Stealth design in video games falls into one of two categories: Either focused on keeping the player hidden and getting around enemies or about giving the player the ability to clear out a room, one enemy at a time. But where both schools of thought fail is with the concept of a boss fight or grand test of the player’s ability. For today’s post I want to share one of, if not the best example of challenging the player with a proper stealth boss fight from Batman: Arkham City.
For this post I’m going to be fully spoiling the Mr. Freeze fight from Batman: Arkham City. There will not be any plot discussion however.
The Mr. Freeze fight takes place in the old police station that players visited and performed a stealth section earlier in the game. The battle is a one on one with Mr. Freeze who due to his suit is invulnerable to Batman’s attacks head on. Instead, the challenge of the fight is that the player must perform as many stealth ways of disabling an enemy to render Freeze susceptible to damage.
The first thing that players will notice is that gargoyles that are used to grapple up to have been frozen over and are inaccessible, cluing the player into the fact that their usual tricks won’t work for this fight.
Freeze will actively search for the player and will also track their footprints. This can be used against him to lead him into traps as the environment has all the environmental based traps the player has seen up to that point in the game.
But the real challenge to this fight and what makes it so well designed is how Freeze essentially upgrades himself based on the player’s actions. Each time the player pulls off an attack and weakens Freeze, he adapts to prevent that trick from working again.
For instance, after the player attacks by using Batman’s glide to kick Freeze, he’ll lower the temperature of the room to prevent Batman from gliding again for the remainder of the fight.
One of his nastiest tricks is if the player makes use of detective vision (Batman’s ability to see enemies through walls) too often, he will scramble it and prevent its use.
Further still, if the player decides to hide from Freeze long enough, he’ll send out drones to hunt Batman down, further preventing the player from over relying on one tactic.
What makes this fight such a great example of not only stealth design, but game design as well is how it tests the player. In every battle and situation in each Batman game, the player/Batman always has the advantage. Whether it is from Batman’s combat prowess or his technology for stealth fights. But this fight turns that advantage on its head and forces the player to be the weaker person in the fight.
This battle is a great test of the player’s skill at stealth and a crash course in using all of Batman’s stealth abilities. Playing through the normal game, it’s very easy to just use the grapple points combined with stealth takedowns to eliminate most threats. And in a way, circumvent the majority of the tactics available.
It’s interesting how the player is still considered the aggressor, even though they are restricted to traps and stealth attacks. As Freeze won’t make a mistake on his own part, forcing the player to set things up in advance and make things happen.
One important element is that outside of Batman attacking a stunned Freeze, there is never a point in the fight where things devolve into regular action. Every time Freeze gets stunned and damaged, the player only has a few seconds to get away before Freeze reboots his armor and starts going after the player again.
What makes this an example of a great stealth battle is that the designers are testing the player’s mastery of the stealth system.
A design example last seen in Metal Gear Solid 3 with the battle against The End which incidentally, is another excellent example of having a stealth fight but for different reasons.
A lot of times, developers assume that being stealthy is about being weak and not wanting to fight. But just because stealth is a thinking man’s game, doesn’t mean that there can’t be action. Games like Batman: Arkham City showed that stealth can be used on offense and it can deliver some great gameplay moments without a complete shift in design.