Grappling Hooks: The Integral and Defining Feature of Gaming
Video games have been around for nearly fifty years. Over the course of the past few decades, trends have come and trends have gone within video game culture. When games began to utilize open worlds, many other games followed suit. When video games decided that climbing mechanics were the next big hit, many began to replicate this feature in their own way. However, there is one game mechanic that no matter how much time passes or what stage in the video game zeitgeist we are living in that remains, bar none, the best feature a video game can have: a grappling hook.
There is just something so wholesome, so endlessly fun, and so unendingly rewarding about being able to traverse a wild terrain by slinging a grappling hook and getting the job done; perhaps there’s only one way to cross a wide ravine surrounded by waterfalls, maybe players need to gain the high ground on an enemy and lunge a katana into their torso from above, maybe players are being chased by a horde of undead and a quick grappling hook to the rooftops is their best escape, or maybe players just want to see what happens when they grappling hook an enemy soldier and tether them onto a moving helicopter.
This article will begin by touching upon other game mechanics and why they fall short in comparison. Followed by exploring some of the top games of the last twenty years that featured grappling hooks and discussing the value of such a useful mechanic, how it affects the games they’re included in. Concluding with why the grappling hook has been such a beloved feature of modern video games and why it will still remain when other game features fall to the wayside. Light spoilers throughout.
Quick Time Couldn’t Die Fast Enough
Video games are just like any other industry; there’s supply and demand, user basis determines functionality, and, just like everything else in life, what is popular one day may fall to the wayside the next. Since the year 2000, thousands of games have been released. Ranging from the gems of the bygone era of PS2s and original flavor Xbox to our more modern consoles like the PS4 and the Xbox One (at the time this article is being written). Each testing their luck at innovating and improving previous game mechanics while also attempting to change gamer’s perceptions by integrating new ones.
Back in 2001, Grand Theft Auto 3 was released to critical acclaim. One of the first games of the past twenty years to feature an open world that allowed player to essential do and, more importantly, go wherever they wanted within the confines of the game. Since then, and perhaps more so recently, this concept has only picked up steam. Zelda, Fallout, Minecraft, Assassin’s Creed (fill in the blank), Metro Exodus, No Man’s Sky (the latter perhaps taking this to the furthest extreme), and countless others have all built their entire gaming model around one idea: open world.
Unfortunately, the companies that produce video games have taken this as a sign that this is the demand of the people. Games now must be within an open world, sometimes to their detriment (think of Metal Gear Survive). Video game developers appear to have lost sight that core mechanics and engaging narrative can be enough to keep players engaged.
A few other notable features that have attempted to hold a place in the hearts of video game players for the past two decades include: quick time events, climbing mechanics, double jumps, multiple endings, turn-based (which has mostly evolved into real-time), crafting, character customization, fast travel, RPG-style skill trees, and upgradable equipment are just a few of what are more common place in games. Some of these are great, while some of them are pretty terrible. There is, however, one game mechanic that stands up to this riffraff; that whenever encountered is always one of the most useful and best features of those games have: the grappling hook. Some of the very best games of our generation feature grappling hook mechanics and that is what this article aims to highlight.
Sekiro: Played it Twice
From Software is a Japanese video game development company known for their Dark Souls trilogy (dark fantasy epics) and their standalone hit title Bloodborne (a Lovecraftian steampunk nightmare). While these game’s settings are entirely different and wholly unique onto themselves, there are several characteristics that they do share between them: brutal and unforgiving combat, death having real consequences, and the beloved dodge-roll, just to name a few. But in 2019, From Software released a new title. One that stripped away the concepts of equipment, character customization, the dark fantasy or steam punk settings, and threw players into feudal Japan with nothing but a sword, prosthetic arm, and a tale of honor and redemption. That game was Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
Although the game did strip away some of the more familiar aspects From Software players had grown accustomed to, it introduced several others that truly made this a standout hit. While such mechanics as blocking and parrying do exist and are considered as core aspects of the aforementioned titles, it was Sekiro that introduced a whole new and intense spin on the concept. Blocking was not only a useful skill but a crucial part to the gameplay. Parrying was no longer considered as optional but a mandatory and vital part of the gameplay where a single misstep or miscalculated parry could cost players their progress, and their lives. Away with the multitude of weaponry and brought forth was a single weapon that required players to master it if they wanted to excel: the katana. Gone were the customizable characters and equipment loadouts and in its place was our hero Wolf’s prosthetic arm: a tool filled with many notable ninja and samurai inspired weaponry and gadgets. One of which, that was ever present and available to the players, was the grappling hook.
This aspect of the game was required for traversing certain terrains or reaching secret locations. It was useful for gaining the higher ground on enemies and dropping down from above to impale them on Wolf’s blade. The grappling hook became a boon during most, if not all, boss fights (From Software sure doesn’t short-change the players on their brutalist gameplay there), and, all in all, was an incredibly fun mechanic to have at the player’s disposal. The grappling hook was the crux of the game; allowing players the freedom to chose the routes they took, the secrets they discovered, and the strategies they implemented when fighting enemies.
In one of the main storyline bosses, the players are forced to confront the immortal being that protects the Lotus of the Palace flower: The Guardian Ape. With staggering attack patterns to learn and multiple stages to fight through, players could use the grappling hook to attach to the trees throughout the “arena” to launch themselves in or out of battle as well as strike key blows to defeat the beast. Without further beating this dead ape into the ground (or cutting its head off and ripping its immortality from its corpse) it goes without saying that the grappling hook was not only crucial to the gameplay of this title, but the enjoyment that players received from mastering it.
Lost Planet Gave us Chills
The first Lost Planet was created by renowned video game developer Capcom and released to the Xbox 360 and the PS3 in 2006. Two more game within the franchise followed with Lost Planet 2 in 2010 and Lost Planet 3 in 2013. The story takes place on the fictional planet E.D.N.III after Earth had become uninhabitable due to war and the usual pollution/global warming trope. Though, this may have been more a case of out of the frying pan and into the freezer(?).
E.D.N.III was where humanity ultimately relocates to but it was also currently in the throes of a brutal ice age and the only way to survive the “extreme conditions” was to harvest the thermal energy from local native species. This could then be translated into energy the player could use to heal themselves and survive the unforgiving landscapes. So, what better tool to have at a player’s exposal for such situations? A grappling hook feature known as an “anchor.”
A tool that is always available to players and could be utilized in a number of different ways: Players could use the anchor to not only reach higher areas but grant them a brief reprieve from the onslaught of enemy combatants which was comprised of the Akrid (large insectoid creatures that range in size and attacks) to the humans scavenging for their own thermal energy. If players were to unwittingly fall off of a ledge, the anchor would automatically deploy and allow them to rappel their way down or climb back up. The anchor could also be used by players to latch themselves to the Akrid to deal up-close and personal amounts of damage, something that Capcom expanded upon in its sequel, Lost planet 2. Speaking of, the second entry in the series sets players up against enormous Akrid (we’re talking Shadow of the Colossus sized creatures) to be defeated utilizing mech suits, massive weapons, and, of course, the ever-useful anchor. In addition to taking what made the original great, Capcom also facilitated a campaign multiplayer, encouraging players to band together with their friends and face these giant foes as a team, carrying over progress and experience for host and joined payers alike. Imagine Starship Troopers set on an ice planet and that’s about halfway to how great this game really was.
Of a Dying Breed
Dying Light is an open world first person survival horror game developed by Techland, the same people behind Dead Island, where players needed to loot resources and help survivors escape from both the infected and the fictitious city of Harran where the game took place. Similar to Dead Island, the game featured a heavy emphasis on melee weaponry and the customization of such, including but not limited to: katanas, machetes, axes, and baseball bats (add in a little fire, electricity, poison, or barbed wire and players had themselves a party). Using such weapons to fight the average daylight dwelling slow plodding zombies, the nightmare inducing fast paced pursers of the night, and the run of the mill “special” zombies ranging from tanks to capturers was enough to make one’s heart skip a beat.
While focusing heavily on parkour mechanics, players were able to traverse the urban landscape by leaping over buildings, climbing walls, sliding through obstacles, jumping from roof to roof, and ziplining from the towering buildings to quickly cover large swathes of ground. The grappling hook in Dying Light was not immediately available to the players. It was unlockable only by leveling up the survival skill tree to level twelve. Unlike the previously discussed entries, this one made players earn the right to indulge in the game-changing piece of equipment.
Once players had unlocked the grappling hook, a whole new aspect opened up to the game. While the grappling hook did require a brief cooldown period between uses if the player exhausted the meter, players had an entirely new ability to both the traveling and fighting aspects of the game. With parkour being the primary consideration for how players travel throughout the game, players could then consider how to utilize the grappling hook to increase their capabilities. Players being chased by the free running undead at night could lob a flash bomb in front of them, slide through a narrow passageway just in time to avoid the blast, and use the grappling hook to zip to the nearest rooftop and escape unharmed. Previous locations that were once unreachable, or only through difficulty and time-consuming methods, were now only a quick grappling hook away.
However, travel was not the tool’s only function. Players could explode Bomber zombies safely from a distance. They could use it to close the gap on Bolters for their quest related materials or Rai’s men fleeing with valuable equipment from drop sites. It was also incredibly useful for escaping the hordes when their numbers become too great. The game truly opened up to the player once the grappling hook was unlocked. With the enhancement to both combat and travel by with addition of the grappling hook, the game goes from middle of the road first-person survival horror to a zombie massacring parkour extravaganza where the player was the deadliest predator within the game.
Titanfall 2: Electric Boogaloo
Respawn Entertainment are the creators behind the free-to-play battle royal shooter Apex Legends and the soulsbourne-like hack and slasher Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. While the company has seen great success with both of these titles, it was a game called Titanfall released in 2014 that started them along the road and by 2016, Respawn Entertainment released their new and improved follow-up: Titanfall 2. While the game was received with mostly critical acclaim, it unfortunately failed to perform commercially and thus, it is likely the last in the series that players will see.
Titanfall 2 featured a moderately short campaign (especially in consideration to most video games these days) taking approximately five to seven hours in total to complete and focusing on the “buddy cop” relationship between a relatively bland protagonist, Jack Cooper, and his Titan, BT-7274. Although this would seem to be a detriment to the game, many considered the storyline to be unique and entertaining while also introducing players to the game mechanics and facilitating the way towards the online multiplayer; the area where the game truly shined.
Featuring mechanics such as double jumps, sliding, and wall running, this fast-paced shooter also allowed players to eventually summon mechanical behemoths to rain unholy hellfire down upon their enemies. Respawn managed to take the age-old first-person shooter formula and apply it from the small scale to the large by allowing players to control the enormous exosuits from the pilot seat, literally.
Now, beyond all of the obviously great things about Titanfall 2, there are actually several unique features hidden below the surface when it came to the multiplayer as well. Melee kills could feature a unique animation such as removing your enemies side arm and executing them. Players had a moderate range of tactical equipment they could saddle their characters with to assist in online battle: such as a holographic skill to deploy a digital version of themselves to lure or distract enemy combatants and allow players to successfully eliminate or devastate the opposition. Players may also choose to grant themselves the ability to launch themselves against buildings to perform incredible wall-runs while simultaneously taking out enemy players, to reach the higher ground where they can target opponents and pick them off strategically, or to perhaps swing themselves either around or over a building to melee strike the hell out of the enemy team member to seal the win. All of which being made possible by the inclusion of a grappling hook.
Players fighting their Titans head to head to the point of destruction might have to escape via ejection only to find the opposing player has not only done the same but also has the ability to grappling hook onto them midair and strike them down. Players could hook onto enemy Titans and steal power sources to give to their own teammates for that much needed boost in the heat of battle. Players could even hook onto an enemy and reel them in for a quick K.O. The grappling hook became such a well-regarded piece of tactical equipment for players that Respawn even include it as one of the unique execution kills: consisting of launching an opponent into the air and, by using the grappling hook, quickly reeling them back in for an extra dose of melee justice.
The fast-paced action went hand in hand with the grappling hook function to a degree that made Titanfall 2 one of the better online first-person multiplayer shooters that has been released in the last two decades and made it a step above its competition. Unfortunately, EA owns Respawn Entertainment now and their track record for money grabbing tactics and driving wonderful game franchises into the ground – cough, cough Dead Space – means that the likes of this gem getting another sequel are about as likely as EA getting rid of their microtransactions: somewhere between not a chance and never going to happen.
Uncharted: Clever Pun Not Found…
Naughty Dog Studios have really hit home with both The Last of Us and the Uncharted series, both of which contain some of the best storytelling modern video games have to offer coupled with fairly well executed gameplay mechanics. That isn’t to say that either franchise offers much as far as innovation to the gameplay itself, but it couples with the incredible storytelling to create truly memorable experiences.
While The Last of Us did not partake in any form of grappling hook mechanic, Uncharted absolutely did. It may not have been as paramount to the gameplay as some of the other games on this list, or as freely usable as others, the grappling hook was an integral part to the game. The Uncharted series might be best described as third-person shooter, interactive puzzle solving platformers, and it was the “platforming” aspect where players got to utilize their protagonist Nathan Drake’s grappling hook. In Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Naughty Dog Studios even went as far as to provide the tool an origin in chapter 1 where Nathan and his brother Sam are children at an orphanage.
Many of the game’s puzzles involved being able to traverse a wild array of locations, from the Scottish Isles to island jungles to lost cities of gold. All of which involve at some point or another the use of the grappling hook to get from point A to point B. If a few enemies happened to lay between those two destinations then all the better.
Slightly off topic but another feature more and more games are beginning to include in their titles is a photo mode. Photo mode allows players to essentially pause the game, regardless of the circumstances, and through filters and three-hundred sixty-degree control take photos of their players in either incredible moments of triumph, battle, or just picture-worthy events. Uncharted 4: A Thieves End was one such a title. There’s something about capturing incredible moments of gameplay and immortalizing them forever that is incredibly satisfying. Such as having Nathan catch a nearby branch with his grappling hook before he is dropped over a raging waterfall for example.
Though Uncharted may not have allowed too much player input or creativity when it came to their usage of the grappling hook, it was still a key and required feature to the games that allowed for some incredible story moments. For hardcore gamers and those who simply enjoy great stories alike, the Uncharted series are games that deserve the attention.
For players who are not familiar with the Just Cause series, it goes a little something like this: players control a freedom fighter and must kill enemies and destroy bases to free them from the militaristic forces that have taken over in order to regain control of their country. While the storyline might not be one that would immediately capture the attention of general gaming audiences, it was the gameplay itself that made these games a noteworthy addition to any gamer’s library.
Players had freedoms to do pretty much whatever their hearts desired. Steal a car, grapple out the window, and ride on its roof like a skateboard. Attach an enemy soldier to a moving vehicle. Flee from a destroyed helicopter midair, ride the wingsuit to the next one over, and grapple aboard to boot the driver out and watch them fall back to the earth.
Then there’s the way players can use the grappling hook to strategically take out the opposition. Such as hooking onto an enemy soldier just to tether them to a rocket that will carry them into the stratosphere with a bang, linking two helicopters together and watching them destroy themselves, or hooking an enemy to two separate vehicles and watching that try to sort itself out.
While the game’s mechanics for traveling, such as parachuting and gliding around on a wingsuit, are staples to this franchise and deserve all of the attention they can muster, it truly was the grappling hook that links these mechanics together in a way that elevates these games to a whole new level. Players could almost never touch the ground if they’re savvy enough to use the grappling hook to maintain their speed and velocity as they traverse the map.
From battling hordes of enemies to traversing the large open worlds, the grappling hook was the missing link that allows the execution of incredible gameplay moments that other games have yet to catch up to. Just Cause may be one of the best game franchises out there to utilize grappling hook mechanics to their full extent and range of their capabilities.
As shown throughout this article, the grappling hook has the capacity to elevate a video game from a run of the mill shooter, hack and slasher, and platformer to the next level. A feature that both casual and hardcore gamers alike can enjoy, master, and implement in multitudes of ways only limited by the players own imagination and creativity. Even when the grappling hook is not the highlight feature of the game it is a part of, its inclusion goes to show its involvement increases the value of the game as a whole. This goes to show how the simple, yet effective feature has made it through the years and informs gamers that it won’t likely end up on the cutting room floor any time soon.
While this article was only able to cover a select few games to highlight the greatness of the grappling hook feature, there are countless other games. Bionic commando, Terraria, the Batman: Arkham games, Monster Hunter: World, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, each and every Spider-Man game, Attack on Titan, and many, many more.
Gaming isn’t an industry that is going away anytime soon, and neither will the grappling hook. Open worlds, looter shooters, or even dungeon crawlers will come and go as new games are developed. Video gamers vote with their wallets as to what they want or what they don’t and so far, there sure seem to be a whole lot of grappling hooks out there.
What do you think? Leave a comment.