For years, medical professionals have touted the mantra of 'prevention is often the best cure'. It is with this somewhat clumsy setup that i move to take aim at something which is quickly becoming a trope of modern third person games and their combat systems. Before the gloves figuratively come off, feel free to grab your mouthguards and protective gear - ready? FIGHT!
Since the release (and subsequent critical acclaim) of Batman: Arkham Asylum, i can't help but notice the increasing frequency of the application of the two button attack/counter combat mechanics which it employed. Before throwing the first jab, i will clarify that the combat mechanics both felt good and were appropriate systems to employ in both Arkham Asylum and it's sequel, Arkham City. However, what does trouble me is that since the release of these games we are beginning to seemingly see developers treat these combat mechanics as some kind of all purpose 'gold standard' for third person action games. Just to take recent history, both the recent Spiderman title and Sleeping Dogs feature combat mechanics which are invariably referred to as 'Arkham Asylum-esque' in any review - and, if readers will indulge me in a little crystal ball gazing, i wouldn't be surprised to find a similar state of affairs when more details come to light about the upcoming Deadpool game, among many potential others.
I do not wish to put forward that such mechanics cannot be utilised to great effect - what i do hope is that both game developers and their audience will give some measured thought as to whether implementing this kind of system will serve titles x, y or z in the best possible way. On the positive side, these mechanics can often lend themselves to visually impressive scuffles by virtue of largely doing away with specialised player inputs in a battle situation. On the less glamourous side, it often leads to the gameplay mechanics feeling more akin to a rhythm game, or possibly even analogous to a QTE, especially after the player has been repeating the same kind of patterns over the course of a game. To take the recent example of Sleeping Dogs - a game which i personally loved - it was particularly apparent to me in the second half of the game that i was essentially switching my brain off in any hand to hand combat scenario, and was just going through the motions of timed simple button presses in order to advance...i had simply long ceased to be engaged in the moment to moment gameplay via mega repetition to such a point that beating everyone down had become little more than a conditioned reflex. If the other aspects of this game did not keep me interested in the ways they did, i simply would have given up on it midway through - this should be something of a warning sign.
Whilst the above point is largely inevitable to some degree with any kind of combat mechanics over any 10+ hour title, i worry that this perceived shift in combat mechanics will lead to a glut of very same-y feeling games to be released in the coming year. Third person titles praised in large part for their combat mechanics such as Ninja Gaiden, God of War and Bayonetta also do suffer from some degree of repetition over the course of the game - however, the player has access to a much more varied set of mechanics and options from moment to moment combat, and as such the player's brain continues to be engaged in each battle more actively than i feel the basic attack/counter setup can provide. Not to suggest that these titles should be treated as some kind of absolute ideal - without a doubt, as time goes on and gameplay mechanics are overhauled and refined, these too will begin to look a little simplistic in the broader scheme of things.
Essentially, if i am going to be sitting through hours of many similar scenarios over the course of a game and at some point therein i am no longer challenged nor engaged by what makes up a large portion of the gameplay, it should be a sign that perhaps there is a better system to be implemented. Obviously, it is awfully optimistic to think that we will see a game in the near future where players do not encounter any significant degree of combat repetition - however, given the sales and critical acclaim awarded to Arkham Asylum, Arkham City and Sleeping Dogs in a relatively short space of time, one cannot help but assume that gamers will be waiting for their moment to hit Y in order to counter attack for a while still.