The art of button mashing has long been a fundamental part of beat 'em up video games. The art of complex combat systems, on the other hand, isn't really all that dated, and is still leaps and bounds from breaching perfection. Although, as it stands, there are still plenty of well-balanced games on the market with quality combat mechanics and fluid motion controls.
The point is, we all adore the idea of being able to pummel a dozen or more enemies into submission without receiving so much as a scratch in return. There's something awfully satisfying about mastering combat and transforming into an army of one, complete with all the skill trees and knowledge arcs to conquer the board with ease. And as far as these five action games go — grasping the very pockets of combat knowledge has never been more pleasing to comprehend.
5. Batman Arkham (Series)
Now, there's a reason why the Arkham chapters went on to become a critical success compared to Batman's earlier games which, in all honesty, tanked pretty hard when it came to the gameplay elements. That's because Rocksteady Studios, being an elite developer with a deep level of knowledge on all things action-based, was able to channel its proficiency into Batman's legendary comic book qualities. Putting the two together, Arkham Asylum turned out to be a complete game-changer in the genre, as well as an iron staple on the superheroes gaming portfolio.
To be fair, you could consider Batman: Arkham Asylum as being one of the founding fathers of the free-flow combat system. Setting the benchmark incredibly high from the get-go, Rocksteady Studio knew exactly how to build on a technique that would later inspire other action games to follow suit. Without Arkham, we probably wouldn't have had Mad Max, as well as most games on this list, to be honest.
4. Mad Max
Speaking of which, Mad Max was another great game that flowed from the same vein as the Arkham trilogy. I mean, you could even say that its combat was an exact replica of Batman's renowned series. It's easy to spot the similarities, of course, and its evident Avalanche pinched a few of Rocksteady's ingredients to brew its action-packed formula.
You could argue that Mad Max had the better combat system overall, in all fairness. Although extracted from the same pool, its rough-and-ready styles were punching towards a much maturer audience. And next to a story that was heavily focused on vehicular combat, that sort of enhanced the melee physics by leaps and bounds. Together, Mad Max formed as one action-heavy experience that practically bled blood-quenching brutality.
3. Sleeping Dogs
Originally slated as True Crime: Hong Kong, the ultimate martial arts masterclass in motion Sleeping Dogs was a perfect example of how combat could redeem a cluster of minor flaws in a video game. Unfortunately for United Front Games, however, Sleeping Dogs was very much slept on after its 2012 release. But that doesn't mean its combat system wasn't worthy enough to hold a place on the frontline of the action genre.
Sleeping Dogs brought a lot of fresh ingredients to the table. It also fused martial arts with weapon-based and vehicular combat, making it an all-round fantastic banquet of grizzly goodness. Sure the game might have slipped the radar ever so slightly, but one can't ignore the fact that its combat was perhaps one of most innovative of its time.
2. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
There's no denying the fact that Tolkien's world has benefited greatly from the oceans of video games and other forms of media over the past several decades. And unlike other games based on books or movies, The Lord of the Rings, thankfully, does have its fair share of stellar titles. Luckily, that reputation was upheld with Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor back in 2014.
The jam-packed open-world game might have been rather complex, what with its infamous Nemesis system, but that doesn't excuse the fact that its combat, on the other hand, was one of the greatest we've ever laid eyes on. Fast-paced, fluid and flawless — Shadow of Mordor delivered a technically advanced palette of combos to forge a next-level experience. An experience that, in all honesty, would have made Tolkien himself blush with pride.
1. Marvel's Spider-Man
Of course, it just had to be a Marvel game. And yes — it had to be Spider-Man. The web-slinging superhero was basically destined for the podium just as soon as we mentioned combat, to be fair. And Marvel's Spider-Man, without a shred of doubt, was one of the greatest torch-bearers for the free-flow style we've ever had the pleasure of picking up.
From the moment you're hurled into the heart of New York City, combat becomes your second greatest ally. Besides slinging from one landmark to the next, chaining together attack sequences truly is your primary focal point. And as time advances and the story unfolds, those sequences eventually expand into something truly mesmerising. Think you're usual POW! POP! WAM!, only with a lot more oomph, and on a much bigger screen. That's basically a shortened version of the combat system. We'll just leave it at that.
So, what combat systems have stood out for you over the years? Do you agree with our five? Let us know over on our socials here.