A friend of mine sent me an early Christmas gift (read: November) of Batman: Arkham Origins, and while I’m having fun with it, I’m learning even more. Far from being a review, this article focuses on three specific topics that make the Arkham games so successful, and all three relate to the combat system. What can the Batman teach us about multiplayer titles? Read on to find out.
Precision, alias timing, alias stop spamming buttons
The Free Flow combat system in the Arkham series is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, and Origins does little to change what already works. And the best way to succeed at Free Flow is to not button mash. You’ll just end up ruining your combo and looking like an idiot. It’s all about careful timing, and then precision button presses when the opportune moment presents itself. Counters move effortlessly into takedowns move smoothly into a beatdown into – you get the point. The only real flaw in the system is the player (or hit detection bugs), and when you make a mistake it’s obvious, on some level, that it’s your fault.
When it comes to games like Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield, Counter-Strike, games that reward the skilled and punish the newbies, the Arkham series has much to offer. If you want to work on your click-reaction time, try some of the harder challenge maps. Go up against the hardest bosses and try to attack in defense. Give that counter-button a workout, and in the event that you miss-click even once, reload the checkpoint. In other words, if you lose your combo once, take damage once, or even so much as look the wrong way, your training is over, go to jail, do not collect $200.
Why so stringent? The point here isn’t to train yourself to accept precision within a tolerance. You want to work on achieving as close to perfection as is possible. At the highest levels, players have reached a point in their careers where they almost always sit on just this side of perfect play. Sometimes they reach it, and it’s only when they falter that their opponents – on that same dividing line themselves – can seize an opening. The best Assassinate players, for example, move from Aerial Kill to Hidden, Incognito bonus like it was nothing. The best Counter-Strike players know, to the millisecond, how long it takes to get somewhere out of spawn. Etcetera.
In games like Assassin’s Creed or Battlefield, spamming buttons is more liable to get you killed than it is to gain you anything substantial. Sure, the stun spam might save you once or twice, but wouldn’t an quick deception work much better, be more rewarding and, most importantly, be easier to pull off consistently?
Patience, my boy, will lead to great things
Fighting Deathstroke in Origins tested my nerves, not because it asked too much of me, but because it asked too little. I was spamming away at the counter button and getting my Bat-face caved in when, if I’d showed a little restraint, Mr. Slade would have had a nice face of Bat-fist. The game even yelled at me saying “WAIT” but I was too impatient to listen. Then, when I did, the fight became much easier. If you’ve played Magic, paper or electronic, you know how valuable a touch of patience is. Of course, there’s a lot more to MtG than just proper execution, but if you get antsy and show your game too early, you’ve already lost.
The idea is this: you have a plan that requires a specific set of circumstances, some portion of which is already in front of you. Do you use what’s currently on the table and take some of the reward, or do you wait and go for the Full Monte? The answer, I think, is somewhere in the middle, but it can’t hurt to try waiting once or twice. If you’ve played you hand and built your deck well, there will be other opportunities, and you need to wait for those too. Your opponent is making similar choices based on what you do, so each match is a back and forth, each player trying to out-patience the other.
In a larger setting with multiple opponents, like in Assassin’s Creed or Counter-Strike, every confrontation must have its own back and forth. Perhaps more crucial are those moments when you have no reason to believe an enemy’s around. Say you’re playing Deathmatch but you’re waiting for a new target. Instead of running around like a turkey, give yourself a moment to size up what other players are doing. If you can glean a quick view of the match’s flow, when you do get your new target, pursuing him will be all the easier.
Patterns are all in the mind
I don’t care for the Riddler puzzles in any of the Arkham titles, but they are a great way to improve your problem solving skills. This is especially true when the puzzle deals in logical progressions, as patterns are one of the brain’s basic organization tools. It behooves you, therefor, to keep them in mind as you play. A game like Magic, as varied and grand as some of the strategies are, can be boiled down to four or five basic archetypes like the burn, reanimation, goblin rush (goblins not completely necessary). Assassin’s Creed or Counter-Strike have specific loadouts that good players come to expect from their equally talented opponents. Similarly, there are hot zones on each map that, over time, players learn to anticipate.
The thing about patterns, though, is that using them depends on your patience and precision. Noticing a common sequence and acting on it are two very different things. If you can’t find that exact moment to act, there’s no reason to act at all. You might think of each multiplayer match as a gigantic puzzle where the pieces are always shifting on a static backdrop. Your job is to solve the puzzle by being a part of it, that is, from the inside. The best way of doing that is playing your favorite game a lot and learning the basic patterns of each map and game mode. With this knowledge in hand, the other major challenge is sizing up your opposition and seeing how they react to various stratagems.
If you can precisely predict the patterns of your prey, and have the patience to pounce only at the proper point, there are few games you won’t be successful in. Shooting in a shooter or assassinating in Assassin’s Creed are only the end results of every action you took in preparation. Sometimes it’s not the best reaction time or gun skill that wins. It’s the player who was, for the moment at least, the smartest and best prepared in the lobby.