By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Sony’s PlayStation VR bundle is now available and if some people are still in the fence about it, they can try it out at special events like Fan Expo Vancouver. This 2016 show had Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment exhibiting LEGO Dimensions and demonstrating Batman: Arkham VR (now available on Amazon) on the PS4 Pro and the experience has me believing the hardware is very capable. I was told this updated system is not absolutely necessary in order to become the crime-fighting detective, but it does help with the frame rates and rendering for those players wanting to go by the numbers.
The headwear certainly can use some fine-tuning for people like myself wearing eyeglasses. It is certainly comfortable with or without (I tried both methods on two different demos of the game) and I experienced minor fogging on the lens. If the addition of micro-fans or vents can be put in version two of the hardware, this problem can easily be solved.
The feeling of being immersed in the digital environment is almost there; the fact the view does not fully fill the peripheral (i.e. I can see the edges of where the screen ends) shows virtual environments are not that all-encompassing. Part of the fact has to deal with the psychological aspects of distinguishing between real space and imagined space. If the eye detects an object at the edge of perception, the body will be inclined to react.
The use of Sony’s old tech, the Move controller does detract from getting a “true virtual” experience. Gamers are well aware of the limitations of using these sticks or a controller, and ultimately the developers have to keep in mind what types of games are best suited for these interfaces. The future of VR lays in creating bio-feedback gloves for gamers to wear to get the sense they are pointing to or am holding an object. Even with the Move controllers, there are some issues that the software has to recognize when they fall out of range of the stereoscopic camera tracking the motion. At least the sticks work very well to create the illusion of holding Batman’s grapple gun and forensic scanner. Throwing his Batarang around requires suspending disbelief. With gloves, you can believe what you are holding is that type of object. With a cylindrical baton, the imagination can only be stretched so far.
Sony’s camera detects where the illuminated ball on the Move is. In-game, the motion is replicated to have the scanner look at Nightwing and you (as Batman) are trying to figure out how he suffered from his wounds. I will not give complete spoilers, but yes — Dick Grayson got badly injured. To move around, the player points to areas highlighted by the Bat Signal and clicks on it to have the game jump there. Instead of walking or running all the time, the play moves like navigating a web page. The hotspots show where you can go. There will be some instances where you are flying, like when it’s time to escape via the grappling hook and that’s when this game shines.
Instead of walking or running all the time, the play moves like navigating a web page. The hotspots show where you can go. There will be some instances where you are flying, like when it’s time to escape via the grappling hook and that’s when this game shines.
In a special demo offered to press, you get to put on Batman’s costume. This feeling had me grinning throughout, as I slipped on the gloves, the suit and cowl. Oh the euphoria! To examine each part of my suit and look at my equipment up close was very intoxicating. I saw the gleam of the edge of the Batarang and though throwing it (when I’m handling a stick) felt weird, that’s when I wished VR was in its next generation of development. Right now, I feel the technology of replicating the grasp of objects as it should be represented needs to be worked on. Motion controllers or gloves can only do so much. Certain types of games should not be made until the tech is there to replicate the feel of pressing on a surface or holding a fork. In this list must include roll cages to simulate moving around in an environment instead of just standing there. This interface does exist, but it is expensive and organizations, like the military, who can invest in true VR can send their test subjects to dangerous in the field situations.
That said, in what virtual reality games can offer to the public, Batman: Arkham VR fits in a special niche. Players can become the Dark Knight! The virtual environment is immaculately rendered and I loved lounging about in Wayne Manor with Alfred by my side. I had to answer the phone and find the key to open the piano cover. Playing the musical instrument was a bit odd since I had to keep holding the two Move controllers, but I got used to it. The audio surround environment is limited to a stereophonic range, and I can only imagine how the game can sound when Dolby DTS Headphone X gets integrated into more games. With this sound technology to immersive players in, I can only imagine where VR can go. I can not wait to see if I can fly like Superman.