Batman: Arkham VR Hands-On E3 2016 Demo Review: Emotional and Game-Changing

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(Photo: WB Games)

I genuinely don't remember the last time I felt such sheer, utter joy after playing a game. There have been some amazing videogames and some great moments over the years, even just recently. It's a blast seeing my favorite characters come to life in toys-to-life games. I have lots of fun playing the latest shooters with a group of friends, or diving into season after season of my favorite sports games. Playing a platformer or a LEGO game with my wife is always a blast, and exploring the worlds of the incredible adventure games that seem to come out once a quarter if not more frequently now often leaves me stunned.

But Batman: Arkham VR left me emotional. I wasn't stunned; I was transcendent. I felt complete joy, the kind that you can only feel when you've truly discovered something brand new. Playing Arkham VR for the first time can probably be most likened to tasting your new favorite food for the first time, or smelling a rose having only ever smelled daisies. Arkham VR was not my first ever VR experience (or even first this week), and having been a gamer since the age of six and playing as at least part of my job for the last decade, it was very, very far from being my first game ever. However, playing Arkham VR gave me that feeling: Suddenly I was six years old, and had just played Mario for the first time. I felt the joy of discovery, and it was only one of several emotions I went through during the 20 minutes or so that I got to live in the cape and cowl of the Batman.

Batman: Arkham VR also made me feel genuinely sad, and angry, and concerned. It elicited real, genuine emotions, not just driven by a brief burst of adrenaline. Seeing the whole scene, living in that world in such a real way, it was impossible not to also truly feel.

In the demo, you start in Wayne Manor. Your hands are bruised and bloodied - it's apparently been a rough week. Alfred comes to you, and provides you with a key. Turning it on the piano, you reveal the keyboard, and reach out to play. After a few key notes, it activates the lift, the floor opening beneath you and sending you down - yeah, you know where. An elaborate sequence helps you suit up, and you can explore every inch of the room, and your Batsuit. The cowl was especially remarkable, as you can lift and examine it before putting it on. You then get armed with your grappling hook, the environmental scanner and crime scene recreator, and an endless supply of batarangs, and the game teaches you how to use each one. All set and suited up, you descend further into the heart of the bat cave. There are live bats sleeping and fluttering around. The T-Rex, the Giant Penny, a Joker card - there's so much to look at, I didn't want to leave. You get a call from Alfred, and there's bad news.

Now let's just tag this with SPOILERS just in case you want to avoid them, though this is the basic premise of the story and would be revealed anyway.

As you start the "greatest detective" section, you come upon the crime scene: Dick Grayson, Nightwing, is dead. He's been beaten to death, and it looks like it was with no murder weapon. Going into this, and being a very big fan of Dick Grayson, is where I felt genuinely sad. Hearing Batman's sadness, and having it come out of "my" mouth, hurt. He couldn't believe it, that Dick was dead, and worse, that he died by losing a fight. His bewilderment was my own - who could have done this to Nightwing? After scanning the scene, the recreation of the fight began. Being able to instantly zap to different points in the crime scene area, I viewed the fight from every possible angle. He had three major injuries, and then the killing blow, a snap of his neck. Identifying these was as simple as slowly playing through the battle, viewing from other angles, and scanning at the right moments. When watching the fight with an unknown assailant beating this man - a best friend, a protegé, a brother - to death, I got angry. There are so few fighters in the DC Universe that could do this, and the precision; it's terrifying - yup, another emotion. After getting all I could from the crime scene, there was one more new clue: a witness. Scanning his hand print showed he was a known associate of the Penguin and it was time to move. The Batwing flew high above, and grabbing my grappling hook, I shot up to it, pulling myself in... and ending the demo.

When it ended, and I had the PlayStation VR headset, headphones, and Move controllers safely off, I stood there, grinning and shaking a little. I was so blown away, and so happy that such an experience could even happy, I requested (and the Rocksteady and WBIE teams complied) high fives from every person in the room. And this was all just the very beginning of this story, this game, this brand-new experience.

So high-fives to everyone at Rocksteady. High fives for "getting it" in every way: getting it about Batman, getting it about VR, getting it about creating truly new gaming experiences, getting it about delivering real emotional moments through imagination and play. If you play Batman: Arkham VR, you will believe in the promise of virtual reality. You will be the Bat, and somehow more importantly, you'll feel what he goes through, every step of the way.

Batman: Arkham VR is coming October 2016, exclusively to the PlayStation VR.