So, I was reminded of this when reading today's discussion on TW3's fighting. A lot of people dismiss the combat in the Batman games. Folks like videogamedunkey (who I do enjoy) constantly trash it and I've seen multiple hate posts dedicated to it over the years.
This really kills me because this may, in fact, be one of the the most brilliant combat systems in gaming history. Obviously, it's hard to compare it to something like Dark Souls, where the games instill two very different emotional loops on the player, but it's worth dissecting.
First of all, objectives. Batman's combat was designed to:
- look badass/look like Batman
- Test the mind and…
- … test reflexes well enough to…
- … keep players engaged for long periods.
- Fit into the larger game while working in isolation.
So, how did the game do? I'd say it succeeded on every level and then some. It has its cake and eats it. Let's talk about how and why.
First of all, there's the simplicity. Batman's combat is easy to pick up but difficult to master. Your basic attack, counter, stun, and vault moves are easy to learn and not very interesting on their own but when you first start playing… hey, I look cool! Batman fights how he should! For the first bit of Asylum, anyhow.
Remember when Arkham Asylum came out? This was a huge departure from previous games. Superhero and hand-to-hand titles often had unwieldy controls with overcomplicated combos to memorize. Batman simply combines simple moves with animation variety and- most importantly- enemy variety.
As you're introduced to new enemy types, the game increases in difficulty. For the most part, it's not a massive challenge but it prevents boredom. These new enemies aren't much on their own but when interesting combinations are thrown together, each arena is elevated. Over the course of three games, Rocksteady managed to add to this roster in really interesting ways. Around the endgame of Arkham Knight, where a dozen different types of enemies may get thrown at you at once, shit gets pretty tough. It ain't Dark Souls but you will get hit.
What people seem to overlook about this is the very DMC approach to engagement the series takes. If you do not care or you are new to action games, you can play in a simple way. Counter, counter, counter. You don't actually do damage when you counter (dunkey!), so you won't win a fight this way but you'll still look cool and kids will feel like Batman. BUT if you care at all, you can put the work in and focus on combo strings, special moves, gadgets, variation, and perfection. This is where the combat challenge maps come in and why the game's fighting works on multiple levels:
If you just wanna have a good time and feel like Batman, you can. But if you want to challenge yourself and take a more "hardcore" approach, you can.
This is why I reject the dismissive claims that Batman's combat is just "hitting counter until you win." First of all, you actually can't. Second, why would you if you could?
By keeping the core mechanics simple, the game manages to produce a well-choreographed look yet still maintain a strategic element in its many enemy types. Before Batman, this was very rare, hence why games like Spider-Man and Ghost of Tsushima are compared to Batman (even if the similarities are only skin-deep). That counter move that everyone hates is just there to keep your combo flowing. It lets you play offense and defense in conjunction. You might be able to survive encounters with minimal effort at first but you'll be a very long way from actually "feeling like Batman" until you put the practice in. Plus, y'know it isn't that long before most enemy attacks can't be countered anyway.
I understand that some will always prefer a hitscan system no matter what and for games by From Software and the like, that's fine. But this is Batman. The hand-to-hand fighting is only one component in a series that went on to deliver exemplary stealth mechanics, metroidvania dungeons, and puzzle-solving as well. How many games out there legitimately succeed at all of these things simultaneously while also changing the gaming landscape for years to come?
So that's my defense. There's more to it, such as breaking down the awesome challenge maps and the New Game + difficulty that removes counter icons but I just wanted to rant for a bit and that bit ends here.
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