Arkham Knight: The Iceberg Lounge

So I’m pretty into the Arkham games. I’ve written over a dozen articles about them since 2016, most recently looking at architecture in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, and – you know, I just really enjoy them. It’s not just a story thing either – I love the gameplay. There’s something really satisfying about the system of punch and counter that makes up the combat, and sneaking around and ambushing dudes with guns is also routinely very funny. I put a bunch of time into the challenge modes as well. I’ve got maybe four scores in Arkham Knight that are in the top five hundred in the world, and one of those is top two hundred. It’s not necessarily worth litigating exact positions too closely – many of the top places in each map are hacked or glitched, with time trials completed in 0:00:00 seconds, and also scores also just naturally change over time. Two of my high scores, when I made them, were in the top 70 globally. I had a 72nd, and a 74th. Over time, people submitted better runs, and now my scores have slipped down into the three and four hundreds. But the point is I play a lot of Arkham Knight.

I’m wanting to talk today about one particular challenge map – the Iceberg Lounge. The Lounge is an endless combat challenge: rather than the standard four rounds with set enemies, you fight one round with new enemies constantly spawning in, and you go until you die. The game is set up so that each challenge has three stars, three tiers of medal. For the Iceberg Lounge, the medals are set at 10,000, 30,000, and 50,000 points. My current high score is 1.4 million. That’s – a bunch of points, sure, although in this particular map it’s actually a bit middling. The Iceberg Lounge has a secret where, if you get up to a million points, Killer Croc will jump into the arena, and you’ll get to battle him alongside Nightwing. So a bunch of people have made it to a million. With my score, I’m ranked somewhere in the 8,000s. It’s not exactly world class, but it’s not awful. It’s enough to get us started talking about strategy. So: as might be evident, this article is going to be a little irregular. We are just going to talk about strategies for taking on the Iceberg Lounge. It’s not my normal shtick, but – well, one of the features of the written word is its ability to distend time. We can take something that happens very fast and break it down into its component parts in a slow, systematic manner. When you’re playing a combat map, you’re making decisions at speed. It’s kinda interesting to take that process and tease it out, figure out what’s actually going on. I think there’s value in taking a minute to articulate all that.

So then: the Iceberg Lounge. As I said, it’s an endless combat map. Enemies will spawn, and you fight until you drop. Your goal is to reach a high score. Different types of actions are scored in different ways: a basic punch is ten points, and a counter is twenty. You also receive a multiplier for each action ‘chained’ together. If you punch one guy and then counter someone else, the multiplier will tick up. If you get hit, or if you take too long (more than about a second), the multiplier drops. This multiplier is obviously the key to your score: if you’re only making individual punches, you’ll have to punch a hundred thousand times to get to a million points. By contrast, if you have a multiplier of, say, 300, each punch is worth 3,000 points and each counter 6,000. So there are two reasons to avoid damage: obviously if you take too much damage you’ll die, but a hit also resets your score multiplier. It takes time to build back up to a multiplier where you’re making a meaningful number of points. That’s extra time where you’re at risk of further mistakes and ultimately at risk of a game over.

In that context, part of the strategy for the Iceberg Lounge is keeping down the risks to your multiplier. You especially want to keep down the opportunities for unblockable attacks. Whenever you complete an action (like an attack or a counter), the game triggers one of the thugs to run up and swing at you. That’s the basis of the game’s combat rhythm. In that moment, you typically have three major options: you can counter, move away, or (if you’re quick) punch him first. However, some of the thugs have gear that can’t be countered. If you’re attacked by a thug with a taser or a car door, or by an electrified thug, the normally blue ‘counter’ icon turns red, indicating the attack is unblockable. And you can’t punch them either: all of these thugs are invulnerable to front-on attacks. They either block you or you get zapped – in both cases losing your multiplier. There are of course more sophisticated solutions, but it’s all a little more complicated than the basic punch and counter. It forces you to vary your behaviour. More complex variation means more cognitive processing, and higher chance of a mistake. So you want to break their shit. You can’t just knock them out, because another thug will pick their gear up. You have to break their shit.

We haven’t really got that far into things yet – we haven’t talked about Killer Croc, or the mini-boss heavies who get loaded in – but I think the basic shape of things is starting to emerge. When the goal is point-scoring, your strategy revolves around finding ways to accelerate your score and then protecting those accelerations. The Iceberg Lounge is an endurance map, where sustainability is the primary factor. Lowering the cognitive load, and keeping it low – that’s the game. Or at least that’s the start of it. I’ll check back in after two million, see if I still feel the same.

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