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Batman: Arkham VR Demo at San Diego Comic-Con Was No Bat From Hell, But It’s Still Pretty Cool

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If you’re reading this, odds are you really wish you had been able to go to San Diego for Comic-Con. You really should have been a part of the San Diego Comic-Con 2016 fun this past weekend. As if you needed another reason why you should’ve gone, am I right? Well, here I am with one more: a demo of Batman: Arkham VR on the show floor.

The DC booth had a square of space tucked away in one of its corners with two demo stations of the game. Each station had identical walls with the logo of the game, along with plenty of signage advertising #BatmanArkhamVR. Developed by Arkham pros Rocksteady Studios, the PlayStation VR exclusive title ran, of course, on the Sony headset, complete with a custom Batman themed pair of headphones. Facing you is a tripod mounted PlayStation Camera, which provides positional tracking for the headset to translate into in-game head movement. Compared to when I tried the headset back in 2015 at E3 and Comic-Con that same year, the headset still fit and worked pretty much the same.

After adjusting the headset and headphones to my liking, the booth attendant slipped on the wrist straps of the two PlayStation Move controllers, one on each of my hands. With the Moves secured, I was directed to look to the left part of the game screen to begin the demo by pressing the Move button.

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The demo begins with you looking at a piano in a parlor area. With the entrance of Alfred, a longtime servant of the Wayne family as portrayed in the comics and movies, it quickly becomes clear that the home you’re in is Wayne Manor. After asking Bruce if this is what he is looking for, Alfred passes you a key, which you must reach towards and grab with either hand. The piano on the rostrum (a fancy word for a raised platform) has a locked cover for the keyboard, the lock of which Rocksteady went to great lengths in the demo to highlight to be of importance. Using deliberate gestures to pushing the key into the lock, turn it, and finally open the cover was satisfying. Call me what you will for saying, much too much of a basic activity for VR.

I admit, I didn’t know I had to play the piano until the attendant prompted me, and once I did, my jaw truly dropped. My memories of the animated Batman series and my short-lived attempt at catching up with the comics suddenly all hit me like a pallet of bricks–I was descending into the Batcave.

The entire platform started lowering, nearly giving me a heart attack and motion sickness in the process. Being fully able to look around you 360 degrees gave me awe-inspiring views as I descended. At one point, I was met with several stations prompting me to initiate different gestures in order to don the Batsuit and test out and equip different gadgets, tools and weapons. Not gonna lie, this part was pretty awesome, but I was a little let down by the auto-aim of the Batarangs even if my throw was completely off.

Despite that small complaint, having to physically look down and around the suit in order to get more of what you need during testing of each gadget, tool or weapon, then finally needing to consciously put it where it needs to be placed on the Batsuit was a new experience I wholeheartedly welcomed and frankly loved. However, no combat or practical use of core game mechanics against enemies or for navigation were included.

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The demo abruptly ends after you descend into a chair in front of a big complicated control console.

All in all, Batman: Arkham VR looks promising, with many of the features I highly enjoy and value in other VR games. We should, however, stay away from setting our expectations too high, since we haven’t really gotten any real taste of what combat and navigation could look like, and since the core game mechanics shown in the demo and past previews haven’t really been seen in full action with live enemies.

What do you guys think of Batman: Arkham VR? Let us know in the comments below!

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Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is a Baffling Combination of Journey and Dark Souls

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Mixing genres is a fairly common practice in video games. For some titles, the combination works well, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer‘s rhythmic dungeon crawling or Double Cross‘s use of light detective work between 2D platforming sections. Others do not fare so well, such as the out-of-place stealth sections in the Zelda-like Beyond Good and Evil, or the infamous jack-of-all-trades, master of none that Spore turned out to be. Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, unfortunately, falls into the latter category. Trying to combine the floaty exploration of Journey with the brutal combat of Dark Souls, the resulting mixture is a frustrating mess that will not please fans of either game. The first title by French independent developer Redlock Studio, this Early Access game requires a lot of work before it reaches the compelling gameplay experience it is aiming for.

The game begins with the protagonist waking up in Limbo, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. A tiny creature named Yaak takes pity on the player, suggesting that maybe the king Hypnos can help. The problem, however, is that Hypnos is the titular Forgotten King—a godlike figure, who mysteriously disappeared after creating the world. In his absence, demons have taken over the realms. On a journey to reclaim their identity, the protagonist just might be able to save the world along the way to finding the forgotten king.

The frustration begins as soon as the player gains control of the protagonist. Movement in  Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is floaty and imprecise. This annoyance might be minor in a platformer, but the inclusion of the punishing combat of a Souls-like makes it beyond frustrating. Enemy encounters are dangerous in this style of game, with the need to dodge, parry, and circle around combatants to avoid death. However, the controls simply do not have the precision needed for the task. When the game requires frame-perfect timing to parry an enemy’s attack but features a character that moves like molasses, more often than not the player will take a hit. Apart from the initial listless humanoids of Limbo, enemies are much faster and stronger than the protagonist, quickly taking down an unprepared player. The balance is so uneven that the first boss, a hulking creature with an enormous greatsword, feels like a fairer fight than the rooms full of small enemies since his attacks are slower and more clearly telegraphed. Often, the better choice is just to run past the enemies all together.

Should the player manage to defeat some enemies, they will gain essence, which is used in levelling up. Levelling up can only be done in Limbo, often requiring a fair bit of backtracking. Players can improve their vitality, stamina, strength, or mystic, but no explanation is given on what those statistics actually do. Putting one point into strength will result in the character doing one point of extra damage, but since even the smallest enemies have hundreds of health points, a lot of level ups would be required before the player would see any real benefit. 

The platforming aspect of the game fares little better. The player is given no indication of where they have to go or what they have to do, just the general imperative of finding the king. The Frontier D’Imbolt, the first real level in the game, has plains spread out in all directions, encouraging exploration. However, the map is also full of instant death; lava, spiky plants, ledges to be avoided, and, of course, aggressive enemies, making exploration much less inviting. The floaty controls cause problems here, too, with over-shooting a target platform a constant issue. This annoyance could be resolved somewhat with giving the character a shadow to see where they will land. The viewpoint will also randomly change from 3D to 2D, with no real change in gameplay. The change seems to be purely for aesthetics, which does not seem reason enough for including annoying running-towards-the-camera gameplay.

Aesthetics, in general, is a strong point for Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, with interesting character design and a muted colour palette. The enemies have a cool ghostly appearance, all transparent with hard planes. The blockiness of the world has an appealing look but sometimes presents gameplay issues, with a lack of clarity on which blocks can be stood upon and which cannot. Music is a highlight throughout the experience, soft and atmospheric throughout the levels but clashing into something harsh and unfamiliar for the boss fights.

As an Early Access title, bugs are to be expected at this stage of development, and Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has plenty to offer. Despite being set to English, Yaak would occasionally slip into French, along with tooltips and the occasional item description. The English translation in general needs some more work, with quite a few typos and some weird wording, like ‘Strenght’ in the character status screen and ‘Slained’ when defeating the boss Hob. Enemies have buggy AI, sometimes freezing in place if the player wanders slightly too far away. Some instant death obstacles seem misplaced, with death spikes jutting out of a random wall. Most devastating was the game failing to acknowledge that the boss was defeated, with the gate he was guarding refusing to open. Perhaps defeating him again would make the gate work, but few players would be inclined to do so after a tough battle. 

Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has the potential to become an interesting game but is simply not fun to play in its current state. The incompatibility of Journey and Dark Souls is the core of the game’s problem: it needs to lean more heavily on one concept or the other—make the levels more peaceful playgrounds for exploration, or tighten up the combat experience to reach that satisfying balance of hard but fair. Trying to have both leaves the game in this strange middle ground where no one is satisfied.

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