The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The friend of my enemy is my favourite weapon.
Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
What’s the most important skill an evil henchman needs to have a chance against a team of superheroes? A marksman’s eye perhaps, or mastery of the Hydra stun-stick? No. He needs to know where not to stand.
When I’m piloting Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, and Magik, it’s not really saving the world that’s on my mind. I’m here to play Bad Guy Billiards. Marvel’s Midnight Suns grants you an arsenal of pushes and shoves that would make a schoolyard bully drool. The correct use for them is to hoist your enemy so hard with their own petard that they’re picking pieces of that petard out of their bottom for a week.
Standing too close to an ally? You’re getting smashed into that ally’s face. Standing too close to an explosive barrel? You’re getting smashed into its (non-existent) face and then it’s going to blow up and take out all the other losers who thought loitering near a big red cylinder was a cool thing to do. Standing on the other side of the map in relative safety? You’re getting punted through a portal to Limbo and back out again so I can smash you into your mate’s face right before he does his big AoE attack that none of my lads are anywhere near. Maybe your spatial awareness skills don’t have anything to do with things, now I come to think about it.
Mechanics like these fall into a realm I like to call dumb-smart. It really doesn’t take that much tactical sense to line up a nice human ricochet, especially in a turn-based game where you’ve got all the time in the world to get the angle right. “Push man into other man, make men hurt” is what it really amounts to, once we strip away our strategy gamer pretences. And yet every time you do it, it makes you feel like a genius—a master of angles and efficiency, turning the enemy’s own force against them like Bruce Lee. That’s a game design sweet spot right there.
It fits perfectly in Marvel’s Midnight Suns, with its cast of comic book superheroes. What could be more appropriate for these crash-bang pugilists than to toss their enemies around like ragdolls? You can practically see the sound effect bubbles. Boff! Pow! Zoop!
But credit where it’s due. The most beautifully distilled form of killing a guy with another guy is found in Into the Breach. The strategy classic’s giant bugs seem deliberately evolved to be battered into each other, awaiting only a nudge from your team of mech pilots.
(Image credit: Subset Games)
By giving you a perfect information state where you can glance across the battlefield and see all of next turn’s attacks laid out before you, Into the Breach turns you into an arthropod prankster. You thought you were going to claw my poor little giant robot? Think again. You blinked and I knocked you back into your mate, ready to scratch him instead, weakening both of you for next turn when I slam you into a building and then let you get mulched from below by the desperate digging of your own oblivious reinforcements. Welcome to Earth.
The lesson here is obvious: we must divest ourselves of such boring instruments as guns and swords, and embrace knockback. Make Call of Duty into a game about throwing terrorists at each other. Let me drop a hurlock on one of those horned ogres in Dragon Age so the horns spike him in the bum. Release a Crusader Kings 3 expansion that lets me load my political enemies into trebuchets and fire them at the Holy Roman Empire.
Let us be dumb-smart in everything, and we will enjoy a golden age of PC gaming.