Back in 2016, Rocksteady Studios released one final playable addendum to their trilogy of Batman Arkham games in the form of Batman: Arkham VR. Originally released as a PlayStation VR exclusive, Arkham VR was set just before the events of Arkham Knight and told a brief but gripping tale about Bruce Wayne’s mindset before the events of the long Halloween night to come. Nearly four years later, Camouflaj launched their own PSVR exclusive focused on one of Marvel’s beloved heroes, Iron Man, with a standalone story centered on Tony Stark’s attempt to escape his dark past after a new threat emerges. While the two games may not be seen as direct competitors outside of those who strongly prefer DC or Marvel, the ways in which each game attempts to encapsulate the experience of playing as their titular hero are truly unique and worth exploring in-depth now that both games are available in their entirety.
Both games take advantage of the opportunity of playing as the public-facing persona of each character and allow you to explore the lavish buildings that they call home. As Bruce Wayne, players are given far more opportunities for interacting with their environment before they ever put on the cowl, including discovering various postcards from Catwoman, listening to voicemails that better contextualize the story to come,and maneuvering a large-scale diorama of Gotham City. Once players do finally play the piano to enter the Batcave, Rocksteady continues to pack on the Easter eggs and references, both to past games in the series and the caped crusader’s long history across comics and other mediums. Meanwhile, Tony Stark’s mansion does a solid job of setting the table for the story to come, but features far fewer opportunities to interact with the environment except for when the game explicitly tells you to. Outside of providing players with an up-close and personal view of the living areas and high-tech workshop, these sequences in-between the core gameplay feel far more like filler when it becomes clear that there’s little to do outside of hopping between each teleportation spot until the next story beat happens.
Without diving into spoilers for either Batman: Arkham VR or Iron Man VR, the former benefits greatly from having a plot that not only works as a standalone effort but adds depth to the events still to come in Rocksteady’s Batman trilogy. Through the usage of some clever tactics that would be much less impactful outside of virtual reality, Batman: Arkham VR not only embraces its platform but takes the player on a journey through Bruce Wayne’s psyche, all the while building up to a memorable final sequence. Iron Man VR’s opening hours show the potential for a similarly effective tale, as Stark wrestles with not only his past actions, but also his past ideals, allowing them to remain a key factor in his decision making when it feels convenient. But the later stages of the plot grow increasingly predictable and the core gameplay of flying around and shooting drones serves as welcome respites from the familiar Iron Man tale that has been told more effectively in other mediums.
The aforementioned stories are told across drastically different lengths of time, as Batman: Arkham VR typically takes around two hours to complete, while Iron Man VR can run upwards of eight hours. Both of these also offer opportunities for replayability, through hidden Riddler challenges and more difficult combat challenges that make both titles seem worth their respective price points. Rocksteady’s key focus on progressing the story through the gameplay makes most of the sequences feel relevant and engaging, allowing for a more fulfilling experience even at its shorter length. Unfortunately, Iron Man VR struggles to capture a similar balance, as the momentum is consistently slowed down by lengthy tutorials and the story and combat sequences are largely sectioned off from one another with the plot loosely holding them together. Although both VR titles offer unique experiences that are sure to please their respective fanbases, Batman: Arkham VR’s smooth integration of story and gameplay is far more effective at immersing the player in its world, leaving Iron Man VR with room for improvement if Camouflaj plans on continuing their journey with the Armored Avenger.