’s puzzle are scattered all around, with a final one dropping into the water. Launching the grappling hook into the water to claim the final cog doesn’t go so smoothly.
Killer Croc, the 850lbs +, 9ft deformed monster lurches out of the rancid water, grabbing onto the cage. His claws barely fit through the bars, as the animal attempts to rip the bones from my body. This is more than I bargained for. I wasn’t expecting Arkham VR to bring so much trepidation. Never have I considered myself the bravest of people when it comes to horror, still I managed to muster up the courage to finish the likes of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and entries in the Resident Evil series. How tough could Batman be?
Reacting to ravenous reptile, I nervously reached for the nearest switch thus electrocuting the cage and scaring the beast off. This isn’t the end. Freeing Robin, we speak of a plan to take down the Joker, only to be interrupted by the alarmingly real re-emergence of Croc, who now is clutching Robin in his palms. I’m powerless. Before going in for the kill, Robin summons up the strength to let out the words, “Batman!”. My vision blurs, transporting me to a downward moving lift in what seems to be Arkham Asylum. What leads from here is a fearsome tour, with jump scares and mind tricks that question everything you know.
Twice I needed to take off the VR unit due to the severity of the escapade. One of these times included leaving the game until the following day to return. There was even a moment where I questioned whether completing Arkham VR was actually obtainable for me. Soldiering on was an arduous but fulfilling decision because no matter how much I was shaking in my Bat-boots, the final act peaks with several of the greatest Batman moments in all of media. When Bruce Wayne gives up the mantle of the Bat, it’s unlikely I’ll be next in line to don the cowl, though at the least I now possess some experience in the field.