Video Game Combat: A Top 10 Countdown

The thrill of cathartic combat never fails to deliver immense pleasure. However, for a game to supply such combat, a satisfying combat system is required. 

That being said, just what is it that makes a combat system good, let alone one of the best? In order to be classed under this bracket, a combat-centred title must contain at least one of the following elements: depth, complexity, and fun factor. 

So, brandish all swords. Load all ballistics. Set thy sights on this list and enjoy the 10 Best Combat Systems in gaming — in my humblest opinion.

10th Place – Batman: Arkham City

Free-flowing, rhythmically charged combat adds up to an addictive experience

If Batman were to form a band, they would perform emo rock, but would also be a certified hit if the rhythm-based combat in 2011’s Arkham City is anything to go by. 

Having the Caped Crusader snap like a magnet from enemy to enemy produces an addictive flow to each fracas. Also, the scintillating pop of every punch and kick combine to create a violent melody to tap your toes to. 

Moreover, just as in music, the key to Arkham City’s combat is timing. This is evident in the counter system. Shifting to the counter button just before a hostile attack connects awards the player additional hits, all while maintaining the established melody.

Although this is immensely fun and satisfying, it is not particularly complex. Rocksteady attempted to combat this by including multitudinous gadgets for Batman to use in combat, but these serve little purpose outside of preserving the flow of a combo. 

9th Place – Max Payne 3

If you are a fan of slow-motion gunslinging then this game is sure to woo you

If you have ever witnessed a John Woo film and thought to yourself “Chow Yun-Fat is my spirit animal”, Max Payne 3 should hold a prestigious position on your must-play list. 

For good reason, bullet time has always been pushed as Max Payne’s main selling point. Cutting through the wind, dispensing bullets into nearby foes, and watching as each one pierces their bodies in slow motion grants the player the perception of coolness. 

How does Max Payne 3 differentiate itself though? Simple. It allows players to snap between enemies by holding down the right trigger moments after releasing it. Consequently, Max Payne 3 offers smoother gunplay compared to the rigid, and sensitive aiming of prior entries.

However, using the right bumper and left analogue stick to activate bullet time while holding the right trigger to shoot is like changing chords on a guitar. This meaning that it takes time, practice and some skill to perform smoothly and seamlessly.  

8th Place – BioShock 

Zap ’em and whack ’em, a philosophy that will see you comfortably to the end of this game

BioShock is a rather interesting title as it walks a fine line between containing a wealth of emergent depth and becoming standard affair. 

Without doubt, the inclusion of Plasmids certainly livens up an otherwise conventional FPS experience by allowing players to combine different Plasmid and weapon combinations to discover the most unique methods of dispatching the game’s enemies. 

Also, each of the environments in BioShock are designed in such a way that using Plasmids advantageously is highly encouraged. An example of this would be locating a Splicer, the title’s main foe, standing in a puddle while the player has a shockingly effective Plasmid at the ready. 

However, these opportunities come with a disappointing lack of creativity, meaning that the game’s combat usually boils down to the repetitious, yet effective strategy of, as one of the game’s principle characters describes it, “zap ‘em, then wack ‘em”. 

7th Place – Bayonetta 

Far from a Dante clone, Bayonetta’s finest moves have us bewitched

Bayonetta is the perfect character action title for both those who are experienced in this genre, and those looking to cut their teeth on it. 

Hideki Kamiya’s fun action romp contains seemingly endless combos. While experienced players will easily remember them and their methods of execution, inexperienced players can practice them in-between stages and discover the moves they find the most effective.

Thankfully, the relatively inexperienced need only time one move perfectly to really dish out some punishment: the dodge. Doing so activates Witch Time where everything slows almost to a halt. From there, every consecutive strike feels earned.

Although the overall satisfaction levels are diminished somewhat thanks to the perplexing UI. During heated battles, the score cards go into hyperdrive, failing to effectively communicate how well players are doing, while also overwhelming them with unnecessary information.  

6th Place – Doom (2016)

To survive, one must keep moving forward, Boom Stick in hand, ready to rip and tear

What video games excel at more than any other medium is supplying players with a power fantasy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in id Software’s seminal reboot of Doom. 

In Doom (2016)’s case, the fantasy comes from feeling like an Apex predator. The push forward combat, where players are incentivised to stay on the move, at the game’s core bolsters this fantasy as players are constantly laying waste to one demonic prey after another.

One of the ways in which players are incentivised to practice the push forward combat philosophy is by offering rewards. For example, only those who get up close and personal with their prey to deal sufficient damage will be rewarded with a splendidly gory glory kill.

Unfortunately, that horrible repetition rears his ugly head once again. With little variation among the glory kills and increasingly similar combat scenarios, players will become tragically accustomed to the brutal violence that surrounds them. 

5th Place – Final Fantasy VII 

Achieving victory in Final Fantasy VII means thinking two steps ahead of your opponent

It is not necessary for combat to run in real time to cause sweat to slowly drip from the brow of action game enthusiasts as Final Fantasy VII demonstrates with merit.

As players watch their health gradually deplete, with no knowledge of how many more blows their foe can withstand, and the countdown to their own turn fast approaching its end, a decision must quickly be reached. 

It is this degree of thought and strategy that elevates Final Fantasy VII above the competition of its time. Demanding this degree of agency from the player who grips the controller in their increasingly moist palms guarantees unwavering engagement. 

Alas, there is also an unpleasant whiff of unfairness that lingers in this system from time-to-time as there are indeed occasions where enemies will land multiple successful strike on the player when their turn should have already come to pass. 

4th Place – Metal Gear Rising: Revengance 

That’s not a sword… THIS is a sword

Rarely do video game swords feel like actual cutting tools. To this, Metal Gear Rising: Revengance commands its contemporaries to hold its virtual beer. 

When Raiden unsheathes his High Frequency Blade, no one, and no thing, is safe. Players can dismember individual limbs, rip through obstacles like paper and gain health from cleaving an enemy’s sweet spot, giving a little extra incentive to practice one’s precision slicing. 

On that note, not all rewards are that material. MGR: R’s parry system is unique in that players must attack into a foe’s strike the moment it connects. Following this, they have free rein to go to town, placing them at a well-earned advantage. 

Unfortunately, this system is not flawless. In fact, the very act of pressing the attack button along with the forward direction often triggers unintended assaults in place of parries. Also, there is a frustrating limit to what can be cut by Raiden’s blade.   

3rd Place – Marvel’s Spider-Man 

In Marvel’s Spider-Man, you will need to be as quick to the think as you are to the punch

Taking podium position is a game with a combat system that stays true to the essence of its title character, successfully positioning gamers as that character. 

Similar to the quip-tastic web head, players can utilise quick attacks, swift dodges, gadgets, environmental takedowns and webbing tricks to their advantage in combat. However, it is the complex task of juggling all these elements that allows players to embody the character of Spider-Man.  

Often, a battle arena will fill with enemies who need to be dealt with distinctly. Therefore, it is imperative to creatively combine every trick in Spidey’s arsenal to achieve victory. Those who do so will earn a hard-fought victory worthy of any comic book story. 

Of course, it is only by thinking on their toes and keeping a close eye on their surroundings at all times that players will be able to spot advantageous opportunities, making Marvel’s Spider-Man the thinking man’s superhero game. 

2nd Place – Resident Evil 4 

A seemingly odd choice, but Resident Evil 4 beautifully marries action and horror *sniffle*

Tut you may, but it will soon be clear to all that Resident Evil 4’s combat puts both the action and the horror in action horror. 

Although Resident Evil 4 relishes action, the precision aiming maintains the strategic planning present in prior entries. Do you risk a potentially fatal head shot, or do you go for the knees to slow down one of your many attackers?

On that note, you yourself are unable to move when aiming down the sights of your weapon, building the tension to levels which exceed 9,000 as you attempt to quickly devise your plan of attack all while the hostile AI bears down on you with each passing second. 

As you can see, Resident Evil 4 neither betrays its horror roots, nor the action undertones ever present in the series by placing emphasis on combat while nailing players to the floor during tense moments, forcing them to think or die.

Cue Drum Roll… 

1st Place – Devil May Cry V

The unconquerable king of complexity, Devil May Cry V tops this list

For those familiar with my work, this comes as no surprise. Although Itsuno-san’s decision to devise unique fighting styles for all 3 playable characters was a stroke of genius. 

Nero steps out of Dante’s shadow with the inclusion of his Devil Breaker Arms. These come with an excellent risk/reward system that will have you thinking three steps ahead in every battle to ensure you are never short changed. 

V refuses to get his hands dirty, and instead lets his demonic pets conduct the hard work. However, keep a careful eye on V as he is not invincible. Being wary of one’s environment mattered little until this enigmatic figure arrived.

Finally, Dante’s constant weapon and style switching, along with his combos that require the collaboration of every button on the controller, still make for one of the most deep and complex combat systems in gaming. 

Each of these playstyles never outstay their welcome, creating a gaming experience that fails to grow tiresome. Devil May Cry V’s combat system is one that action fans will want to master, rather than simply feel the need to do. Hail to the king, baby!

Which games do you feel have the best combat systems in gaming? Join in the discussion on Twitter @WillDoubleJ.

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