Batman: Arkham Origins is a 3rd-person action adventure game set in the open world of Gotham City that sees you playing Batman in a prequel to the other two Batman games, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. In what is otherwise a fantastic game, I wanted to discuss an issue related to games ported from consoles and games that are controller friendly: the use of one keybind to do too many things. This is an issue that is by no means exclusive to this game, I am merely using it as an example because I finished it recently.
As the player, my goal is to run around the city, apprehending (i.e. brutally beating down) criminals, from the lowliest prisoner escapee to notorious villains such as the Penguin, Shiva or Black Mask. I also need to collect various clues to solve murders, as well as datapacks scattered around the city in order to track down Enigma. In other words, a lot of running, gliding, flying around, solving puzzles, breaking things (and bones).
Tools available to the user:
The game on PC is controller-friendly. This automatically means that all actions can be performed with an XBox controller relatively simply. No action requires a combination of more than two keys (e.g. Right Trigger & Y button). Batman has the capability to do many actions, and I will focus exclusively on movement in this article. The player can run, climb on ledges, glide in the air, dodge enemies by jumping to the side or over them, fly off ledges and walls, and interact with various objects in the world environment such as levers, doors, power generators and datapacks. All of those actions are performed with one key: the spacebar.
As a keyboard user, I don’t mind when the game uses few, good easy-to-reach keybinds for important actions, and keeps the less important stuff on harder-to-reach keybinds. For controllers, the issue is not of reach, but of sheer numbers. When I played World of Warcraft, I had to be able to use close to 15 keybinds within twitch-seconds, while another 30 odd others were sitting around in case I needed them in not so critical situations. In Batman: Arkham Origins, the use of one button for many cases is handled really well by dividing Batman’s actions into various “states”. I call them states because while you are in them, it changes the outcome of your actions. In combat, double-tapping space will make you leap above or away from enemies. If you double-tap space after having stunned an enemy, however, then Batman enters a different “state” and will jump onto that enemy and knock him down. If you are crouching, pressing space will allow you to open sewer grates, an action that is impossible while standing. The aim here is to have one key that does multiple things, but that these actions be clearly separated by having different “states” in which they can occur. And it works really well in important situations like combat, flying around, quick-time events etc.
Where it doesn’t work so well is specific situations that don’t occur often enough to be game-breaking. And because of that, it makes the issue even more noticeable. Let me illustrate what I am saying with a few examples:
Imagine that you have just blown up a fragile wall that is blocking access to the inside part of this little area on top of many of the Gotham roofs. You are standing in the red circle, right outside the shed. As one is used from games such as Batman and Assassin’s Creed, you press forward + spacebar in order to run inside, even though there is no rush.
One of two things will then occur: Depending on the angle of Batman, he will either perform what you asked him and run in the shed, or jump up, grab onto the ledge above his head, and climb on top of the ledge. I have had both occur to me. It is a case of “sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t”. So because of that, I was never forced to learn something along the lines of “first walk in, then run”. I just pressed forward + spacebar, and hoped. The pace of the game has slowed down after having blown up the wall through a mini-cut scene of applying the explosive gel, Batman is stationary, I am collecting datapacks which are stationary items. And because this happens in calm situations where absolutely nothing else is happening around me, it makes this spacebar gamble very annoying because all of my focus is on that. Because it works sometimes it gives me the feeling that it should work all the time.
Another scenario where this happens is when running towards a door while holding spacebar. In order to open the door, I need to press spacebar. Unfortunately, if I press it one millisecond before Batman is within the range of the action to open the door is available, I see the masked vigilante plunge into the door as if I had performed a double-tap dodge. I watch him then shamefully get up, compose himself and open the door like a normal human being.
Finally, the most frustrating scenario is in combat, after having ranked up a serious amount of combo points, I stun an armored opponent using my cape, and notice an imminent danger behind him. I thus double-tap the spacebar to escape the danger by jumping over the armored opponent. Unfortunately, I had made the mistake to stun him first, which sees Batman jumping onto him to knock him down. This is a move that does not work on armored enemies, and not only does he not take any damage, but I also lose all of my combo points.
Add the possibility for keybind differentiation for keyboard controls. When I went into the game’s options, I was not very happy to see this:
I understand that it’s not fun to have to memorize an entire keybind for something that is only used rarely. However, why is it that the key Q is not used at all? Why is it that the key E, which is generally used for “Use” in most other PC games, is only mapped to taking down opponents? Since the game uses the afore-mentioned “states”, a good solution would be for E to be “Use” out of combat, and “Take down” in combat.
My opinion as a player:
I thoroughly enjoy the Batman series, and absolutely love the combat, flight and detective mechanics. Story-wise, I felt that Origins was a bit Arkham City all over again, however that is not necessarily a bad thing as the game itself feels absolutely fun and rewarding. I am really looking forward to the next installment!
Image © TheSyanArt