Arkham City's Too-Forgiving Combat System

Arkham City deserves praise for getting a whole lot right -- but not its crowd-combat system.

I'm asking for it, I really am: I'm nearly finished with story mode in Arkham City, about to ascend the loftiest tower in the prison-city's center, preparing to do battle with forces I won't spoil here. I've been playing on the hardest difficulty setting, which matters for reasons you'll understand in a moment. The game's percent complete tracker says I've seen 51% of everything. I've finished all but two of the side missions ("Enigma Conundrum" and "Arkham Assault" to go). I have most of Batman's toys and ugprades. All that's left is to grab another 300 (or so) riddles, which I'm saving for the replay. So at this point, a few words about the battle system.

Not a fan, sorry Rocksteady. I've been trying for two games now to buy what the Arkham series is selling, but while it's often lovely to watch Batman zigzag gracefully around the battlefield (sort of like "pinball ballet"), the crowd-combat in these games is either brick-wall impossible, or way too forgiving.

(MORE: Arkham City: Not a Clean, Well-Lighted Place)

I gave up, long ago, buying the one-button-for-every-move argument. It's all but impossible to pull that off consistently, given (a) the different timings involved with every move, (b) the staggering number of moves, (c) all the possible move combinations, (d) the assault vectors and random timing of enemy attacks, and, most importantly, (e) the way spamming the gamepad wins even the zaniest brawls.

Like one, late in this game, where you're dodging goons, goons with bats, goons with knives, a really big goon with a sledgehammer, a recycled titan (see the first game—Rocksteady really loves those guys), and two deadly trains passing through the room at intervals. I spent most of the fight "evading" the crowd and tossing gadgets to keep my combo and style metrics climbing. In fact, just doing that, I pulled off the 50-combo achievement by accident. We're talking about a triple-A-rated game, right? Nothing, least of all winning battles, should feel "by accident."

"I don't know. It seems like all I do is hit circle and triangle over and over again. Kind of boring. Am I doing this wrong?" writes a user over at Gametrailers.

"The combat was never good. It's as shallow as it can be," replies another. I share their ennui. And if it really is possible to master the one-button-for-every-move thing, the game ought to punish frantic button-mashing instead of rewarding it.

(MORE: Batman Arkham City Launch Party Ground Zero)

Tell me (be honest) if this sounds like you: You're being attacked from all sides, so you button-mash attack-attack-attack until you see the counter indicator flash, at which point you button-mash counter-counter-counter, then back to attack-attack-attack. When the knives and shields and stun batons come out, you switch that up to attack-attack-evade, and when things start to feel claustrophobic (or you're dangling by one or two life bars), evade-evade-evade. That's been my experience of Arkham City at the hardest difficulty setting (pending New Game+, where the counter warnings vanish).

Some of the villain battles in Arkham City are, by contrast, the smartest I've yet seen. For instance—minor spoiler ahead—the one against Mr. Freeze, which forces you to pull off some 10 unique moves as he pursues you round an increasingly ice-coated room. It's inspired. As are others. More of those in the all-but-announced sequel, Rocksteady.

But I'm disappointed by the way battles go down in crowds. I'm a mediocre player, honestly, and I've coasted through this game. Sure, there's still the collectibles angle, the Riddler's challenge rooms, and New Game+ mode. Those'll have to do for now, I guess.

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Matt Peckham

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