At Arms Length

While ‘Arms’ is great fun, it is lacking in truly human moments.

Written by Richard Clark / Published on July 12, 2017

In Arms, throwing is designed to catch you off guard. In a game full of long-range punches, projectiles, blocks, and dodges, being suddenly captured and pulled toward your opponent is disorienting. The resulting spectacle of any given character’s signature throw adds an element of awe to the proceedings.

"The opportunity for an intense, intimate game of violent chess gives way instead to something more detached, calculated, and routine."
It is fitting that in a game made up of largely detached combat, the moment of attachment would be the most striking. It serves as a climactic exception, the moment in the game when the players connect to one another, even if only to clobber one another further.

Otherwise, Arms goes to great length to keep players at bay from one another. Punching another person is an inherently intimate act that brings people closer even as it commits the ultimate offense: direct personal violence.

But characters are armed with springs, noodles, and hair that extend well beyond their comfort zones. The competition in which they compete makes a show of intimacy without the messiness of human contact.

Arms cleverly crafts a world of characters defined by the ways in which they are distinct. As opposed to, for instance, the characters of Overwatch which are defined by the ways they complement one another, Arms presents us with a group of personalities competing in a largely zero-sum game.

Each character has its own particular values, some even going so far as to cheat in personally unique and brazen ways (see Ninjara’s tendency to warp in mid-air, or Byte and Barq’s insistence on fighting with an entire extra character). These values clash, quite literally, with one another. The characters do not appreciate one another. They do not seem to, mechanically or narratively, admire the skill or approach of the other.

 

But they compete, which in its own way is an implicit appreciation for one’s opponent. By taking the initiative to face each other, they give one another credence.

That is the context in which the player shoots fists at their opponents like projectiles. It’s the context that lays the groundwork for multiplayer matches that feel largely like escapist distractions.

What might help in this regard is stakes, which the default multiplayer modes for Arms lacks completely. Having not unlocked the ranked mode yet, it’s difficult to know how much this might change when a number is attached to your performance.

But even in that context, the throw serves as a reminder of just how much is left out of Arms’ approach to the fighting genre. The opportunity for an intense, intimate game of violent chess gives way instead to something more detached, calculated, and routine. Truly human moments are largely absent, a consequence of a game that insists on keeping its players at arm’s length.

About the Author:

Richard Clark is director of editorial development for CT Pastors and Preaching Today, a co-founder of Christ and Pop Culture, and has written for Unwinnable and Kill Screen. He can be followed on twitter @TheRichardClark.