If Batman Arkham Shadow didn't have that classic Arkham combat feel, it ‘wasn’t worth pursuing’

Official artwork for Batman Arkham Shadow
(Image credit: Camouflaj)

To say Batman Arkham Asylum practically invented the modern third-person brawler genre is an understatement. The game has been as influential for combat in games as Dark Souls, with an endless stream of reviews regularly comparing a new game's combat to Asylum's greatness. Because of this, the development team at Camouflaj knew they had their work cut out for them to successfully translate the feeling into VR.

When Batman Arkham Shadow launches exclusively on the Meta Quest 3 later this year, Camouflaj's founder and studio director, Ryan Payton, told me he expects fans to be thrilled with what the team has built over the past four years. "Given our excitement level and our commitment to this franchise, we felt like the best thing we could do is to ensure that the game is as authentic as possible, and we make the best darn Arkham game we possibly can."

But this isn't just another 3rd-person brawler that you'll be playing from the couch. It's a new paradigm that lets you become The Batman in a way that's never been done before in gaming. "We wanted to take what is actually beautiful and special about VR and deliver an experience that they wouldn't get in a flat-screen game."

Some fans initially reacted poorly to the VR-only announcement but Payton and team are hoping they keep an open mind to something new after a solid decade of similar games. Core mechanics have to remain familiar enough for it to feel like a part of the series, though, and that's where we begin with our interview with Camouflaj.

Thwack, bang, pow!

"From the very beginning of the project, we knew that translating that classic, iconic rhythm-based Arkham combat into VR — so it felt like it was native to the platform, leveraged all the strengths of VR, but still felt like not only an Arkham game, but it felt like an evolution of the Arkham game was — continues to be the greatest challenge of this project."

When I heard this from Payton's mouth, my shoulders dropped a bit. Previously, I had been tense with excitement and anxiety, both looking forward to hearing more about the new VR entry's gameplay and worried that I'd learn it was a collection of mini-games instead of a full-fledged Arkham game. After all, the previous Batman Arkham VR released on Steam and PSVR back in 2017 was barely more than a tech demo.

I should have known better after Iron Man VR, though, which remains one of the best Meta Quest games available today even though it was originally a PlayStation VR release. That game was largely centered around the unique locomotion required to make you feel like Iron Man, using each of your hands as rocket thrusters to jet around the game's scenic locales.

But Batman Arkham games don't focus on traversal nearly as much as they revolve around intense combat situations.

A still captured from the official story reveal trailer of Batman Arkham Shadow

(Image credit: Camouflaj)

"If we couldn't prove that we could deliver on the combat then this game wasn't worth pursuing."

"We tackled the most difficult thing from the very beginning. If we couldn't prove that we could deliver on the combat then this game wasn't worth pursuing. When we pitched the game to Warner Brothers and our partners at DC, we had to prove to them that we had an execution plan in place for combat."

It's worth noting that Arkham Shadow wouldn't exist if it weren't for the passion of the team at Camouflaj. That passion is what gives me hope that this is the Arkham game we've waited a decade for and I find this to be a far more exciting announcement than yet another 3rd-person brawler in the same vein as the previous half-dozen Arkham titles.

Playing SUPERHOT VR on a Meta Quest

Imagine this kind of slow-motion action, just with Batman, and much grittier. (Image credit: 99TH VR)

"Core Arkham combat entails the sense of feeling that you are doing crowd control," says Ryan Darcy, one of the design directors on the title. It's internally referred to as "spinning plate gameplay" since you, as Batman, will constantly have to counter enemies while fighting off others at the same time. Enemies wouldn't take turns trying to kill The Batman if he were a real life person, so why should this happen in a video game where you're supposed to embody him?

"We looked at the Arkham franchise and we also looked at other games in the VR space for inspiration, including Beat Saber for some of the rhythm and also Superhot VR for some of its time dilation."

Payton described Arkham Shadow's combat as a "flow state" that you enter, something that made a lot of sense as we delved further into how it works.

"We looked at the Arkham franchise and we also looked at other games in the VR space for inspiration, including Beat Saber for some of the rhythm and also Superhot VR for some of its time dilation to help make combat feel really intentional in terms of what you're doing as a player."

If you've ever played Superhot VR, you'll understand how incredible it feels to dispatch enemies in slow motion as if you're a Hollywood action hero. It's these nuances of combat-focused gameplay that will make Arkham Shadow feel so special and, yet, still familiar to fans of the series.

"We've been experimenting and iterating on this combat over the past four years to ensure that this is a really fantastic interpretation of the Arkham combat that is, in a lot of ways, the driving force of this game like it is with other Arkham games."

A new story to tell

A still captured from the official story reveal trailer of Batman Arkham Shadow

(Image credit: Camouflaj)

Arkham Shadow takes place squarely between the events in Arkham Origin and Arkham Asylum during "a particularly dark time in the Dark Knight's life." That's certainly saying a lot given the hero's origins story.

In Arkham Shadow, the city is being overrun with rats who carry a pestilence that drives people insane, causing them to wreak havoc in ways they might never normally consider. This particular ploy is a bit different from The Ratcatcher's normal poisonous gasses, though, and that's because he's not the one in charge.

Rather, The Rat King is pulling the strings behind the scenes, creating a world that challenge's Batman's ethos as a super hero. Batman isn't about killing and certainly would never intentionally harm ordinary citizens, but The Rat King's wily ways are forcing Batman to make difficult choices.

A still captured from the official story reveal trailer of Batman Arkham Shadow

(Image credit: Camouflaj)

"If it's got an Arkham title on the box, it needs to have all the key elements, including not just combat or investigation, cinematics and boss battles, but that that core fluid locomotion."

Payton says that this duo of bad guys was formulated in tandem with Warner Bros and DC Comics, ensuring that the game not only feels like a mainline Arkham story but also fits right in with the comics.

Batman's voice remains in the good hands (or vocal cords) of Roger Craig Smith, and even Arkham Veterans like head designer Bill Green are on board. "Bill Green developed the Arkham games up to Arkham Knight and is a project lead on Arkham VR. We feel confident that this is an authentic new entry into the Arkham franchise" because of Bill's presence on the team.

Complete with that is what the studio prides itself in: crafting games that "really put players into the body and mind of these iconic comic book characters."

"If it's got an Arkham title on the box, it needs to have all the key elements, including not just combat or investigation, cinematics and boss battles, but that that core fluid locomotion. The Rocksteady team did such a great job with with those with those titles, so that ability to run, slide, mantle up, and, most importantly, use the grapple gun to get into positions of power, such as onto the vantage points that you have in predator encounters, be able to zip onto the tops of buildings and things like that."

Official artwork for Batman Arkham Shadow

(Image credit: Camouflaj)

Arkham shadow is designed to be more comfortable than the studio's previous title, Iron Man VR.

Locomotion is a tricky subject in VR because of the medium's propensity to induce motion sickness if all the factors aren't lined up just right, but Payton told me that Arkham Shadow is less intense than the studio's previous title, Iron Man VR.

"Arkham Shadow is more friendly for a wider breadth of users, but we also don't have teleportation locomotion options in part because it would break the combat paradigm. We need players who will stay in a place for slow-mo combat. But we've learned so much about comfort in VR, not just as Camouflaj the organization but as an industry as a whole."

What that means is that while Camouflaj has been careful to craft a set of gameplay mechanics that feels naturally Batman, players shouldn't need to worry about how it's going to feel when they grab Batman's cape and glide down to street level to take out some thugs.

A still captured from the official story reveal trailer of Batman Arkham Shadow

(Image credit: Camouflaj)

Fans won't be dissatisfied with Batman's gadgets in Arkham Shadow. In fact, you start the game with the grappling hook, a testament to the verticality of the design.

A lot of this has to do with Batman's trademark gadgets, and the team ensures me that fans won't be dissatisfied with their implementation in Arkham Shadow.

"Even in the initial prototypes we were looking at core gadgets like the grapple gun, which you have from the very beginning of the game, as well as the Batarang and how that factors into the core gameplay and puzzles. We don't want to reveal too many gadgets for now because it's fun to unlock them over the course of the campaign, but we can reveal that Arkham Asylum's explosive gel will be in this game."

Fans will recall that Batman draws a nice little Bat Signal in gel on any wall that can be exploded, and this gel could also be used as a trap for any bad guys walking by. Thankfully, the team seems to be focusing on Asylum as the inspiration for much of the game, as many mechanics in the original game remain the best in the series.

Official artwork for Batman Arkham Shadow

(Image credit: Camouflaj)

Many of the game's core mechanics were designed to keep players feeling like they were Batman while taking innate human laziness into account.

Arkham Shadow's early explosive gel prototypes had players drawing the Bat Signal on a wall but that proved to be less fun than initially thought. Payton told me that he found himself "really quickly drawing just a little bit of gel onto a wall, just enough to make the gadget work" so that he could move forward.

This inherent laziness goes against Batman's character and Payton noted that "I really didn't feel like I was Batman at that point." The team ended up turning the explosive gel into a projectile that forms the Bat Signal on the wall, instead, ensuring one of the series' trademark gadgets doesn't get ruined by human laziness.

Likewise, the team built a world that looks and feels a lot more like Asylum than it does City or Knight because they wanted players to enjoy a robust and focused main campaign.

"We have littered the world with collectables just like you'd find in any of the Arkham titles, but we're building the game in a way that the puzzles and collectables don't get in the way of the main campaign. Players who are seeking puzzles will need to go off the beaten path to find them so as not to distract from the dark chapter in Batman's life by offering shiny puzzles along the way."

A still captured from the official story reveal trailer of Batman Arkham Shadow

(Image credit: Camouflaj)

Arkham Shadow is designed to be the length of Arkham Asylum, including lots of collectables hidden around the world for completionists.

But this doesn't mean that Arkham Shadow is a linear game. Far from it, in fact. Camouflaj is aiming for Shadow to be the length of Asylum, give or take an hour or two. "This is going to be the longest game Camouflaj has ever made," building upon the roughly 10-hour campaign in Iron Man VR and making room for all those collectables for completionists.

It's also not a game where you'll just be going from room to room or enclosed in a small space, as some have feared from this being on a standalone VR console.

"Verticality is a big part of Arkham Shadow but not quite as big as you might expect in Arkham Knight, for example. You can zip onto tops of vantage point and Predator encounters, or the top of some buildings within Gotham City, get into a position of power, and then to glide kick down to an enemy and then get into a big brawl with various enemies that would be placed throughout the world. Is very much part of the core gameplay loop."

Official artwork for Batman Arkham Shadow

(Image credit: Camouflaj)

"Arkham Asylum, with its Metroidvania-like structure, is our main source of inspiration for how exploration is going to work."

That's music to my ears, as I often get too distracted in open world games that don't do a good job of keeping players engaged and focused on the main campaign.

"We decided to actually go and look at the first entry in the franchise, Arkham Asylum as our main source of inspiration for how exploration is going to work. So if you remember from that game, it's not a linear game by any stretch, right? There's a bit of a Metroidvania inspired flow and structure to it. [Arkham Shadow] has a lot of freedom in the structure that we've created, so it feels open. It feels like you have a lot of player autonomy, even if it's not a fully open world game."

Notably, the game's Quest 3 exclusivity will keep its player base fairly limited for the time being. Meta sold over one million Quest 3's last Holiday season after its initial successful October launch and has likely sold many more in the six months since then. As a first-party Oculus Studios developer, Camouflaj is mainly focused on building the biggest and best game they can to beef up the Quest library.

A still captured from the official story reveal trailer of Batman Arkham Shadow

(Image credit: Camouflaj)

"We knew that we were going to be pushing the limits of the hardware, given how big of environments we want to create, and also that we wanted to hit the visual quality we believe Arkham fans are going to expect."

"The ambitions for Batman Arkham Shadow have been really high since the very beginning. We knew that we were going to be pushing the limits of the hardware, given how big of environments we want to create, and also that we wanted to hit the visual quality we believe Arkham fans are going to expect, given just how beautiful all the previous Arkham games are. We knew early on what the specs for the Quest 3 were and were thrilled to be able to develop an exclusive game for such powerful hardware."

While we've yet to see gameplay footage of the title, it won't be long until we see the first visual confirmation of what we've covered here. Batman Arkham Shadow's gameplay debut is expected at Gamescom in August and, as an Arkham fan myself, I couldn't be more excited to see how Batman's real VR debut is going to take off when the game launches later this year.


Nicholas Sutrich
Senior Content Producer — Smartphones & VR
Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu