Batman: Arkham Knight PS4 PlayStation 4

Spoiler alert: This article contains references to the conclusion of Batman: Arkham Knight. If you haven't finished the game yet, we'd recommend coming back to this article at a later date.

The camera is arguably the most important mechanic in modern gaming – and yet it's also the most uninteresting. As gamers, we rarely give this feature a second thought – unless it's acting unruly and obscuring our view. The lens that sits just behind or attached to the head of our valiant hero is supposed to be invisible; it's meant to provide us with a window into another world without ever getting in the way. But if it's really such a powerful tool, shouldn't it have a greater purpose than merely enabling you to see?

If you think about film or television, the camera is everything. The director decides what he or she wants you to see, and by framing the right shots, they're able to develop the story more fully. Consider a conversation between two characters: a simple shot of two actors standing face-to-face may be enough to convey basic plot beats, but through close-ups we're able to get a better understanding of how these particular personalities feel. Indeed, the right cuts at the right time can convey more information than the words that are actually being spoken – it's an art.

P.T. is another game that uses the camera to toy with your expectations. We can only imagine how mental Silent Hills would have been.

But in games, the camera isn't really used to the same effect. Titles like God of War use fixed camera angles to both provide a sense of scale and usher you through its complex environments, while survival horrors such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill employ a similar technique to create tension. But these are the exceptions to the rule; typically, a camera is attached to or just behind the lead character, and that's the end of that. Sure, it may zoom in or out during specific sequences, but that's about as creative as it gets.

Batman: Arkham Knight, however, uses the camera as a tool to further its narrative. Rocksteady's superhero sequel is still a third-person action game, so, naturally, all of the usual right-stick conventions apply – but the developer bends these expectations to explore the screwed up psyche of its protagonist. There are occasions where it'll confine you in a small area, demanding that you poke around, only to completely change the scene the second that you turn around. And the title is laced with these moments, twisting the things that you can't see to create a sense of environmental inconsistency.

It's a technique that the British studio's been practicing ever since the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum on the PlayStation 3, but, with the added horsepower of new hardware, it's perhaps fitting that it should master its craft with the final story beat in its critically acclaimed trilogy. In the closing moments, proceedings play out from the perspective of the Joker, as the Dark Knight battles against his inner-demons. You'll find yourself in an empty courtyard, save for a single statue of the Caped Crusader; shoot it and another will appear behind you, and so the process repeats.

Batman: Arkham Knight PS4 PlayStation 4

The whole sequence – which lasts maybe one or two minutes at most – is an excellent example of how player agency can be used to further the fiction. This isn't a cut-scene or a quick-time event: you have full control over the camera at all times. And it's because of this that it's so powerful – you can never completely clear out the appearing monuments, and this creates a feeling of panic that another medium would find difficult to replicate. In this instance, it's you that's being hunted, not an actor on a television screen.

And it's one of the reasons that virtual reality has such an enormous potential, as Project Morpheus will find the right-analogue stick mapped to the motions of your head. Suddenly, you'll be directing the interactive action as you do your everyday life, and we're hoping that creators take advantage of this in the right way. Imagine actually looking around you, only to find your surroundings twisting and changing to the creator's whim – and this doesn't have to be horror-based, by the way, it could simply be a dream.

At the end of the day, though, whether it's through virtual reality or traditional methods, there's more that games could do to put us into the shoes of the characters that we play – and the camera is an important part of that. Video games are a unique medium in that they allow us to direct our own experience, but all too often we're not actually all that involved in the action; we're given a lens with which to see, but we're never put inside the protagonist's head. Batman: Arkham Knight breaks that barrier to excellent effect – but with Rocksteady's trilogy now complete, we've got our fingers crossed that other developers will pick up where the British developer's left off.

Do you like it when games toy with your expectations? Were you a fan of the psychological aspects in Batman: Arkham Knight? Can you think of any other titles that break down barriers in order to provide a greater sense of place? Turn our world upside down in the comments section below.