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Controlling Combat

Want to talk about a video game topic other than the scarce details about the newly announced consoles while we count the days (15 not counting today) until E3?  Me too. 

Last week Amazon featured a daily deal for BioShock Infinite on all platforms for $35, the game originally released on March 26, 2013 with the usual $60 day one price and currently costs about $40-$60 depending on your video game shopping savvy.  I am a BioShock fan and will definitely play what is proclaimed by many as a definitive game of this generation but I passed up on this deal.  Why?  I just completed BioShock 2, I have plenty of already purchased games in my backlog, but most importantly I am in no hurry to jump back into the BioShock franchise.  For me, criticisms that the franchise gameplay is repetitive are accurate.  Even with new weapons introduced throughout the game along with weapon upgrades and powers (killer bee hordes bursting from your hand is at the very least creative) but over the course of the games the combat felt the same.  Mowing down various splicer types with bursts of electricity and a machine gun raking over any remaining splicers became the norm despite the changing environments.   Even the camera/video recorder for research bonuses did not assuage the same-ness nature of the combat over the length of the campaigns. 

The other side of gaming combat, killer henchmen are shown in the trailers but not the killer seagulls. 

Yet, all video games have repetitive combat.  Many gaming hours are spent in the hack and slash of countless enemies in nearly any given game but we all have preferences for fighting that never becomes old whereas other combat controls lose its luster quickly. 

I realized after I turned down the BioShock Infinite sale preferring my current campaigns in Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Half Life 2 that I enjoy first person shooters but I am simply not a rabid fan of the genre.  Shooting my way through an enemy throng only to struggle at a chokepoint that requires 20 minutes of failed attempts before achieving victory only to find myself immediately thrust into another shoot out ends up with me turning off the game.  As someone who prefers narrative heavy games but recognizing that I spend hours in any given game brawling with enemies I wondered what type of combat kept me gaming for hours. 

Cinematic Combat

An obvious answer is cinematic combat.  The stylized fighting and slow motion camera sequences are a favorite of mine.  This combat type features multiple "mini cut scenes" for these sequences and I never tire of triggering the slow motion fighting, especially nowadays with developers investing time into creating multiple cut scenes for the same scenario.  There are two main variations of cinematic combat, combat that slows time to a crawl for a slow motion response and combat the completely pauses the game allowing a cut scene to take control of the combat from the player.

Spittle included in a take down cinematic is a real labor of love.  

Rocksteady's Batman franchise this generation reestablished cinematic combat as a fan favorite.  Button mashing does not win the fight but intentional combinations results in unconscious henchmen.  The ripple effect from Bathman: Arkham Asylum's 2009 release in gaming is clear.   Few games have mastered the time slowdown in combat but many have returned to cinematic cut scenes in fighting which differs from the frantic, real time combat that is popular this generation.  For example, 2011's Deus Ex: Human Revolution features cinematic takedowns and the takedown videos are so detailed as to include the enemy's spittle flying when punched in the face.  With multiple videos created for the same takedown trigger I enjoy awaiting which method Adam Jensen, the game's protagonist, will use. 

More recently, 2012's Assassin's Creed 3 fully embraced the combat cut scene.  Triggering the event often felt haphazard with the franchise's "one button to rule them all" approach to combat.   Understanding the parameters required to launch a combat cut scene was difficult but watching our assassin dismantle multiple enemies' defenses with multiple weapons was a fun thrill. 

Why that soldier in he background did not attack before his buddy was all but beheaded is beyond me. 

There are is only so much time available even to the most industrious of people.  When playing video games we can often easily see where the developers allotted most of their game development time.  In AC3 the attention to detail in crafting multiple combat scenes for a variety of enemy types and weapons is quickly evident.  I relished the hard work by Ubisoft in making a series of enjoyable scenarios of Connor eviscerating his foes (no nonlethal approach available in this franchise). 

Arrow to the face!  Way better than an arrow to the knee. 

Again in 2011, when Skyrim released we roamed the land challenging every mud crab and dragon priest to battle.  I leaned on an archery/magic combat approach.  However the update that brought me back to the frozen land was the addition of a kill cam.  The adrenaline rush of watching my arrow's flight over an impossibly long distance to skewer an enemy just made me want to fire that perfect shot again rather than zig zag running towards the enemy unsure if my shot was fatal or not.    

Paused Combat

So many combo attacks available but they are all useless if you are dead. 

Sitting in between turn based combat and nonstop action is the ability to pause and survey the battlefield.  The original 2007's Mass Effect was one of my first games on this generation and acclimating to the new game types on a new generation was intimidating.  In ME I was thrilled to pause the combat but the pause did not result in getting lost in a menu maze.  Instead, the battle in my line of sight was viewable which granted me the precious time needed to take a breath in order to assign equipment and moves to myself and my party.  The series moved more and more towards enabling the nonstop combat but I always enjoyed the ability to pause even in the most overwhelming battle and make decisions with the added luxury of time.  However, I always appreciated the original for introducing me to this generation with a game that ostensibly played as a shooter but allowed me to fight in the style that I felt most comfortable with.    

If that guard turns around that ninja is in full display, good thing we can pause while we pursue our items at our leisure. 

More recently, the 2012's Mark Of The Ninja featured a similar option to pause the onscreen combat while allowing the player to set traps or otherwise plan their attack.  Entering into item placement whether chucking a bear trap or firing a hallucinogenic dart paused the entire screen except for the player's ability to decide exactly where to set off the device.  The leisure of time allowed for the entire viewable area to be assessed for guards and other enemies such as the infuriating and constantly sniffing dogs.  Unlocked outfits bestowed different bonuses but also only grant a perk by removing one.  The Path Of Might costume grants more hit points and replenishes health upon a successful assassination but removes time freezing when locking onto targets for using an item.  I did try out this outfit and I very quickly switched outfits at the next available supply point.        

Combo Combat

Naturally, we have the combo combat.  Action games co-opted the arcade combination style fighting. The arcade style button combo memorization combined with action game play is a fun hybrid.  I am no combo memory expert but such games provide many options.  Button mashing may eventually complete the level but the rush of mastering the appropriate attack that results in a boss takedown is a thrill the fuels gameplay through the next level.

The original Mass Effect, memories, this summer I will definitely replay the trilogy.  Ashley or Kaidan?

Most recently, I played Castlevania: Lords of Shadow in this genre.  Combat is multifaceted with long and short range, ground and air attacks, as well as light and dark attacks.  All three core fighting types combine in different ways for a seemingly unending list of combo fighting options that feel impossible to memorize each and every one.  Special moves are unlocked with new gear and areas in levels are only open for looting after an item or attack is discovered in a later level.  The constant introduction of new powers/items/attacks coupled with purposeful attacks necessary to take down different enemy types kept combat fresh and entertaining.  Along with puzzles and platforming interspersed in the combat based gameplay I felt rewarded when triumphing over difficult areas with a new gameplay mechanic rather than the sense of an unending fight. 

A pick axe has many uses in the Lara Croft universe including but not limited to using squeaky valves, rock climbing, and stabbing thugs in the eyeball.  Handy.  

Another recent game that I place in this category is the Tomb Raider reboot.  Yes, the game is ostensibly a third person shooter in its combat but it features many items used for combat and exploration.   Her pick axe is a last resort melee weapon, used for climbing, and breaking open doors.  Her bow shoots regular arrows, rope arrows for stretches of rope to reach other areas, fire arrows for roasting marshmallows on the bodies of her enemies, and explosive arrows for making that "BOOM" sound.  Taking down enemies with either the bow, pistol, shotgun or any other weapons is as much as a riddle solver as is choosing the right fighting combinations in a traditional action game.  Additionally, Tomb Raider features an open level design of levels that can be revisited with "item gating" that requires backtracking for unlocked secrets upon later discovering the necessary item.  Tomb Raider plays much more like an action RPG, but with guns, than as a traditional shooter.  Environmental puzzles and the actual tomb raiding itself breaks up constant combat and each new area is a jaw dropping panoramic setting complete with the camera's slow crawl reveal of the new environment.

We all approach combat differently and in this generation we witnessed a push in games for allowing the gamer to choose their fighting style.  Although, to the boss battle designers of Deus Ex: Human Revolution I dropped into the first boss battle with a 2 hit kill boss armed with only a tranquilizer rifle, a 10 mm pistol, and a single grenade so thank you for that unnecessarily difficult fight.  Perhaps it is my older gaming roots but I never fully mastered the first person shooter combat style and I am only now able to throw grenades with even a semblance of accuracy.  Luckily, there is a game out there that suits us all. 

What is your favorite combat type?

When given the option, stealth versus guns blazing?

What do you think will be the favorite combat style of the next generation?

Many thanks to all of you for reading, I write because I love gaming and I love expressing my thoughts on the topic to those who are interested but I also appreciate you all stopping by to read these thoughts too.  As the summer approaches make sure come up with a gaming plan to prepare for this fall's insanity.    

 

 

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