The last ten years have brought us many joys. We’ve already celebrated the best games of the past decade, but with such scattergun nomination comes neglect. Only three of the fifty games we picked had grappling hooks, so clearly the entire endeavour was pointless and you will need an alternative resource.
Here’s my definitive guide to the swinging tenties. I haven’t mentioned Worms, because they get everywhere and I don’t want to spend my whole day talking about helminths.
2010: The year of Rico
Rico and grappling hooks go together like guards and an over-eagerness to dismiss trespassers as imaginary rats. Just Cause 2 had a story about Rico causing chaos in order to destabilise a tyrannical regime, but most of us were too busy causing pointless incidental chaos instead. The grappling hook was at the heart of that. Not, controversially, as a method of traversal (though it did that too), but as a means of attaching things together that you oughtn’t. Explosive tanks went whistling into trucks, motorcycles were yanked from the road. This was a bold re-imagining of rope and prong, opening up a new frontier of physics-based shenanigan.
Then someone made a mod that gave us infinite grappling hooks of infinite strength, and the antics escalated.
2011: The year of the bat
The most notable hook of 2011 belonged to Batman. The hook itself in Batman: Arkham City was a straightforward ‘point and zip’ affair, but this mundanity was made up for by the way you could transfer your momentum into a cape glide. Each individual hook was easy, but chaining them together took skill and practice. This was the decade’s first demonstration of how grappling shines when success isn’t guaranteed, and you’re the one responsible for keeping yourself airborne. Failure in Batman usually meant fluttering to the ground like a butterfly coated in syrup, rather than death. It was gentle like that.
2012: The year we stayed on the ground
By my reckoning, not a single videogame with a grappling hook came out in 2012. Maybe too many people were worried about the world ending. A sad year indeed.
2013: The year of wizards
You might not think it, but Dota 2 has some of the best grappling hooks in gaming. Some of that is thanks to Pudge, a walking abomination who reels in his victims with a giant meat hook. You might say we’re stretching the definition of a grappling hook, but in my book, which this is, Pudge’s hook is a hook that grapples and it counts. It’s a fearsome device, forcing teams to constantly ask themselves whether grasping death might be coming at them from an unexpected direction. The emphasis is on mobility’s evil twin: positioning. When characters can’t move much, where they move is pivotal.
Clockwerk, meanwhile, is a gnome with an actual grappling hook, and one of the nippiest boys on the battlefield. Like with Pudge, though, precision is key. One of the many, many skills Dota demands of you is the ability to track where wizards are moving for prolonged lengths of time off screen, and nothing throws this into sharp relief like Clockwerk’s hookshot. Nailing an unseen target from a hundred metres off is always a punch-the-air moment, even when you realise you’ve just landed yourself in the midst of four enemies, and that you cannot fight four enemies because at the end of the day you’re just a gnome with a grappling hook. The distinction between ‘can hook’ and ‘should hook’ is one that I am yet to learn.
2014: The year of carnage
2014 simply couldn’t get enough of grappling hooks, though many of them were naff. Far Cry 4 added pathetic excuses for proper grappling, littering mountains with awkward fixed grapple points. Team Fortress 2 released a separate mode where every character had a grappling hook, but this unsurprisingly undermined the balance of the regular roster and wound up feeling far too messy (though the main problem was that it got a whole lot harder to stab people as the spy). It did, at least, lead to mysterious conganados.
We also got combat hooks in Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Again, these offered a poor kind of A to B transport, providing a flurry of motion but no elastic joy. They weren’t tools you needed to think about, and as such were a pale imitation of what grappling hooks can be.
For the real deal, look to 2014’s Floating Point. It’s a free muck about hook about from Tom Francis, where the only aim is to swing between 2D platforms. That’s all there is to it, and that’s all there needs to be. Swooshing without context. Bliss.
This was also the year of Minecraft-but MMO Boundless, and story-focused swinger A Story About My Uncle. I haven’t played either but Pip Warr (RPS in peace) called the uncle story “pleasant but wobbly”, which seems an apt description for ambulating via rope.
2015: The year of wasted rope
Dying Light had a decent grappling hook, but hardly anyone saw it because you don’t unlock it until you’re about twelve hours into the game. It was another A to B zipper, sadly, that offered an often too-easy escape route from undead clutches. But complaining about the specific manifestation of a grappling hook means glossing over the fact that you have at least been gifted with one, which I am loathe to do. Dying Light was a better game for its grappling hook and I’ve stuffed too much cotton wool in my ears to hear otherwise.
Meanwhile, Batman: Arkham Knight had very similar grappling to Arkham City, but it also slapped a hook on the batmobile – though all you could do with it was tug down large objects. I take back what I said about valuing hooks in all their forms, because this process is awkward and tedious and I hate it.
2016: The year of titans
At last, grappling came of age. Titanfall 2‘s multiplayer revolved around fluid movement, letting players run across walls like children given too much Haribo. The campaign was exquisite, but grappling hooks were more integral to the multiplayer – at least if you correctly chose to use one in your loadout, rather than any of the other murder gadgets. To get the most out of them you needed to think about angles and momentum, leaping off of walls at just the right moment, aiming at just the right place, then indulging in some mid-air wiggling with WASD. Titanfall 2’s grappling hooks latched onto a skill ceiling that’s yet to be surpassed, even though they were generally much more useful for showing off than actually landing kills.
2017: The year of that game I’ve hardly played
Flinthook is a platformer that revolves around a grappling hook. It is its raison d’être, and the only thing saving 2017 from repeating the misery of 2012. I have played it for five minutes, and got annoyed at the way you can only grapple to certain rings.
2018: The year of hamsters
I stopped playing Overwatch, and then they added a hamster. Hammond, or Wrecking Ball, is dreamy. I wrote an ode to him. I helped kickstart a sport. It’s been over a year and I still find myself dipping in for more, embracing the multiplayer role it turns out I was born to play: an annoying giant hamster mech ball with a grappling hook.
He deals in distraction rather than death. You have to think about everything I just mentioned with Titanfall, but the rest of your toolkit is built around that hook. You need it to pick up speed and go bowling into people, or better yet, to launch yourself into the sky before slamming down in an attack that sends your foes flying into the sky you just vacated. The best part is that thanks to his huge health pool and a ridiculous shield, Hammond can embrace the gumption that grappling embodies. As long as he’s got an exit plan, he can reliably land right in the midst of an enemy team, then bugger off before they know what’s hit them. Then he returns, time and time again. An inspirational figure for flabby-cheeked rodents the world over.
2019: The year of the robot
Oh, how far we have swung. Apex Legends brought over the hook from Titanfall 2, placed it exclusively in the hands of a robot called Pathfinder, then set him lose in a battle royale with pathetically land-bound compatriots. The hook itself is a little weaker than Titanfall 2’s, with less range and less speed. But in the context of Apelegs, it feels more powerful. The air tastes so much sweeter when you know its yours alone, and no other character can cover distance to the same degree. That makes for excellent rooftop ambushes, but Pathfinder truly shines as an escape artist. No other robot is as good at getting out of dodge, preferably with his teammate’s souls tucked between his chassis. Grappling hooks are the tools of heroes, and it turns out Pathfinder was the one we truly needed.
Sekiro‘s grappling hook was fine, I guess. Mostly I just needed a pretty header.