Arkham City Part 2: The Dark Fight Returns

By Shamus
on Feb 2, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

Since Batman is a gameplay-focused game, we should probably talk about the gameplay first.

I’ve heard the game dismissed as “Bah, it’s just a buncha quicktime events”. This isn’t true at all, but I can understand how people arrive at this conclusion. There is something wrong with the way the Arkham games present combat, it’s just that the complaint of “quicktime event” is misidentifying the problem.

I wasn’t particularly impressed with Arkham Asylum during my first play-through. It struck me as a bit of a shallow power fantasy: Just mash the attack button until all the dudes fall over. It wasn’t until a later playthrough that I discovered the depth that made fights an engaging challenge rather than simple cheap gratification.

How it works is this…

Bat Beatings!

The blue lines indicate the foe is attacking and you need to counter or dodge away to avoid getting bopped.

The blue lines indicate the foe is attacking and you need to counter or dodge away to avoid getting bopped.

The typical brawl pits Batman against a group of foes. Every time Batman hits someone, the combo meter fills. The higher the meter, the faster Batman will strike and the further he can leap as he moves from foe to foe. If Batman gets hit, whiffs an attack, moves around without attacking, or stops fighting and stands still like an idiot, the combo ends. So in order to keep the flow going, you need to continually land punches without taking damage.

When the combo is high enough, you can activate a special move that can instantly take one foe out of the fight, knock a bunch of guys down to give you some breathing room, or permanently destroy a weapon. This doesn’t end the combo, mind you. Your goal is to keep that thing going for the whole fight, unleashing your special moves at regular intervals to end the fight as efficiently as possible.

When someone is about to punch Batman, an alert appears around them. At this point you can press the counter button to have Batman automatically counter the attack. This is the part where people accuse it of being “a quicktime event”. They apparently think the goal is to just mash the counter button and not die. And yeah, if you reduce the outcome of every encounter to survived / died then the game will seem shallow. But that’s like scoring golf by counting how many holes you played. Getting through it is a forgone conclusion. It’s all about how efficiently you did it.

Yes, you can get away with button-mashing and counterpunching in the early stages of the game. But this means the combo meter never gets anywhere, and fights take much longer than they should. Moreover, once you get a little ways into the game this strategy(?) will collapse because you’ll be dealing with a variety of foes that aren’t susceptible to counterpunching.

Bat-Brawl

The guys on the right are facing the wrong way because Batman just jumped halfway across the room to elbow this guy on the nose.

The guys on the right are facing the wrong way because Batman just jumped halfway across the room to elbow this guy on the nose.

So your goal is to keep the combo meter climbing. When a combo is getting started, Batman doesn’t have a lot of momentum. You can press <direction>+attack to punch a dude directly beside you, but if you try to hit the guy three meters away then Batman will whiff because he doesn’t have enough momentum to close that distance. As the combo climbs, Batman’s “reach” will increase. He will be able to leap a few feet to strike someone far away. Get the meter high enough, and Batman basically becomes a projectile, Bat-flipping all over the battlefield and bouncing from foe to foe like a pinball.

One of the key skills you need in a fight is to take advantage of this ever-increasing reach. Bad guys are always trying to swarm you, and if you stand in one place for too long you’ll get boxed in. Either you’ll miss a counter, you’ll get pelted with thrown weapons from the ranged guys on the edge of the battlefield, or you’ll get swarmed and pinned by guys that can’t be countered.

So what you want to do is keep the crowd loose by never standing in one place for too long. As you zip around the room, you have to keep updating your mental map of where your foes are, tracking all those guys standing just off-screen. Sure, you can stand still and counterpunch, but if someone is trying to hit you it’s much better to simply leap at a foe on the other side of the room and let the attacking mook swing at empty air. This keeps you in control of the battle instead of them trapping you into a cycle of holding still and reacting. As a bonus, when you’re playing this way you’ll find yourself behaving (and possibly feeling) like the Batman himself.

The takedown moves don`t look too harsh from this angle, but at the end of the fight you get a slow-motion shot of the finishing blow and it becomes clear that while Batman doesn`t kill, he`s more than willing to put a dude in a wheelchair.

The takedown moves don`t look too harsh from this angle, but at the end of the fight you get a slow-motion shot of the finishing blow and it becomes clear that while Batman doesn`t kill, he`s more than willing to put a dude in a wheelchair.

One of the things I like about the game is how much time and effort was put into making all of this bone-crunching combat look plausible. Your typical brawler might have you swinging swords through the bad guys while they loop through generic pain animations, but in the Arkham series the enemies are just as carefully animated as the protagonist. Batman can do grabs, throws, arm-locks, kicks, stomps, and other moves that require both Batman and his victim to be animated together. What you end up with is a brawl that looks passably like a choreographed fight scene in a movie. Even fighting games don’t really nail that sense of contact and momentum.

You’ve heard of the traveling salesman problem? It’s a classic algorithmic challenge for computer science nerds. In it, you’ll be presented with a random map of N cities and your goal is to write a program that will find the shortest possible route that will visit all of them. It turns out that the problem takes dramatically longer to solve as N increases.

Batman fights present an inverted version of this: Which foe is furthest away from where I’m standing right now, yet still within my attack radius at my current speedThis is really important on hard difficulty when the counter window is small and guys constantly swarm you. You need to keep moving to prevent being mobbed.? Only in this version, the points on your map are constantly moving around. As the camera orbits the fight, you need to keep track of all the guys so you know where to leap next.

Meet The Mooks

Left-to-right: A mook in body armor, a mook with a melee weapon that increases his attack range, and a naughty bastard with a gun.

Left-to-right: A mook in body armor, a mook with a melee weapon that increases his attack range, and a naughty bastard with a gun.

As good as these fights look, the game would get kind of boring if you just fought endless waves of the same mooks over and over. So the game gives you a variety of foes, each of which add something new to the fight.

Throwers: Technically, any random mook can become a thrower. They just run off to one side and grab some bit of debris like a crate or a fire extinguisher. They hold it over their head for a few seconds, shout a taunt to telegraph the throw to the player, and then chuck the object at Batman. You can press the counter button to catch the object and whip it back at them, but the window of opportunity for that is pretty tight. If you see a guy getting ready to throw and you can’t deal with him at the moment (maybe you’re swarmed, or he’s too far away to reach right now) you can fling a batarang at him to make him drop the object for the moment.

Knife guys: You can’t counter these guys like regular mooks. Instead, you have to back away while countering to make Batman dodge the attacksThere’s an upgrade late in the game that lets you automatically take out a knife guy if you get the counter timing just right. Once you master that, it becomes an asset to have lots of knives on the field, and knives move way down the threat list..

Armored guys: These mooks are wearing body armor. If you attack them directly, it just breaks your combo, so you can’t mindlessly spam the attack button. If you want to attack these guys directly, you “stun” them. Batman whips his cape in their face and disorients them, leaving them open to rapid-fire punchesThe game justifies this by saying that once they’re stunned, Batman can strike at the joints in their armor.. The downside is that this flurry of punches requires you to hold still for several seconds, which can result in you getting swarmedAlthough it’s a good way to quickly raise the combo meter if you can get away with it..

Guns: This game will make you think like the Batman. Specifically, it will make you HATE guns. Seriously. Guns suck. Guys with guns are tremendously dangerous. If you get shot you will lose your combo, slow down, and take serious damage. This is bad because gun guys tend to stand way back from the fight, and you’ll have a hard time closing the distance if your combo is broken. The key is to take them out as soon as possible and work to prevent anyone else from picking the gun up off the ground.

These guys were formerly conjoined twins. If you can`t guess from the hammer and sickle thing they have going on, these guys speak with cartoon Russian accents. The one on the left is the requisite appearance of voice performer Steve Blum.

These guys were formerly conjoined twins. If you can`t guess from the hammer and sickle thing they have going on, these guys speak with cartoon Russian accents. The one on the left is the requisite appearance of voice performer Steve Blum.

Abramovici Twins: These two guys are unique to Arkham City. It can take some time to learn all of their tricks, since they only appear at specific points in the storyAnd in the challenge maps DLC.. You never face both of them at onceTheir backstory explains that they parted ways. One signed on with Joker, and the other with Penguin. and they work pretty much identically. They have a ton of hitpoints, a slow attack, and a ridiculous reach. If you’re in a gambling mood, they provide a great way to quickly build up the combo meter. You can jump in, hit them with a flurry of punches, and then leap away before they clobber you. It’s a game of brinkmanship.

Shield guys: They can’t be attacked from the front because they have a shield. Their shield-bash can’t be countered at all, not even by retreating like you do with knife guys. Your only option is to move out of their attack range as soon as possible. When you’re ready to deal with them, you stun them with your cape and then jump on their head. This knocks them down and makes them drop the shieldAlthough another mook can easily pick it up a few seconds later. This is one of those cases where it might be good to use the “destroy an enemy weapon” special attack, to remove the shield from the fight for good..

Stun batons: Like knife guys, you can’t counter these attacks. Unlike knives, you can’t even punch these guys in the face. You need to jump over them and hit them from behind.
Having one of these guys in a fight is like eating a handful of jellybeans and one jellybean-sized rock. You have to watch what you’re doing or you’ll hurt yourself.

A mook who has been exposed to the TITAN formula. The fact that these guys are still alive in Arkham City is a couple of different plot holes, but I guess we can`t let little details like story get in the way of our brawling mechanics. In Arkham Knight these guys were replaced by mooks who are simply tall and armored, and it was a pretty nice improvement.

A mook who has been exposed to the TITAN formula. The fact that these guys are still alive in Arkham City is a couple of different plot holes, but I guess we can`t let little details like story get in the way of our brawling mechanics. In Arkham Knight these guys were replaced by mooks who are simply tall and armored, and it was a pretty nice improvement.

Titans: Sigh. They’re big monster guys. I’m sure you can guess how they work just by looking at them: Wait for them to charge, then dodge out of the way. You don’t want to get near them until you’re ready to engage, which gives you another thing to think about when executing your attacks. They’re mechanically interesting, if a bit silly.

So yeah. Varied foes. Many different attack patterns. Numerous tools for dealing with them. A variety of ever-changing battlefields and group compositions. You need to prioritize foes, keep the combo meter climbing, and avoid being swarmed.

I can understand if people don’t like the game. It’s certainly a bit of an odd duck among brawlers and there are many annoying thingsI’m pretty sure Joker is in charge of the camera. that can hinder your enjoyment. But whatever their faults, the Arkham games are not “quicktime events” and they are not “mindless button-mashers”. Then again, I think I get why people come to this conclusion. Because the Arkham games don’t force you to engage with their mechanics. They allow you to play the game poorly.

The Problem With Batman

The popup is even less informative than it seems in this shot. This message vanishes, then you get another scoring your move variety. Then that vanishes and it gives you points for gadget variety. You have to stop playing and watch the numbers for several seconds, and you never get a summary of your total performance.

The popup is even less informative than it seems in this shot. This message vanishes, then you get another scoring your move variety. Then that vanishes and it gives you points for gadget variety. You have to stop playing and watch the numbers for several seconds, and you never get a summary of your total performance.

Some people complain that the game is “too easy”, because the game doesn’t make a point of killing you for making mistakes. But the problem isn’t how “easy” it is, but how poor the feedback is.

Golf is considered a pretty hard game, even though anyone capable of walking and holding a club can eventually finish a round of golf. The Arkham games are like a golf course where there’s no par listed for any of the holes. “It took me 23 strokes to finish this hole. Is that good? I mean, I finished the hole and I didn’t die in any of the three sand traps I fell into, so I’m just going to assume I’m an amazing golfer. Man, this game is easy!”

In Batman your goal isn’t merely survival, but to overcome an encounter with a flawless execution of strategy, reflexes, and pattern recognition. The problem is that the game does very little to draw attention to the combo meter, and the post-fight result is so understated it may as well not exist. After a fight your performance is rated in the upper-left of the screen and you’re rewarded with more XP for better performance. But the pop-up is small, not particularly informative, and you have to parse the numbers if you want to see how you did. And even if you take the time to stop and read those fussy numbers, there’s nothing to give you a sense of “par”. If you’re mindlessly hammering the attack button and fighting like a goon, you might simply assume you’re having the expected experience. After all, your health never got below 50%. In some games that would qualify as amazing.

I think this is the biggest mistake the game makes with regard to the brawling mechanics. I think it’s actually the great sin of the series. Poor performance – one where Batman takes a lot of damage or struggles to fill the combo meter – should give the player some sort of feedback to indicate they could be doing better. I don’t mind that the game allows you to win while still playing poorly, but the game should at least let you know you’re playing poorly. As it stands, it’ possible to overlook the most interesting challenge the game has to offer.

Here is a post-fight ranking in the challenge rooms. It would really help if some of this feedback was integrated into the main game.

Here is a post-fight ranking in the challenge rooms. It would really help if some of this feedback was integrated into the main game.

We don’t need a huge popup to appear and break the flow. It doesn’t need to be big or showy. We just need a basic answer to the simple question, “How did I do?”

Perhaps something like the rankings you see in (say) Bayonetta would help players understand how they’re doing. The game actually has a bronze / silver / gold medal ranking system that’s used in the out-of-game challenge rooms. They could just import that to the fights in the story parts of the game. Something. Anything. The player just needs a point of reference. If a simple grade appeared beside the XP reward and was accompanied by an appropriately muted or triumphant sound, it might entice more players to strive for the higher ranks. Players looking for shallow empowerment could ignore the grades and button-mash their way to inevitable victory, and players looking for a real challenge could work on pushing those grades as high as they can go.

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Footnotes:

[1] This is really important on hard difficulty when the counter window is small and guys constantly swarm you. You need to keep moving to prevent being mobbed.

[2] There’s an upgrade late in the game that lets you automatically take out a knife guy if you get the counter timing just right. Once you master that, it becomes an asset to have lots of knives on the field, and knives move way down the threat list.

[3] The game justifies this by saying that once they’re stunned, Batman can strike at the joints in their armor.

[4] Although it’s a good way to quickly raise the combo meter if you can get away with it.

[5] And in the challenge maps DLC.

[6] Their backstory explains that they parted ways. One signed on with Joker, and the other with Penguin.

[7] Although another mook can easily pick it up a few seconds later. This is one of those cases where it might be good to use the “destroy an enemy weapon” special attack, to remove the shield from the fight for good.

[8] I’m pretty sure Joker is in charge of the camera.


2020202014There are now 94 comments. Almost a hundred!

From the Archives:

  1. Jokerman says:

    That first caption reads “to avoid betting bopped”

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    And this is why Im sad that you decided to focus only on one.Because while the core of the combat is the same in all of them,there are a bunch of differences that dramatically change how it flows.Most notably,the change to counters from asylum to city that made the game more enjoyable to some,and less enjoyable to others.

    As for the feedback,I think there is a bonus if you execute an unbroken combo during the whole fight,which is the best performance.And again,this too differs between games,because later ones also give bonus for varied combat.Meaning that you get a better score if you use all of your gadgets and not just your fists.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    And yeah,the combat in arkham games is not qte,its a rhythm game.Its more akin to rock band where the music is the combination of the sound of batmans fist connecting with the mooks face,breaking of bones and the screams of frightened criminals.

  4. PatPatrick says:

    Personally, I love the battle system in Batman Arkham Series. How it looks, how it feels, a thrill when you are catching the flow and finishing combat with a perfect score. I still wonder, how something like this could be done with such overwhelming quality in out notorious gamedev reality.

  5. Zekiel says:

    Its interesting that I never saw the lack of meaningful feedback in combat as a flaw (even though I can’t argue with anything you say about it). I guess I’d say you can “feel” when you’re not doing well – because obviously Batman basically shouldn’t ever be getting hit in combat. So if you fluff your way through combat getting hits loads of times and grinding the enemy down it feels like you haven’t done well, even though you still get through and still get experience from doing it.

    Having said that, having a grade or medal at the end of combat would be an elegant way to communicate “you could do better” without having to put up an immersion-breaking score screen like the challenges (quite rightly) have.

    • Tizzy says:

      At the same time, there are those challenge rooms that Shamus mentioned, that unlock early on and give you both feedback and the opportunity to practice, if you’re so inclined. I really don’t see the problem with not having the feedback in the main game. Actually, as someone who had little interest in the brawls, I am grateful that the game did not feel the need to remind me that I could do better every chance it got.

      • Benjamin Hilton says:

        Yeah I actually think they may have intentionally left out a concrete grade. It’s easy enough to “feel” like your doing bad like Zekiel said, but I can imagine a lot of people feeling put out by the game constantly telling them that they are doing bad too. Like rubbing salt in the wound. At first it’s just informative, but eventually it would just grate and make you feel bad.

  6. lethal_guitar says:

    If a simple grade appeared beside the XP reward

    As flawed as Arkham Origins may be, this is one thing it actually did if I remember correctly.

    • Nimrandir says:

      I’m glad folks mentioned this. I played through Asylum once, waaay back, never tried City, then got Origins for free with a Black Friday PS3 bundle. My mind had retrofitted the grading system from Origins into my memories of Asylum, so I was seriously confused to see Shamus talk about its absence.

  7. Bonedancer says:

    I played Arkham City GOTY edition, and I’m pretty sure that I got a grade (S down to D – how did S get to be better than A? Is it a Japanese game thing?) after each bout of open-world fisticuffsmanshippery.

    It was fairly unobtrusive and only on screen for a few seconds, but it was there.

    I thought it was in before Arkham Oranges, but I could be wrong.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      (S down to D – how did S get to be better than A? Is it a Japanese game thing?

      It is.I dont know which one introduced it,but it spilled into everything.Basically S is short for super.

      • Jonathan says:

        So THAT is where Worm got “S class threats” (S9, Endbringers, Ash Beast, etc.) from.

      • MichaelGC says:

        In British schools the exam tiers used to be O, then A, then S – or Ordinary, Advanced and Special (originally Scholarship). Only real ninjas (in a particular subject) took S levels. I doubt this schema fed into Japanese game design at all, but I guess it’s not completely impossible.

  8. Izicata says:

    Rather than getting a grade at the end of a brawl or predator sequence, Batman or one of the supporting cast could say something appropriate to how well you did. If you did poorly, Oracle could ask if you’re feeling alright or Batman could comment about how he needs to run more training sims. If you do well, Alfred could compliment you or Batman could say something appropriately satisfied.

    Of course, you’d need a lot of variations on these lines to avoid the player hearing the same ones over and over.

    • Zekiel says:

      [awkward pause]
      Oracle: “Are you sure you’re really Batman?”
      Batman: “Shut up.”

      ^After every fight in my playthrough

    • Ciennas says:

      This was my thought as well. After all, when you’ve got Kevin Conroy, you USE that to your advantage.

      Also, I would have been so happy if the Batman Beyond suit had Will Friedle voice him for the challenge modes.

      Come to think of it…. How cool would a Batman Beyond game be?

    • Sven says:

      Wing Commander used to do this, where characters would discuss your performance. In WC2 it was a very explicit thing after the mission: “You only killed 2 Kilrathi on this mission. What the hell is wrong with you?” “Sorry, sir, I guess they got the better of me.”

      WC3 toned it down a bit, with some radio comments while landing (“I see your reputation is well deserved, Colonel”) and comments from Rachel after landing “Looks like you had a rough time out there.”

      Not to mention that some of the WC games would send you down a completely different string of missions depending on your performance, though you’d never know that unless you played multiple times.

      • Mousazz says:

        From what I remember, the original Wing Commander only commented on how banged up your ship was at the end of a mission. And, of course, whether you completed it or failed (yup, it was possible to fail and still continue). And whether your wingman died (permanent death, yikes). And you got medals if you killed enough Kilrathi.

  9. Andrew says:

    Arkham Origins actually scored your performance after every counter the way you suggest. It felt real satisfying to get an S after a predator encounter.

  10. Matt Downie says:

    The ‘how did I do in this fight’ aspect of Arkham City was my least favorite part. Not because it gave me too little information about how I did, but because it gave me too much. I went into battle against a dozen foes, emerged heroically victorious, and still came away feeling like a failure because I lost my combo a couple of times and didn’t get many XP. I’m competent, but I’m just not Batman-competent.

    (It’s a bit like the feeling I get playing RPGs where you have companions who follow you around disapproving of everything you do.)

    Since I’m not especially gifted at fighting games, and I don’t want to spend time practising or replaying, there’s no real chance of me achieving a satisfying level of competence before I get to the end of the story and never play it again.

  11. lethal_guitar says:

    Pretty much confirmation of everything said in this post about the missing feedback: I did in fact only realize how much more there is to the Arkham Combat once I read Shamus writing about it a couple years ago. At that point, I had button-mashed my way through Arkham Asylum, and half of City, I think. I never liked the challenge maps before, but once I really got into the combat, I couldn’t stop playing them. I dumped around 70 hours into the Arkham City challenge maps before finally finishing the story.

    Since this is going to be a theme in this series as well, I had a similar thing with Dark Souls, actually. I didn’t really “get” the combat until I started watching videos by EpicNameBro that showed me all the non-obvious aspects and hidden “tricks”, like lowering your shield to recover stamina more quickly etc. From that point on, I was hooked, and Dark Souls is the game with most hours played by far in my Steam Library since then. I’m not sure whether I’d ever even completed the game without being introduced to these aspects of the gameplay.

    This makes me wonder, how did you discover the depth of Arkhams’s combat, Shamus? Did you realize quickly that there’s more to it than just button mashing, or was it more of a longer process?

    • Christopher says:

      ENB and other youtubers that make videos of games that don’t explain themselves well should get some kind of medal for their efforts.

      I would never have gotten into Dark Souls without youtube, because on its face the difficulty seemed impossible to conquer. Watching a 20-year old, a 50-year old man and EpicNameBro play through it was both educational and evidence that it’s entirely possible for anyone to do.

      • Cinebeast says:

        Ooh, thank you for recommending those. I’d never heard of Greenspeak. That looks like a cool let’s play.

        • Christopher says:

          You’re welcome! I like Jeff Green, he’s a nice old man with experience on both the video game journalism and development side. He’s on the lower end of the skill spectrum, but he keeps going without giving up and it’s such a joy to talk with him through chat and finally see him conquer a rough spot. At one point he got a spine injury that required him to lie on a mattress for months while playing, which hardly makes him seem any younger.

          Ghostrobo I only saw that let’s play of, I basically just searched for a blind let’s play. He seems decent enough, if kinda typical youtuber.

          ENB is my favorite because he’s got it so together, such a laidback and pleasant guy in addition to being skilled and knowledgable. His current Nioh streams are so much fun.

  12. Volvagia says:

    Yeah, as much as I’m not wild about variants on the Batman: Arkham combat system becoming common (unlike more old-school combo systems, there seems to be no way to have a mediocre version of it, as evidenced by the awful Shadow of Mordor and AC Syndicate melee combat), they did it really well here.

    • Jokerman says:

      I wouldn’t call Mordor awful… just kinda… meh, one of the better imitators, Mad Max was a particularly bad example of it. Not sure who has done it best other than Rocksteady, maybe Sleeping Dogs?

      • Decius says:

        Shadow of Mordor barely had a melee combat system the way I played it. Jump on a head, chain combo, parry, special, repeat.

        And that was only if the boss was immune to all the effective ways of murdering them. Most fights started and ended with all the bad guys having the same thing go through their head: an arrow.

        • FelBlood says:

          Yeah, but was there anything more satisfying that finally coming up with a plan to mark a boss who has lucked into a suite of defenses that rendered him functionally invulnerable?

      • Torsten says:

        Sleeping Dogs fight system got really frustrating towards the end game. Some mooks needed specific combos that were in turn really finicky about the length of a button press, which made it practically impossible to play with keyboard and mouse. I found the best way to handle fights was to steal a car and drive over the mooks until they stopped moving.

  13. Csirke says:

    With the shield guys, you can actually just jump over their heads to “counter” them. I mean, it doesn’t help you take them down (like with the stun guys), but it avoids their attack, so it’s not like you are in unavoidable trouble if they start an attack on you. (You don’t need to “to move out of their attack range as soon as possible”.)

    As far as I remember, jumping over the mooks worked for avoiding almost all attacks, and doesn’t break combo, so in more dangerous fights I spent a lot of time jumping over heads, getting in a few punches, then moving on. It seemed to be a bit of a cheesy strategy, but it was fun so I didn’t mind :)

    • Jay Allman says:

      I do the same thing. I learned that strategy all the way back with “Asylum.” I got sick of breaking combos by swinging at guys who were too far away, or of not being quick enough to counter a swing that was coming my way, so I’d do a dodge. It got to a point where my play looked more like violent gymnastics: punch – dodge – punch – dodge – punch – dodge, etc.

      I kept the habit when the sequels came out, so it took me awhile to notice the refinements to the fight system. And even then I kept doing it because it just works so well.

  14. Ninety-Three says:

    Wait. The range on Batman’s dash-strike scales with your combo meter? I played through the entire game and never knew that! Is that actually explained anywhere or does the game just leave you to figure it out on your own?

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I think theres a line or two about it somewhere,but its been so long that I honestly dont remember.

      • MichaelGC says:

        It’s in the helptext for the first box in the Combat menu. It’s pretty easy to miss, as the box is just labelled ‘Strike,’ rather than ‘Freeflow System,’ or ‘Bounce Around Like a Batninja Seriously You Need to Know About This It’s Awesome.’ The game leads you to some of the other moves fairly well, but I can definitely see why folks might overlook ‘Strike.’

    • 4th Dimension says:

      Well you kind of are expected to figure it out on your own since it’s kind of obvious. I mean compare what happens when you press a dirrection and attack at the start of the fight and after you get a combo going. In the first case he throws a paltry kick and in the second case he flies half way across the room to deck somebody. Once that happens couple of times you are supposed to have figured out that it happens because your combo is up.

  15. Christopher says:

    Batman and Bayonetta aren’t that different, from a certain angle. In Bayonetta, as long as you successfully dodge an attack you keep your place in the combo and can easily reach the powerful moves at the end of the combo strings and gain points through the combo multiplier. My main complaint against the Arkham system against regular mooks is that there’s a lot less variation than your Bayonettas.

    You get several flavors of regular guys, yeah, all with the seemingly same character model and just different faces and costumes depending on their employer(There is one exception, there are female ninjas). On some level that looks lazy. It’s entirely feasible to have variation even if they’re all supposed to be comically fit humans. Street Fighter V at launch had body types like a skinny tall dude, some regular joes, a woman with colossal thighs, a tall buff woman, a short fairly skinny woman, a fat bloke, a titanic muscular man and a contortionist-like thin man. God Hand has most of those body types and others still, and had unique moves for when they reused and reskinned them. The reason they’re so limited in Batman is probably because of that cinematic vision to have the brawling look believeable. Even a slightly different body type requires, or at least should have, a different animation for dealing with them(so the few big guys get the run into wall-trick and the bat-pummeling). So it’s easier to have a single normal enemy body and then makes loads of animations that work for taking them out fluidly.

    And for dealing with them you have a limited input system where instead of hammering out different combos, you have one or two buttons that corresponds to each situation. That’s pretty unusual in brawlers. You normally have different options for evading that are always gonna work on any enemy as long as you time ir right(Jumping, guarding, parrying or different dodges), yes. But you can harm them in any way you see fit, and you get a lot of ways to do it. Switching weapons(on the fly, for the really cool game) that change your entire moveset or creating your own combo strings in God Hand’s custom combo creator, mash out the hundreds of different variations in Bayonetta. You can steal weapons from defeated enemies, pick ones up from the environment an throw them, or use resource-based super moves, depending on the games. One of the complaints fans of the old Devil May Crys had toward the reboot was that some enemies could only be hurt with certain weapons, limiting what tools were available to you. In Batman, that’s par for the course with the alternate enemies like knife or armor guys, and the only changes to your moveset are the finishers and gadgets.

    It’s not an invalied approach, I think. It seems clear to me that they set out to make you feel as Batman as possible, and that’s why they made a system that looks cinematic(and the investigation system, and the predator system, and the setting)And at higher levels, it’s apparently challenging and fun. For me, the fun petered out somewhere about halfway through each game because there’s so little variation to both your enemies and your own moves. The enemies with knives and stun batons only show up close to the end, and it’s easy to stumble your way through those fights without learning the timing. Being bad at Bayonetta is still great. Being bad at Batman is not, in my experience.

    Where the combat system fails completely is during boss fights, but I’ll regurgitate that whiny post when you get to talking about them.

    I wonder if it’s these differences between Batman and the other brawlers that appeal to you, or if it’s just that many other brawlers never really hit the PC(Or maybe this is where the Dark Souls post comes in, and it’s because Arkham doesn’t punish you with death). It does a lot of stuff that’s pretty unique, like having fairly realistic-looking combat, only human opponents(God Hand was released 10 years ago this year) and different gameplay that’s fun for more than twenty minutes(Predator, Riddler Trophies, traversing the environment). You probably wouldn’t get the specific, plausible counter animations without sacrificing the enemy model variety. The rythm of the fights is different, too. You don’t have a ton of attacks that hit multiple dudes, instead you’re trying to manage one at a time while keeping the others at bay so you can knock one out for good. I don’t like it too much, but while I just spent like an hour writing this, I can respect it if you do. It’s similar in ways to Bayonetta, but it’s a different thing. I certainly like it more as a whole than I like the combat individually.

    • Geebs says:

      That business with the colour-coded enemies in DmC absolutely ruined the combat, just at the point when it was starting to get slightly interesting. I personally thought that the Arkham games incorporated different enemy types into the combat much better; the major problem for me was how stupid everything looked when Batman hit the point in his combo when he started torpedoing around the room like M. Bison with a rubber fetish.

      Also Bayonetta is fantastic; unfortunately, like the bits of the good Devil May Cry games where Dante really starts mixing up his styles, it’s too complicated for me. I’m only really good enough to handle something like MGR: Revengeance.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Fighting with just your fists is not the only thing batman can do however.I dont remember if its true for asylum,but in other batmans you can use your multitude of gadgets as well.The batarangs are great for taking down distant enemies,the gel is great for getting a bunch of mooks to the ground when surrounded,the smoke can be a great opener and gives you some breathing room,etc.So yes,arkham games give you a bunch of things you can do,just like any other brawler.

      • Christopher says:

        I did mention the gadgets, though I don’t blame you for missing it in that tower of text. It’s a pretty limited part of the system, though. In Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, you also carry around items like rocket launchers, smoke grenades and barrels/boxes to hide in. They are ammo-based rather than gadgets like Batman has, but their impact on the combat is similarly pretty limited. They’re a bonus, and they’re useful for certain enemies, but they aren’t that big of a part of it. What makes Batman’s gadgets more worthwhile is that they integrate well with the other parts of the game, the predator sections and exploration.

  16. Zekiel says:

    Knife guys: You can’t counter these guys like regular mooks. Instead, you have to back away while countering to make Batman dodge the attack

    I hated these guys. In spite of playing through both Asylum and City twice, and spending ages on the challenge maps for each game, I could never consistently do the right moves for countering knife guys, which made me feel pretty lame.

    • Baron Tanks says:

      I’ll do you one worse. I got it down to an art in City at some point (and it does feel as good as Shamus says). But I can’t seem to work it out at all in Knight, where no matter what I do I either lose my combo or take damage (AND lose my combo). The only thing worse than not mastering it, is losing that mastery and how frustrating that feels…

    • Shamus says:

      The problem is that the game never teaches you the timing. It just says “press and release”. So you do that with the rhythm of their stabs and you get jabbed. It’s SUPER obnoxious.

      The secret seems to be to let go of the button for a REALLY short interval. Just barely take your finger off of it for a microsecond, right after each swing. (And I’m pretty sure it will still give you the counter if you skip the middle one.)

    • Jay Allman says:

      I’m with you 100% on this. I never learned how to do it.

      So I just handled them the way I handled the guys with stun batons. Either jump over them and punch them in the back of the head, or build up a combo so I could execute a disarm/destroy move on them.

      But there are lots of ways of handling guys with weapons. Someone else mentioned all the gadgets you can use, and depending on which ones you’ve acquired, you can dodge-and-hit, disarm-and-destroy, smack with a batarang, knock down with gel, freeze with an ice grenade, etc.

      This is one of the things I really like about the Arkham games. There are so many ways of handling opponents, in both the combat and stealth arenas, that there’s fun to be had just in exploring them all.

    • Karthik says:

      I stopped trying to counter them at some point. I just quick fired the grapple gun, which dragged them in and floored them, causing the knife to be dropped.

      In general I found Batman’s gadgets to be very useful in combat.

  17. Ninety-Three says:

    My experience of the game’s combat was that every enemy who resisted the standard “Lmouse to punch, Rmouse to counter” dynamic was like a jellybean-sized rock in your handful of jellybeans. I really liked the “two-button rhytmn game” that fighting basic mooks had, and mixing in two special enemies with a group of mooks served only to interrupt my flow. They were exactly rare enough that they felt like an interuption of the basic gameplay rather than a core part of it.

    This is where the combo system’s balance issues start to show, because I don’t think I beat a single shield guy the “right” way. Instead of engaging with the special enemies and their gimmicks, I would dance around them punching vanilla mooks to charge my combo meter, and then expend it on an instant takedown for the special guy. I hated fighting the special guys, so this approach probably made the game more fun for me overall, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was definitely not playing it the way the developer intended.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      That’s a fine way to play, but it’s limited. The devs built in NUMEROUS counters to shield guys or the like. You can take their toys away instead of taking the guy down, this means his friends can’t have the weapon either. You can expend a gadget takedown on him. You can do a group attack that stuns him, then attack while under less threat. You can (in Knight), throw him into a fuse box or something to instantly end his threat.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      This happened to me too. I learned over time how to counter them, but I could never do it naturally. I think the control scheme on the keyboard did not help either because I distinctly remember it being difficult to press some of the buttons that are needed like the cape stun.
      So like you I found the addition of the guys like the police baton ones to be a terrible one.

    • Syal says:

      I really liked the “two-button rhytmn game” that fighting basic mooks had,

      Complete tangent, but I feel I should mention One Finger Death Punch.

  18. Dev Null says:

    Sooooo… I get where you’re going with this, and I think I understand your points and even why it’s a good analogy, but I’ve still got to say:

    You tried to explain what was fun about a game that got panned by the critics by comparing it to _golf_? Now it sounds _really_ boring…

    • The Rocketeer says:

      Arkham City, panned by critics? It swept Game of the Year lists, and its GOTY box art is plastered with perfect scores. Are you thinking of Arkham Knight?

      • Dev Null says:

        Was referring to “critics of the game”; basically, the people who – in Shamus’ intro – he describes as saying “Bah, it’s just a buncha quicktime events”. (And I think he’s actually talking about Arkham Asylum at that point, even though this article is about Arkham City.)

        But I see what you mean; it sounds like I was talking about professional critics, which isn’t what I meant. I was trying for something more like: “You say people called the combat in this game boring, so you refute that by comparing it to golf?!?”

        • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          Funny thing -I actually sort of like games that have QTEs in their combat. I never dug the aesthetic of God of War, but the gameplay was fun. Arkham Asylum bored me. Maybe if I really got into the rhythm of it, I’d like it. But the parts of the game I liked -the things I heard about that made me give the game a go -were the detective vision (not used near enough) and the stealth/ganking people. In other words, I liked Batman when it was more like Dishonored -so this whole part of the game that is apparently our host’s favorite? Yeah, it’s the part that made me stop playing the game.

  19. Merlin says:

    We don’t need a huge popup to appear and break the flow. It doesn’t need to be big or showy. We just need a basic answer to the simple question, “How did I do?”

    This kind of exists in both Asylum and City by way of achievements. AA, for example, has achievements for a combo of length 5, 10, 20, and 40, as well as for using every move during the course of a single combo. That becomes pretty easy to extrapolate out into 5 being “you beat the tutorial”, 10 being basic competency, 20 being good, and 40 being great. City dials it back a notch by just having an achievement for 20 hits and for using every move, but it also integrates both into the in-game skill upgrade bingo board rather than expecting you to look at out-of-game achievements. So if you’re consciously looking for how to become a better Batman, a 20 hit combo becomes a significant benchmark.

    I’m not going to suggest that this is a spectacular approach or that it was especially effective, but I do like the spirit of it more than the barrage of rankings that pop up in games like Devil May Cry.

  20. Cilvre says:

    maybe some good feedback could be batman commenting after the fight? “That could have gone smoother.” “I must be getting rusty.” “They never learn.”

  21. Shoeboxjeddy says:

    Big disagree on the rating system. Because some players take that as an attack on them, rather than encouragement to improve. This would be a more important “misstep” if the game didn’t have a MASSIVE mode entirely based on doing perfectly well in the combat and stealth challenges. If you’re the type of guy who wants to be the BEST Batman he can be, the game has you covered big time. If you’re a goon who can’t counter to save Batman’s life, the game isn’t going to rub your nose in it. You can see the story play out if you manage some basement level of competency. I find this a much better tack than the Sonic the Hedgehog or Platinum style of constantly giving a player (who never or very rarely dies!) a C or D ranking each time they do something. Yes, you’re not playing to the limits of the system, but does the game really need to call you a lame poser just for playing it at a basic level? It’s snobbish and a turnoff to the game’s biggest audience.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Like Cilvre pointed out,having batman occasionally having a comment to himself after a fight would work.Maybe just comment if your score improves over your average,or drops below your average.

  22. I didn’t see anyone mention it, but the TITAN enemies in AC isn’t a plot hole; at the end of AA, you can see a single crate of formula out in the water floating away from the island.

    • Shamus says:

      It’s not a plot hole that they got TITAN, it’s a plot hole that they’re still alive. Like, Joker’s Titan-tinged blood is fatal poison that kills in hours, but these guys just live on and on.

      • 4th Dimension says:

        Maybe these are newly made TITAN enemies?

      • Xedo says:

        On the other hand, Joker is still alive too. The inconsistency is that they’re super healthy and he’s dying. Maybe it’s a side effect of reversing the titan transformation? However that happened?

        But then the joker blood effect is inconsistent again in Arkham Knight. Google says AK is set one year after AC, so the blood had a completely different effect that wasn’t fatal at all for the people that received it.

      • Jay Allman says:

        I tried not to think about it. I guess I assumed, like 4th Dimension, that they were newly made. There’s a LOT of Titan floating around inside Arkham City, if that Bane side quest is any indication. I assumed the the Titans are made with some of that.

      • Nessus says:

        There’s a whole sidequest in AC where you help Bane find and destroy Titan canisters the Joker has got secreted around the city. Probably a small swimming pool’s worth of the stuff when added up.

        Plus there’s conversations you can overhear while sneaking around the steelworks that reveal the Joker likes to play torture/murder roulette with his goon recruits, and the recruits who survive are just psychopathic enough to be totally okay with it, even though every victim could have just as easily been them.

        So basically, the game establishes that:
        A) the Titan formula wasn’t lost/destroyed in AA: the Joker has been actively mass manufacturing it since he got to the city, and
        B) neither he nor his thugs would have a problem juicing up random “volunteers” on an as-needed basis, even if kills them.

        I kind of assumed that getting juiced up on Titan was a one-way trip, permanently mutating the subject, and reducing their life to maybe a couple days at the most. I figured the Titan goons in AC were a consumable human resource w/ constant turnover. The ones you encounter have only been juicing since maybe yesterday, not since AA. Or maybe some Joker goons just walk around with a needle of the stuff in their pocket, on orders to jab either themselves or one of their buddies if someone spots Batman in the area.

        The Joker survived his mutation in AA because he got proper medical treatment afterword (whereas he just lets his own subjects/ goons run their course and die), plus plot armor, plus probably having weird physiology to begin with (hardly the first time he’s been exposed to body altering chemicals).

        What Batman and others got from the Joker’s blood (and what’s killing Joker as well) wasn’t Titan, but some weird mutant prion-esque thing created by an interaction between Titan, Joker toxin, and Joker’s chemically effed-up physiology.

        • Shamus says:

          The first Titan you fight belongs to Penguin, so despite all of this conjecture they’re still not quite explained.

          I stand by calling them a plot hole.

          • Jay Allman says:

            There’s a Titan canister in the subway terminal, where the Penguin’s men set up one of the electronic jammers. It’s right next to a poster of Solomon Grundy, and when Batman first enters the terminal, three of Penguin’s goons are standing next to it while talking about Grundy. Can’t that be the source of Penguin’s supply?

          • Nessus says:

            Eeeeeeehhhhhh, merely not being spelled out isn’t a “plot hole”. It’s only a plot hole if it breaks the logic of the story, setting, or characters. Something that isn’t explicit, but is plausible (for the setting/story/characters) and easily explained through inference isn’t a plot hole, it’s just parsimony.

            There’s nothing that implies the presence of Titan thugs is a contradiction, and and plenty that directly implies why/how they are present, at least in the minimal sense of “the Joker still has the Titan formula, and has been manufacturing it to use on his men”.

            With the Penguin’s Titan, since the drug is already on the streets via the Joker’s gang, it’s a pretty straight line to conclude that the Penguin must have either stolen some to play with, or managed to capture one of the Joker’s Titan thugs.

            A lot of this is conjecture, sure, but it’s conjecture based directly on what we do see in the game(s). It’s not based on big leaps, twisting the meaning of anything, jumping though hoops, or building a house of cards of assumption atop of assumption. It’s just simple first order inference from stuff that’s explicitly shown.

            I mean, It’s not even on the level of something like “how does Bruce Wayne obfuscate all the money he spends on Batgear?”, which is also not explicit, and not implausible (for the setting), but unlike the Titan thugs doesn’t have any evidence to infer an answer from (I mean it’s easy to conjecture, but it’ll be completely blind and conjecture-y). If you wanna call anything that isn’t absolutely %100 explicitly spelled out a plot hole, then the whole setting is practically made of “plot holes” which are (purely by that measure) far, far worse, yet still accepted without thought.

            • Syal says:

              “how does Bruce Wayne obfuscate all the money he spends on Batgear?”

              Alfred’s annual salary is more than some countries. Bruce’s accountants will never understand.

  23. Bloodsquirrel says:

    Point of order: on hard difficulty, you can’t just muddle your way through the fights. You will die if you can’t get your combo up.

    The thing that makes a quicktime event a quicktime event is that there’s no agency to it. Press ‘X’ or die. There’s no strategy or depth to them. The game tells you to press a button, and you must press it.

    In these games, you press ‘Y’ to counter, just like you pull the trigger to shoot a gun in Halo. You can choose whether that’s what you want to do or not. Maybe you’ll just jump away instead. Or maybe you can punch the guy before he punches you. You’ve got tons of options, and you can even turn off the prompt if you want because, unlike an actual quicktime event, you’re responding to a predictable behavior of the enemy, rather than an arbitrary moment in a cutscene.

    What I like about Arkham Asylum’s combat is that they reward deliberation. Button mashing will end your combo in no time at all, or maybe even result in punching one of the baton guys, which will hurt you. Bayonetta, for example, is far worse about allowing the player to get by with just mashing attacks (with the occasional dodge). In fact I usually find that the combos that most brawlers try to incorporate are usually useless, since they require too long of an uninterrupted build-up when enemies can attack you at any moment and interrupt them. Arkham Asylum’s combos are fluid and reactive. Whereas a lot of brawlers make defense almost impossible because they bog you down in animations and don’t let you move easily enough, Arkham Asylum gives you both proactive and reactive ways to defend yourself and is responsive enough to let you use them.

    • Fimbulvetr says:

      Bayonetta(and almost every Platinum Game afterwards) has something called Dodge Offset, which lets you continue a combo string after you’ve dodged, and Beast Offset, which allows you to move around while holding your place in a combo string. Mastering them means you can use all the big moves you want with out sacrificing survival or mobility.

  24. Nimrandir says:

    I’ve heard the game dismissed as “Bah, it’s just a buncha quicktime events”. This isn’t true at all, but I can understand how people arrive at this conclusion.

    I had a similar experience with the combat system in Final Fantasy XIII, except the dismissal was phrased as “Bah, the game just plays itself.” The system was designed to allow for just about anybody to get through the game by vigorous application of face to wall, but the combat rating scale (and subsequent post-battle rewards) nudged players toward winning battles efficiently.

    Don’t get me wrong — FFXIII had all sorts of problems, both on a narrative and a mechanical level. However, I never thought the auto-battle complaint held up if you really embraced the system.

  25. Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

    I just appreciate that even if you suck, Batman still fights pretty competently. Batman should always be competent at least. His weakness are psychological, not so much mental or physical.

  26. 4th Dimension says:

    “It took me 23 strokes to finish this hole.

    Uhhh phrasing?

  27. Pyrrhic Gades says:

    You think golf is easy, try ten-pin bowling. I’ve managed to get it under 3 par every time

  28. N/A says:

    Basically, it’s a spectacle fighter, like Devil May Cry. The goal isn’t to win, the goal is to win and look good doing it. To win flawlessly.

    In other words, the goal is to become the Batman.

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