The Fluid Modal Gameplay in Batman Video Games

I’m slightly late to the latest Batman game, Batman: Arkham Knight. It was originally released in June 2015 on the PS4 and Xbox One, but I wanted to wait on the presumably superior PC version. Sadly, that port ran into so many technical issues that the game was pulled from its digital store, re-released 4 months later, and even then it was so bad that the publisher offered refunds to anybody who wanted it. I still wanted to play the game, though, and the sale on the PS4 version gave me a decent excuse.

I had played through all of this set of Batman Arkham games: Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, and Arkham Origins. The first one, in particular, introduced a combat system so good that it’s been copied by numerous other games, one of which became a top ten game in 2014. In addition, each of the games added other systems outside of combat which fit with the Batman lore: stealth, flying and grappling through the city, mostly on-rails “detective” work, and a ton of side missions and stories with villain cameos.

Which brings me to Arkham Knight, which adds the Batmobile as a fully-realized system on top of everything above.

The thing I’m enjoying most about the game is that while each system can stand on its own and has its own in-game rules and controls1, they blend really well together and the game transitions from one mode to the next seamlessly. The player can drive around, eject out into a short grapple and flight, land silently to take out an enemy from behind, land combos against the rest of the enemy camp, then finally investigate the crime scene to advance the story.

And the systems are starting to blend together as well. There’s a combat takedown that uses the Batmobile, for instance, and a special “FEAR” move that goes from stealth to immediate combat. I haven’t really played a game quite like Arkham Knight that manages to cram so much gameplay into the same game, and have it function as a cohesive whole, as opposed to ending up a frankenstein of half-implemented ideas. The care in evolving and enhancing those systems from the prior Batman games really shows here.

All of this is to say that the latest Batman video game has mastered a unique gameplay craft. It may feel familiar and perhaps a tad worn at this point, but I’d love for other games to copy this style of integrated, yet separate, systems of gameplay.

  1. E.g., the Batmobile parts feel like driving a really fast tank, the combat parts are the familiar rhythmic flow of hits against mobs of thugs, etc.

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