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This is a challenge for Nvidia's new top-tier RTX hardware that's very, very different from the usual benchmarks and gameplay tests - is it actually possible to run the deeply flawed PC port of Batman: Arkham Knight at 4K resolution at a smooth, locked 60fps? Three years on from its highly controversial launch, has the quality of the port improved at all? Can the latest mainstream PC technology attain the consistent performance level that has traditionally eluded this most baffling of ports? And perhaps more to the point - why return to Arkham Knight at all?
The last point is the easiest to answer - it's about preservation, the idea of running one of the greatest games of this generation not just on the games machine of today but on the hardware of tomorrow. Publisher Warner Bros has already taken a swing at remastering the PS360 era Arkham titles for the current generation of consoles with limited success, while Arkham Knight itself has received no support for the enhanced Sony and Microsoft machines. Through that process of elimination, the PC version is all we have to work with when the next best alternative is the 1080p30 PS4 experience running under boost mode on PS4 Pro.
And what's clear from running the PC game at higher resolutions is that Rocksteady's original assets not only hold up at 4K, they look absolutely beautiful. While some of the core effects like depth of field or the game's signature rain don't scale to higher pixel-counts so effectively, the high frequency detail, the stunning character modelling and the sheer atmosphere of Rocksteady's open world Gotham is simply phenomenal when pushed to the next level. Even before we attempt to drag the PC version kicking and screaming to 60fps, what we have here is a fascinating 'what if' - a vision of what Arkham Knight running on the enhanced consoles could potentially deliver.
Batman: Arkham Knight's camera isn't supposed to be messed with - but when you do, it reveals some amazing developer tricks.
The latest episode of superb YouTube series Boundary Break takes on Rocksteady's 2015 action adventure and shows how the developers used a raft of camera tricks to make the game look the business.
There are a load of cool revelations in the video, which you absolutely should watch, but highlights include pulling back the camera to show the diner in chaos during the Scarecrow / cop hallucination scene:
Fanatical's latest special offers fall under the banner of Bundle Blast—a discount period live now through Thursday, September 20 at 4pm BST / 8am PST. It offers some great savings.
Take the Arkham Knight Bundle, for example. For £7.35, it comes with the titular superhero action game and 23 slices of DLC. Sticking with the Caped Crusader, the Batman Bundle gathers Arkham Origins and its Asylum and City successors—alongside a handful of DLC—for just £6.75.
The Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Bundle follows suit—bringing the base game and 17 lots of add-ons for just £3.19. Likewise, the F.E.A.R. Bundle boasts the original trilogy and the second's Reborn for only £2.69.
If indie outings are more your cup of tea, the Infinity Bundle features eight games—including Deponia: The Complete Journey, Shelter 2 and Fran Bow. I'm a big fan of the latter's quirky point and click horror, and, given the fact this entire package costs £3.19, you should absolutely give it a go.
Check out Fanatical's Bundle Blast in full this-a-way. As always, share your own favourites in the comments down south.
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Computer games are made out of a lot of things. Level geometry and music, shader effects and AI, physics systems and sound effects, textures and scripting. And words. Words of dialogue, plot, lore and backstory. Words for the menus and tutorials. Words for store pages and pitch documents and documentation of their systems. Even games that do their damnedest to avoid using words to tell their stories—even games that apparently have no stories at all—they're all still built on thousands of the things.
Writers therefore take a central place in game development, perhaps more central than you might expect. Working alongside artists and designers and every team, they help to build a game's world, stitching all its often divergent parts together into a form that makes sense to you, the player. To put it succinctly, writers make the glue that holds a game together.
Tom Bissell, who was lead writer on Gears of War 4 and has credits on What Remains of Edith Finch, Battlefield: Hardline, and the Uncharted series, boils down game writing to three fundamental roles: "Understanding what a game is trying to do; creating an involving space for the player's experience; and working collaboratively with dozens and sometimes hundreds of human beings, not all of whom will have your taste or inclinations."
But how do game writers work? What do they write? Where do they fit in that grand collaboration? And can they do their job better?
Increasingly, writers get started on a game from its very beginnings. "Having a writer on the team in pre-production essentially gives you someone who has the broad view of the whole game," says Walt Williams, who was lead writer of Spec Ops: The Line, is author of excellent game development memoir Significant Zero, and has credits on many other games, including Star Wars: Battlefront II and The Darkness II. "The designer is thinking about the systems they want to build, the environment and character artists are thinking about the style, and they're not necessarily crossing over much, whereas the writer is meeting with all the different teams and taking their ideas, brainstorming and coming up with more stuff in their realm."
"If there's not someone concentrating on the narrative from the beginning, that can often feel very disjointed and you'll end up with the game not feeling right," says Phil Huxley, a former writer at Rocksteady who's now behind adventure game Du Lac & Fey: Dance of Death. "Why is the character suddenly doing this? Why are we suddenly here?"
The shape that writing takes during preproduction varies, but artists might come to a writer with an idea for an environment, and the writer will then imagine a story that will help the artists to draw concept art for it. They'll imagine who lives in this world, what else is in it, a fictional history that explains how its present came to be.
Writers might also meet with a game's designers to discuss its core design and start to plan how the narrative will be told within it. So we've a game about pirates looking for a lost treasure. What kicks off their quest, and how did they find out about the booty? What's the twist when they find it? If it's some free-roaming game that allows players to tackle its goals in whatever order they wish, how might the story work?
"You're constantly just generating, throwing stuff at the wall, and the wall is the creative director and you’re seeing what sticks," says Williams. “During this period you’re dealing with a lot of, 'I don't know what I want but I'll know it when I see it' mentality."
So writers can play a central role making games, but let’s be real about the place of story and narrative in them. As Williams says, "As much as we like to say that videogames can be a narrative medium, financially they're really not. It can elevate a great game to a legendary game, and it can elevate a bad game, but Spec Ops [The Line], that's a game that has earned the label of cult classic but people play it because it's on sale for three dollars. Everyone knows Spec Ops so it feels like it was a successful game, but it was not successful at all."
And the writers' place in a game project comes down to who's leading it. Think about some of the strongest narrative-driven games, where story and theme and play are all bound together, like the BioShock series and Naughty Dog's games at Sony, and the creative directors who forged them—Ken Levine, Amy Hennig—all came from writing backgrounds. "It's only truly important if the creative director identifies as a writer," Williams says. "If they don't, then writing is expendable." Writers' place in the pecking order can therefore change drastically between projects.
Bissell has found his position on the games on which he’s worked has been largely a matter of happenstance, because he’s a freelancer, depending on what capacity he’s been brought in. "But the games I've been a lead writer on, I've always felt like I had a seat at the table, and have worked with people who understand that there’s no such thing as the 'game' part of the game and the 'story' part of the game; it's all the same thing. You have to view a game and the experience you’re trying to provide players holistically."
Huxley has been lucky to work at studios, like Rocksteady, which value writing. There were always meetings that he didn't get to go to, usually just the high-level director ones, but he's felt his expertise has been sought and that writing has always been valued. "You hear the horror stories of where it isn't, and writers get referred to as narrative paramedics, but that's definitely changing, at least from my perspective."
Narrative paramedic. A term coined by Tomb Raider writer Rhianna Pratchett, it refers to the situation in which a game goes through a major change, such as a level or feature getting cut, and writers are asked to glue it all back together so the story makes sense and everything ties up again. It's an example of the way in which writers are important and deeply involved, and also can also be tossed around by the tumult of game development.
Words are, after all, cheap. They're not painstakingly sculpted, textured and rigged like character models, or meticulously planned, laid out and scripted, like levels. They're just words, easily reordered, deleted, and re-written. "You have to throw out stuff you're passionate about, trashing ideas you love," says Williams. “No other discipline in game development has to deal with that as much as writing. Everyone else has a certain amount of autonomy, they're considered the masters of their domains."
And anyone can type words. "Everyone writes, whereas not everyone designs or codes, and I think people feel they have a stake in it," says Huxley, who has also found that other departments tend to feel they can take an active role in writing, but the buck stops with the creative director.
"I've seen changes take place and you can voice your opinion of what they might do to the story or the game as a whole, but I've not been in a position to push back. It's quite challenging sometimes, but you've got to appreciate that it's someone else's vision and that experience matters. You have to trust they're making the right decisions."
Still, cutting and editing is an essential part of writing. And game writers are commonly asked to cut their scripts from, for example, a projected 90 minutes of fully animated cutscenes to 70 minutes because the full thing doesn’t fit into the budget.
If the dialogue can be shortened and streamlined across multiple scenes to achieve the cuts, then that's great. But writers can also employ smarter—or sneakier, depending on the way you look at it—ways of retaining their script, by presenting some scenes as part of gameplay rather than as discreet cutscenes.
"Someone's still going to have to create that explosion and all the assets, but it’s not falling under the cinematic budget, it's now falling under the level design budget,” says Williams. “It's about finding the spare resources on the project and fitting it into them."
But when a scene is entirely canned, it's not a disaster. It's a design challenge. Since the writer knows what narrative beat it was intended to accomplish, they'll rewrite in a way that takes the restrictions into account while also accomplishing the same beat, and then bridge the gaps left by the scene's removal.
As writing, cutting and re-writing continues throughout a game's development, one of the big challenges for writers is ensuring the dialogue and narrative remains consistent. Huxley finds that even keeping a full view of Dance of Death, on which he's the sole writer, is tricky. Expand that out to the non-linear and vast scale of an open world and you can appreciate how difficult to maintain a coherent voice.
"It's about having a writer own certain systems rather than spreading it across several people. That's when you can lose that consistency of voice," Huxley says. Rocksteady gives its writers ownership of specific parts of the game so they see them from beginning to end, such as a single character, like Riddler, or the conversations you hear as you grapple around the city.
"And it's had the shit played out of it," he adds. Huxley and his writing colleagues played Batman: Arkham Knight for months before it shipped, so Huxley could get a sense of how thugs' conversations fitted into the flow of play and tweak them as necessary, even if their voice performances were already done. "That's the beauty of that level of polish."
Williams says, however, that the lead writer's role on an open world game really should keep a handle on everything, whether systems designers writing their own NPC barks or artists designing their own signs. "You have to be the one to constantly have your eye on all of it and then fucking yell at people when they step out of line and do stupid stuff that doesn't match with the tone of everything else. You also need to accept the fact that while the game will be better, you will not be liked."
But whether writers really hold the key to better stories, that's another question. For Bissell it's a misconception that they'd improve if only writers were more integral with development. "Sorry, but that's just not true in my experience. Games can go wrong in so many ways that have nothing to do with who the writer is or how well or poorly he or she or they are treated. Sometimes cleaning up the mess in a wayward game falls on level design and sometimes art and sometimes narrative, but this idea that games have 'shitty stories' because there aren't good writers in the industry, or that writers aren’t listened to, is, to be perfectly frank, a deflection."
Bissell says that games have 'shitty stories' because games are often simply absurd. "That’s not a criticism, it's an acknowledgment of the reality that stares anyone working on an action game right in the face." These aren't his examples, but think about Lara Croft weeping over killing an enemy soldier in a cutscene and then happily murdering a platoon of them fifteen minutes later, or crashing your Far Cry 5 airplane, befriending a bear, and then getting into a serious conversation with a prepper who's torturing a cult member.
"The only way you escape the absurdity problem is through sheer force of will, and you can do that only when the prime creative force behind the game is also overseeing virtually every aspect of it," Bissell says. "That's not a position most game writers will ever find themselves in, obviously." And so for Bissell, the best common solution is to lean into the absurdity, to celebrate the gaminess of games.
Williams agrees. "Our biggest mistake is that we've decided to consider AAA games as something better than they are," he says. "We like to think our super-silly destruction derby arena is a piece of serious art that can say something meaningful."
Writing spans every aspect of the making of games, and is both utterly integral to them and also the first to be cast aside. That makes writing one of the most challenging roles to do well, as Bissell explains: "When I'm asked, and I'm often asked, by younger people, 'How do I get into writing videogames?' I ask them, 'Do you want to tell meaningful, personal stories?' When they say yes, and they always say yes, I say, 'Then maybe don't write videogames.' I'm not trying to be snide when I say this, or discouraging. But the fact is, videogames are highly collaborative and complicated, possibly the most complicated popular art form ever created."
Boss fights are great. Except when they're terrible! Things got heated when the PC Gamer staff debated whether the boss fight is good design or an antiquated videogame trope, so we decided to present our strongest evidence for each case. First up: a collection of our favorite bosses, the battles that have stuck with us for years. On page two, the list of shame: a whole bunch of bad, stupid bosses we hated fighting but love talking shit about. They all deserve it.
Jody: I've finished Fallout twice and never defeated The Master by just straight-up shooting him in the eyes or whatever other bits he has—he's a mutant lump of flesh so unfathomable if you try for an aimed shot half of him is just labeled "???"
The first time I made it to the end of Fallout it was with a sneaky, high-agility character who stealthed around his base and set off a nuke in it. The second time it was with a diplomatic, high-charisma type who talked the Master to death, choosing conversation options that exposed his flawed philosophy, made him realize his own monstrosity, and led him to suicide.
There's an option to just attack if you want to take the Master on with pulse grenades and a real big gun if that's your thing, but the fact you don't have to is what makes the climax of Fallout so great. Plenty of people hate bosses, so making them optional seems like such an obvious kindness it's baffling that 21 years later it's still uncommon.
Wes: Japanese videogames have been chasing what I'll call the Macross Aesthetic for decades: an overwhelming, awe-inspiring flurry of missiles crisscrossing the sky, white smoke arcing behind them. For years this was mainly a thing in 2D games: bullet hell SHMUPs and the incredible Bangai-o. Vanquish's Argus mech, while a pretty straightforward "shoot the weak point" battle, is one of my favorite boss fights of all time because it completely delivers on the promise of translating the Macross missile explosion into 3D. And it looks unbelievably cool doing it.
Deal the Argus mech enough damage, and it'll stop firing at you with its cannon to unleash a volley of hundreds of missiles. It's a stunning moment, but it's also a perfect embodiment of what Vanquish is as a game. It's a melding of over-the-top, distinctly anime Japanese action with the conventions of an American third-person shooter. In other words, there's a cliche, gruff American antihero, but he wears power armor and kicks giant missile-spewing mechs so hard they explode.
Austin: Artorias of the Abyss reads like a Dark Souls boss. He's a tragic figure both emblematic of and integral to the overarching story of the Abyss DLC, and he's characterized through NPC dialogue and descriptions embedded in weapons and armor. You don't want to kill him, but he's too far gone and you have no choice. That's classic Dark Souls. But at the same time, he doesn't feel like a Dark Souls boss, and that's what makes him so great.
Most of the bosses in the original game are slow, lumbering monsters that you fight by nipping at their heels until they fall over. Artorias is the total opposite. He's a relatively small but still incredibly imposing knight, and he moves wildly and quickly. His form and figure have been distorted by the abyss, but he's still got the moves. You spend the entire game plinking away at behemoths in the 19 seconds it takes them to wind up an attack, and here comes Artorias with some freakin' front-flips. He fights like you, the player. He rolls like you, swings like you, retreats like you. He's a refreshing, relentless wake-up call who gives you zero breathing room and feels like a Bloodborne or Dark Souls 3 boss, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Austin: How else could a game as stylish and over-the-top as Bayonetta end if not in a galactic punchup? At this point in the game, you're picking basic enemies out of your teeth and scraping titan-sized mini-bosses off your heels. Then Jubileus, the biggest of the big bads, descends from on high with a dozen health bars and multiple forms just askin' for an ass-kickin'.
Jubileus is cleaner and more varied than most giant bosses, which have a tendency to play themselves. She has several distinct forms with unique attacks that expose cleverly placed weak points, and she gets better and better as you whittle her down. The level around you changes. Different weapons excel at damaging certain parts. It's a long fight but it earns its runtime, and Jeanne's role as partner manages to tie a climactic bow on the game's otherwise tangled story.
She's a great final boss too, a delicious mix of everything Bayonetta does right: bonkers vehicle sections, short and forgiving quick-time events, dramatic camera angles and, of course, unforgettable finishers. I can think of no better way to send off one of Platinum Games' finest than pile-driving a god into the sun.
Wes Fenlon: What a hell of an ending. Undertale is a game that constantly upsets your expectations, but its final boss—not exactly the true final boss, but that's part of what makes the encounter so good—breaks away from Undertale's aesthetic, and really from its reality. The fight tears at the structure of the game, making you survive an intense gauntlet, tempting you again and again to break from pacifism, before finally setting you up to play through parts of Undertale again to see the true ending. That ultimate battle is more emotionally affecting, but the first encounter with Flowey is where Undertale truly shows off how brilliantly it can execute on its meta ideas.
Joe: I've killed Gwyn loads of times. I've both lit and walked away from the final bonfire. I've tackled Lordran's brilliantly designed world in multiple configurations. I've watched countless walkthroughs and let's plays. And yet no matter how many times I complete From Software's gothic action role-player Dark Souls, I can never, ever, beat Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough on my first attempt without the help of Solaire.
But I love it. I love the anticipation of trekking through Anor Londo, and stocking up for the big fight. I love swapping polite exchanges with the Giant Blacksmith as I upgrade my lightning halberd. I love grinding out a few extra souls levels with the Royal Sentinels that guard the boss arena. I love concocting an ill-conceived strategy in my head beforehand. I love saying to myself: "This is it. This is the moment I finally defeat these bastards first time without the help of the sunbro", before inevitably peeling my splattered face from the forum's floor thereafter.
You see, no matter how many times I'm floored by Ornstein and Smough, the fact that I'm yet to topple them on my lonesome gives me an excuse to return to one of my favourite games. With two hulking baddies—and one final form nemesis—this fight's scope for change and incidental moments makes it, for me at least, near impossible to predict. It's fast, it's frantic, and no matter how many tries it takes, I'm yet to feel a similar sense of accomplishment from any other game.
Of course, Dark Souls Remastered is just around the corner too. We go again, boys.
Samuel: The bosses in the Arkham series are uneven, but the second game showed considerable progress over the first, which mostly featured repetitive encounters with larger enemies. Mr Freeze is a smartly-designed battle, letting the player use each technique at Batman's disposal once—electricity, explosives and so on—before Victor Fries remembers that method and it can't be repeated.
Worse than that, he's iced up the gargoyles so there's no hiding from him above, which is a key part of your arsenal when trying to play Arkham stealthily. You're stuck on the ground with Mr Freeze as he stalks you. A former colleague of mine compared it to a great Metal Gear boss fight, and he's right—it's similarly tricksy and demands clever thinking from the player.
Evan: Can a room be a boss? I submit that a room can be a boss.
Samuel: Resident Evil 4 is one of very few games that gets away with QTEs, which have mostly died out in games over the past decade. Leon's knife fight with Krauser is mostly cutscene-led, but it's a great example of the form—a tense sequence where you finally get to see the two characters face off.
The boss fight proper is great too, set in a maze of ruins where he'll run at you with a knife, and it later escalates to a final battle on a precarious platform as Krauser mutates. Sometimes this encounter will transition into a QTE knife fight in-game, too, which is a nice touch. Resident Evil 4's story is hokey but fun, and while you're never quite emotionally invested, it's fun to take the journey. You wait a long time to see Leon and Krauser finally face off, and the battle is exciting, over-the-top and even cinematic—it's Resident Evil 4 at its best.
One of the biggest failings of boss fights is how often they abandon the principles of the game they're in, robbing you of agency or creativity in favor of a big arena slugfest or fancy cinematic. The opposite of that is Planescape: Torment, maybe the best RPG of all time, which utterly commits to letting you talk your way out of conflict, up until the very end. There are a number of ways your encounter with The Transcendent One can end, including combat if that's your wish. But dialogue, as always in Planescape, proves to be the more interesting option. Gaming rarely manages to get this philosophical, and even more rarely pulls it off.
Phil: The Twisted Marionette was available for about a month during Guild Wars 2's first update season. You can't fight it anymore—you haven't been able to fight it for over four years—but I still think it's one of the best bosses I've defeated. Rather than an instanced encounter, the Marionette was an open world event that triggered every two hours. Players on the map would have to organise themselves into five lanes of (if you were lucky) around 25 players each. The fight had two main phases. The bulk of your time was spent in your lane, defending against waves of enemies. In addition, each lane took turns in the central chamber, where they were distributed across five mini-arenas—each with a Champion to defeat. Succeed, and one of the Marionette's chains was cut. Fail, and you were one step closer to annihilation.
If each lane succeeded, the battle was won and the Marionette would collapse. It felt elegant—requiring more coordination than just chipping away at a big monster's health, but not so much that only the most hardcore servers had a shot of bringing it down. There was an arc—our server spent days unable to make the kill, but slowly started to refine our approach. We failed loads, but the process of learning, optimisation and eventually overcoming the challenge remains one of my favourite journeys within the game.
Wes Fenlon: Yeah, goblins and elves and running out of booze are all bad news. But the truest enemy of any fortress builder is the mighty aquifer, an underground water source that can quickly and brutally flood your fortress if you don't know how to deal with it. There's an entire Dwarf Fortress wiki page devoted to aquifers and the strategies for defeating them. That's a boss fight if I've ever seen one.
Wes: I'm not even going to dignify Mass Effect 2's final boss with its proper name, such was its stupidity. The first Mass Effect culminated with a battle against an imposing, badass rogue agent whose role turns out to be more nuanced than pure evil, followed by a series of dramatic decisions that affected the fate of the Citadel. It was the perfect mix of action and roleplaying, exactly what Mass Effect should be. The second game, despite the overall brilliance of its suicide run final mission, decided to end with the equivalent of a Contra boss battle. A Contra boss battle that was too easy and looked absolutely ridiculous. When people complain about Mass Effect becoming too much of an action series, this fight is exhibit A.
Jody: The Arkham games had a couple of decent boss fights, but way more bad ones. They loved the kind where you have to lure some jacked-up beefy boy into charging, then dodge so he hits a wall instead. Arkham Knight managed to do the most drawn-out version of this, because you have to drive the goddamn Bat-Tank at the same time.
The Arkham Knight attacks in the tunnels under Gotham, driving a digger drill like he's a Bananaman villain. You have to lure him into sections wired with explosives, avoiding barriers and spinning fan blades, repeating this for what is probably just shy of 10 minutes but feels like hours. Meanwhile he shouts bland taunts like "You can't hide!" and "I'll find you!" to remind you that, after two games of Mark Hamill's excellent Joker, now you're up against a man who smolders with generic rage. I like the Arkham games, but they're textbook examples of why 90 percent of boss fights could be dropped to no great loss.
Austin: I'm generally a boss fight proponent, but Wolfenstein 2's Zerstörer Robots make a good case for cancelling bosses entirely. They simultaneously lack everything that makes Wolf 2 fun—multiple methods of approach, creative sightlines, playing execution leapfrog, satisfying feedback on kills—and exacerbate its biggest problems, like the way it sucks at telling you when you're taking damage and where it's coming from.
These robots have so much health and deal so much damage that you have no choice but to clear out the H-shaped airship you fight them on and take potshots from the interior tunnels, alternating exits each time. On higher difficulties at least, fighting them is a slow, repetitive process that isn't even in the same hemisphere as fun. I played through the entire game a few notches above normal difficulty and loved the added challenge, but these piles of junk were so dragging and infuriating that I spitefully cranked the difficulty to easy just to get past them. And I'd do it again.
Wes: What a piece of shit ending.
Austin: The final fight against Ghaul, leader of the Cabal's Red Legion and the Darth Vader walrus-thing who destroyed the Tower, is a disappointment not just because of what is, but because of what it is not.
It is a run-of-the-mill arena fight against a glorified Cabal Centurion. Ghaul himself is just a health bar with some knock-off powers. He's removed from the fight most of the time, and whenever he does raise his ugly head you just one-shot him with your constantly refilled super. You spend more time fighting the basic enemies scattered around the ship, and doing so never feels climactic because the arena is boring, they're the same old enemies and there aren't even that many. Like, this is it, Red Legion. We are on your flagship. This is the final battle. The least you could do is bring the A-team.
But the true misery of the fight is the cutscene that follows, in which Ghaul transforms into a much more interesting-looking plasma phantom and soars up to the Traveler. At this point, I—and by I, I mean everyone except the folks at Bungie apparently—thought, "Awesome, we get to kill him for real in the raid." But no. He just melts right there, so instead we fight some random fat dude in the raid. Destiny YouTuber Datto said it best: "I want to fight the big thing." Destiny 2 doesn't let you fight the big thing, and that's a bummer.
Joe: According to this Dark Souls wiki, Pinwheel is: "A flying, multi-masked necromancer who stole the power of the Gravelord and reigns over the Catacombs. [It] spawns multiple copies of itself and attacks the player with projectile blasts." All of which sounds pretty badass, right? Except in practice it's not really like that. At all.
In a game that prides itself on its challenging encounters, Pinwheel is an anomaly. This run in is not only easier than every other boss battle in Dark Souls, it's easier than a fair whack of its standard enemies too. Its moveset is predictable, its cloned subordinates are a pain, and its drops—bar the Rite of Kindling—are rubbish. I almost lost the plot after my umpteenth death at the hands of Ornstein and Smough—yet the feeling of finally besting them was second to none. Pinwheel, on the other hand, robbed me of that eureka feeling by being so damn weak.
The suggestion that From Software expected players to invade the Catacombs early on goes a ways to explaining why Pinwheel in so underpowered later in the game, but the Catacombs itself is surely no place for pre-Anor Londo/Sen's Fortress/Blighttown players. In any event, FTRichter’s Prepare to Die Again mod reimagines a more formidable Pinwheel.
Wes: "It's terrible. You have this great game, and then you end up fighting this giant nude dude. We didn't have a better idea," Ken Levine once said. Well-put. Bioshock's final battle ditched everything brilliant about the game to end with a cliche slugfest with a big muscular guy. The game clearly didn't quite know where to go after the encounter with Andrew Ryan, but it definitely should've gone somewhere else. Maybe force the player to sit through a reading of John Galt's 80 page monologue from Atlas Shrugged? That would've been a better tonal fit, and a far greater challenge.
Samuel: Hot damn, I hated this scrap with baby Liquid Snake where you couldn't just use deadly weapons against him and be done with it. Fair enough, he's a kid, but he'll grow up to cause such trouble, what with the walking nuclear robots and inhabiting the mind of a man dressed a bit like a cowboy. Instead, you need to chase him around a beached ship until you can knock him out. And at that point, you're really ready to do so.
None of the boss fights in Metal Gear Solid 5 are that great, unfortunately, which is a shame for a series that has produced so many great ones in the past. MGS and MGS2, which both came to PC ages ago, have a slightly better hit rate, with the likes of Gray Fox in the former and Vamp in the latter. Luckily, The Phantom Pain is great at just about everything else.
Chris: There's a lot of bad boss fights in the Far Cry series, so it's hard to pick just one. I'm going with Vaas because he's probably the most enjoyable and memorable character in the series, and thus the crappy boss fight stings more than others because he frankly deserved a better sendoff.
Creating a satisfying boss fight in a game where you're essentially a superhero bristling with weapons and capable of withstanding tremendous amounts of damage yourself… it's a challenge, really, because you're a damn boss. So, Ubisoft does what it always does when it's painted itself into a corner: stuffs you full of drugs and makes you hallucinate. Welcome to a gloomy netherworld corridor paved with TV screens (for some reason) where Vaas after Vaas after Vaas run at you, die from a single bullet, and disappear into a puff of smoke. It's not a test of endurance and skill, just patience. When every ghost Vaas is dead you get a cutscene where you do a cool hand-switching knife move that you can't actually do in the game, then you watch him expire. You're left with nothing other than a sense of disappointment and the sad fact that you're still Jason Brody.
According to our 'Batman: Arkham games ranked from worst to best' list, the running order of Warner Bros' caped crusading games on merit reads as follows: City, Asylum, Knight, Origins. According to Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman himself, this list will remain forever unchanged because the publisher is done with the series.
Story-wise, Arkham Knight definitively concluded all that had come before it, however Arkham Origins—developed by WB Games Montreal and not Rocksteady—provided a side venture the main series failed to explore. The idea that similar games could surface down the line isn't implausible, then, however Conroy is sure WB has left the series behind.
When asked by a crowd member at last weekend's Nashville Wizard World Comic Con if Warner Brothers was working on the Arkham series or if it had plans to expand the existing ones, Conroy said: "You know, I can’t believe that they’re not going to do another one, but they’re not. Isn’t that amazing? It's… they made literally billions of dollars on those games. But, no, there's no plan to do another one. Sorry."
Twitter user Matt Sifford caught Conroy's comments live:
Thanks, Batman News.
It's been a couple of years since the last entry in the Arkham series of Batman games. Andy's review says it's not quite as good as the older ones, however it's certainly still worth a look. It's especially worth considering today, as you can get it for 75 percent off over at Bundle Stars.
The final chapter of the Arkham series introduced a large emphasis on the Batmobile for the first time, but it's still the feeling you get from just being Batman in these games that's the main draw. Thankfully, the performance issues the PC version faced in the past seem be mostly long gone now.
You get a 75 percent off the base price at Bundle Stars (the Steam Summer Sale only has 60 percent off right now), and you can also get an extra 5 percent off that when you enter the code RED5 at checkout. This deal is disappearing into the darkness tomorrow though.
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Want to pick up Batman: Arkham Knight on the serious cheap? Bundle Stars has it on sale, until 11 am ET on February 17 for just $5/£4/€5, the lowest the price has ever gone.
The Bat bargain is a "Star Deal," which Bundle Stars describes as "24-hour-only flash discounts which offer Steam games at best ever prices." Your fiver gets you a legitimate Steam key for the full game, the only catch being that they're available in limited quantities, so if they run out before the 24 hours is up, you miss out.
Arkham Knight had an infamously rocky launch, and while subsequent efforts to fix it up weren't exactly a master class of invisible mending, it looks like the game is finally in fighting form. Steam user reviews overall are "mixed" (there's a lot of of bad history to overcome), but recent reviews are "very positive." And hey, it's five bucks. Fill your boots over at bundlestars.com.
Some online stores give us a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Read our affiliate policy for more info.
Now that our are out of the way, we can get to the serious stuff: ventilation shafts. They’re a pillar of modern game design, shunting players from one level to the next, telling spy wannabes that a square aluminum tunnel is all espionage requires, and giving the hunted a temporary haven from their mouth-breathing pursuers. The most iconic protagonists in PC gaming depend on inexplicably designed air convection systems to save the world time and time again.I'm going to revisit a few of the most recognizable vents from PC gaming history and evaluate them based on rules I’m making up as I go. One lucky duct will win the coveted PC Gamer Gust of Approval for best vent.
Gif sourceThe original Deus Ex invented the concept of ventilation shafts, and as a result is exempt from competing. Unfortunately, further iterations of ventilation shafts from the new handlers at Square Enix didn’t do much to blend them into the environments or make them feel like genuine air ducts. Instead, they serve as well-lit (somehow), long graves where you hide your dead. How many bodies can you fit in an impossible space? Deus Ex: Human Revolution steps beyond the veil.Even worse, the vents aren’t in compliance with the ASHRAE standards for acceptable air quality. According to section 5.1.1 of the guidelines, “Where interior spaces without direct openings to the outdoors are ventilated through adjoining rooms, the opening between rooms shall be permanently unobstructed.” These dead bodies are breaking the law.
They are deeper, wider, and more Jensen-sized. Seriously, they’re massive. And they’re always hiding behind vending machines and small crates, leading directly to and fro with plenty of slats along the way just in case you need to see where all the guards are hanging. Subtlety doesn’t circulate in the near future, I suppose. Air isn’t getting through those suckers in a sensible way. It’s a fact: these vents blow.
Pitiful, but so pitiful, I can’t help but love it. There’s been no effort made to hide that this vent in a multi-billion dollar tech company building was built specifically for drone passage. (Just a heads up, this is how you get raccoons.) Watch Dogs 2 makes little effort to mask its videogame vents as anything but transparent chunks of level design. It’s one of the bigger problems I had with the game, that it promises options for infiltration, but vent layouts are so arbitrary and assured to lead directly between points of interest that they start to feel like a big billboard, stating ‘Sneak here!’
Gif sourceOK, so it’s more of a drainage system, but it might also push some air around. Note the more rectangular design gives the impression that they’re a tighter fit than most videogame vents, which makes for a more immersive ventilation shaft experience. Were I in a crime film, I’d consider using such a discreet, small passage as a good place to hide the murder weapon. Were I in a videogame, I’d glitch through the floor and fire my weapon with reckless abandon. In conclusion, I love the compress of MGS5’s passages, but otherwise, they rarely make sense. Often, they’ll just lead from a hole outside a building in a direct line inside. You’re going to get raccoons, damnit.
So very, very dark. Like a damn vent should be! If I’m supposed to suspend my disbelief that these big metallic crawlspaces are mean for air circulation and not hiding headcrabs, I want them to at least distract me with tension. The vents are otherwise featureless, vanilla shafts. Four walls, grey, nothing particularly special about them. At least they acknowledge you’re going to get critters with such impractical vents, even if they’re interdimensional face suckers.
Talk about sequelitis! No innovation. Expect more flat, boxy aluminum textures, more headcrabs popping out to say hello, and most grievous, of course, are the impractical air convection layouts. The thought makes me shiver, not because it’s abhorrent, but because damn, it’s cold in here, Gordon!
Gotham’s vents are comically large. Bruce Wayne isn’t a small man, especially with an extra few inches thanks to bat ears. And crouching isn’t easy in all that armor—it’s going to bunch up, Bruce. I’m sorry but your tummy is getting pinched beneath those plates. God forbid you drop a quarter. To accommodate all that batmass, the vents essentially serve as a venue for badguy shadow puppets and an echochamber for the Joker’s prolonged loudspeaker monologues. They’re a nice place to hide in if you’ve been spotted, but their design won’t win any awards from us. Often they serve as a comically short passage between two rooms, ensuring the only air they’re circulating is Wayne’s big ego.
We Alien's production design during release, and Creative Assembly's extraordinary attention to environment detail extends to the design of its vents. The aperture entrance to each vent is accompanied by a slick cylindrical animation and shrill soundbite that sounds like a sword being pulled from its sheath. Foreboding, a bit, considering there’s probably a hungry alien in there.Isolation’s detailed lighting and shadows give the impression that Sevastopol is a hulking, intricate tangle of retro-futurist industrial design. As you crawl through every vent and maintenance shaft, you’ll get small glimpses into the guts of the station, a smoky mess of pipes and dim lights and scattered tools. The result is a space station that feels so vast and cobbled together that its tiny passages and maintenance systems feel plausible. Vents that don’t make sense, make sense on Sevastopol.To the team at Creative Assembly, you’ve creatively assembled good passages behind the walls for players to bonk around in that don’t feel like a mad maintenance man’s pet project. Your congratulatory PC Gamer Gust of Approval should make it your way soon.
This article was originally published in late 2016, but since today is Batman Day, whatever that means, here we've retrieved it from our archives. Enjoy.
Andy: Origins isn’t a terrible game, but it’s clear throughout that it wasn’t developed by Rocksteady. The new sections of the city are pretty uninspiring, particularly the industrial district and that tediously long bridge you have to travel back and forth across. And there’s no feeling of flow as you navigate the world either. I constantly find myself with nothing to grapple or land on, halting my momentum, which never happens in the other games.
Samuel: The city suffered from feeling anonymous. It may be my imagination, too, but I swear there was something off about the timing of counters compared to Rocksteady's Batman games—the same muscle memory felt like it didn't serve me well in Origins' combat. Having said that, I loved the crime scene investigations they added to Origins, which I (think) Arkham Knight ended up borrowing when you had to track down Oracle after she'd been kidnapped. They were probably the best bits of detective work in the series, and I did enjoy the one in Black Mask's penthouse.
Andy: I noticed the weird timing of the combat too when I reviewed it for PC Gamer. I looked into it at the time, and apparently WB Montreal had to recreate the combat system from scratch for some reason. Which may explain why it feels a bit like a bad cover version of a great song.
Samuel: It's definitely a thing. I rinsed the challenge rooms in Arkham City and can still get a high score in every single one when I pick them up now—they feel irritatingly different. One thing I did like about Origins was the way the Cold, Cold Heart DLC adapted the classic Batman Animated Series episode 'Heart of Ice'. While WB Montreal's game mostly lacked the big hitter villains, I still felt like it was a worthy contribution to the games' own Batman canon. Troy Baker was an impressive Joker, and I enjoyed the fiery young version of Bruce Wayne, too, who knocks out an early villain in one punch instead of the whole thing turning into a boss battle.
Andy: I do like the younger, angrier Batman we get to play as in Origins. Kevin Conroy’s version of the character always sounds totally in control of his emotions. A mature, level-headed veteran of the crime-fightin’ business. But in this game he’s shouty and short-tempered, frequently arguing with Alfred, which is a nice way of making a familiar character feel different.
Tom S: There are some decent isolated bits of Origins, probably enough to make it worth playing for Batman fans—the tower converted into the Joker’s theme park, for example. However there is a sense that Origins is scraping around for new ideas. They expanded Gotham city and added… a warehouse district. The glue grenades and the non-lethal lightning fists feel like the sort of upgrades you might see on a cheap Batman toy rather than anything the Dark Knight would actually use. If you’ve completed every sidequest in Arkham Knight, crave more Bats, and don’t mind putting up with slightly-wrong combat then play this I guess?
Phil: I haven't played Origins yet, but, based on your recommendation there, Tom, I'm… well, still not sure if I'll bother.
Samuel: It shows you can take the basic elements of a great game and make a comparably weaker product out of it, which is largely how I felt about what I played of Wolfenstein: The New Order's Old Blood expansion.
Andy: The batmobile really is a piece of shit. Those sections where you’re forced to fight dozens of identical drones with overly-telegraphed attacks is utterly mind-numbing. But when you’re doing what Batman does best, namely skulking around in the shadows and terrifying goons, Knight is a really, really good Arkham game, if a little too familiar at times.
Phil: The Batmobile churn really hurts Knight. There are some cool ideas here, like the military outposts—the best of which are mini-puzzles, challenging you to work out which of Batman's ever-growing toolset is key to clearing away the specific configuration of guards. That stuff is great, as are about half of the sidequests, the main mission design and so much of the writing. Best of all is the dual combat encounters, which turn the fluid dance of Batman's combat into a brutal duet. But then you're back in the Batmobile, side-dodging away from predictable fire patterns, or circling round a tiny bit of the city, trying to endure the incredibly dumb stealth sections.
Samuel: I didn't like the tank combat sections, particularly the stealth parts—but driving that thing around the city feels great. It's a gorgeously animated, hefty piece of machinery. It completes the Batman fantasy, in my opinion. In the post-game, with the city cleared of robot tanks, just bombing around and taking out clumps of criminals feels like the beginning of a Batman comic in motion. I've softened to Knight over time. The titular villain isn't particularly good, and they recast the Scarecrow in a way that made him sound way too similar to Hugo Strange in Arkham City, meaning the main narrative lacked a bit of City's menace and direction.
Andy: Yeah, the Arkham Knight himself is an incredibly lame villain. Troy Baker does his best with the script, but he isn’t intimidating at all. He sounds like a Californian surfer. Whenever he showed up, taunting me from his big dumb tank, I just felt annoyed. “Not this asshole again.” But I did love the section where Batman and Robin team up, even though it was criminally short-lived. The double-takedowns were really well animated and fun to pull off, and I think they tossed that idea out far too quickly.
Samuel: Totally with you on the Robin bits—phenomenal, especially The Joker singing to Batman while Robin sneaks around the stage in the background. I think Telltale's Batman game shows you can miss the mark with adapting the Dark Knight for a game and miss the most exciting parts of his universe and lore. The interactions between Batman and Robin, Oracle or Nightwing demonstrate a total understanding of why all the individual pieces of his world are so exciting. Those co-op moves with his allies are the perfect extension of those character relationships. The sidequests are more of a mixed bag. Chasing after Firefly in the Batmobile was just poor filler, but Man-Bat offered quite a spectacle, while Two-Face's heists were a nice remix of the game's existing stealth elements.
Phil: I don't know Batlore, but I liked the freaky pig-dude. He was messed up.
Samuel: By far my favourite sidequest in the game. The way they used the music and lights to point you towards where another body had been found. Doing those autopsies was disturbing, and even as someone who's read a bunch of comics featuring Professor Pyg, his reveal was a total surprise. Rocksteady isn't afraid of deep cuts in Batman lore. While it was only a momentary bit of narrative, the Hush sidequest had a neat and clever resolution, too.
Tom S: Arkham Knight has some of the best individual moments of the whole series—including the spectacular Robin co-op level and the levels that let you seamlessly infiltrate a couple of blimps in mid-air. Sadly it is a more inconsistent game overall. Everyone rightly hates the interminable tank sections (which get ridiculous towards the end of the game), and the PC version’s terrible launch didn’t help matters. It’s definitely worth playing if you enjoyed City, but it’s not the best Arkham game.
Andy: The later games refined the brutal, rhythmic combat to something approaching perfection, and improved on almost everything else in some way, but I’ll always prefer Asylum’s focus on a single, wonderfully fleshed-out location over the sprawling open-world bloat of the sequels.
Samuel: I get that this focus (and the brilliant, memorable Scarecrow sequences) makes Asylum a popular choice, but it's a flawed game compared to the others in my opinion. This becomes apparent in the final third of the story where it feels like you're fighting versions of the Bane boss fight over and over again with those giant titan guys. The final fight with The Joker is kind of bad. The Killer Croc section drags on well past its welcome, too. There are no good boss battles in Asylum—nothing remotely close to the clever, Metal Gear-ish scrap with Mister Freeze in City.
City's paced so it keeps building in energy to its final act, and constantly showing you new parts of the world. Cutting out repetition and throwing in new ideas was essential for the series to grow, in my opinion, and while bigger doesn't always equal better, the escalation in ambition between the games is staggering. Few knew who Rocksteady were when Asylum was released. Now they're world beaters. To go from making the BioShock-y corridors of Arkham Asylum to building the Blade Runner-esque nighttime sprawl of Knight in just six years is absurdly impressive.
Phil: I think I might prefer City, but that's largely because I've never liked Metroidvania design. This is a very, very good version of it, but ultimately it's still a lot of back-and-forth between the same few areas. (You could argue the same for open-world Arkham, albeit on a bigger scale, but I think the way you traverse the larger space makes all the difference.) There are some incredibly accomplished setpieces here, and I love the simplicity of the combat before the extra gadgets of the later games. But Samuel's right about its pacing problems. Even some of its best sections—the weird, fourth-wall breaking Scarecrow vignettes—are lessened by the rubbish searchlight-based stealth puzzles that follow.
Samuel: For the time, it was a real surprise that someone had made a Batman game that good—the last decent effort dates back to the SNES. Its counter-focused melee combat system was deservedly influential, on the surface lacking the frantic speed and necessary button presses of something like Devil May Cry, but gradually growing in complexity as they weave more of the Dark Knight's tools into your arsenal. I've made this observation before on PCG, so apologies, but I remember feeling like Rocksteady had almost used as their starting point for Batman's melee and stealth abilities in the Arkham games.
Andy: I’ve always been a fan of fiction that takes place in one location, so that’s why I think Asylum is still my favourite. Rocksteady absolutely stuffed that place with history and detail, and I like that the more time you spend there, the more familiar it becomes. I finished City and Knight and by the end of both I didn’t feel like I connected with the setting as much. I also like how lean Asylum is compared to the sequels, with simpler combat and fewer sidequests. It feels more elegant and streamlined than the busy open-world games. And there aren’t as many distractions being constantly thrown at you, which makes for a better-paced, more focused story overall.
Tom S: I liked the bit when you hit Bane with the Batmobile. That was some excellent Batman.
Andy: For me, City is when the Arkham series really started to feel like a Batman simulator. Being able to freely run, glide, and grapple around the rooftops of Gotham is brilliantly empowering, although I do find the constant chatter of bad guys in your ear massively annoying.
Samuel: When City was released, I remember thinking, 'this is all I've ever wanted from a Batman game'. Like you say, Andy, being able to glide around and grapple felt fantastic, both of which were elements of limited usage in Asylum. I loved the upgrades and momentum tweaks they made to the gliding—getting around that city felt phenomenal. It's also a very complete-feeling vision of Batman's universe, which I appreciate. Everyone from Mister Freeze to Calendar Man to Hush makes an appearance, complete with a not-embarrassing version of Robin. The Mad Hatter sidequest is brilliantly trippy. Rocksteady just get why Batman is so cool. Hugo Strange is a tremendous and very specific choice of (the apparent) main villain, too, offering a menacing tonal contrast to the Joker in Asylum.
Phil: I love any open-world game with good traversal. I even love Prototype, which I know is a bit rubbish. Arkham City isn't rubbish, and, as Andy and Sam have already mentioned, its grappling hook/glide combo is top notch. It makes for a stronger core Batman fantasy than in Asylum—now you're hunting high above the thugs, free to engage or ignore them. In some ways it's a baggier game—that's inevitable given the structure—but it still holds true to everything that made Asylum great, and offers, to my mind, a better roster of villains and a more interesting story.
Tom S: The Mr. Freeze fight is ace, and an example of how Arkham City evolved beyond the ideas introduced in Arkham Asylum. The open world and the traversal have since become an integral part of the Batman fantasy for me—I can’t go back to Asylum—but City also has better storytelling (when it’s not just shouting exposition at you through loudspeakers). It’s the most complete and well-paced game of the series, with a brave and interesting ending. Some of the boss fights are absolute pants, though.
Samuel: Whereas I felt like the Riddles were a little exhausting in Knight, in City they were spot-on as neat visual or logic puzzles I could solve while travelling between parts of the story. The combat was significantly improved over Asylum, too, and mastering Batman's sets of tools in the challenge rooms—like Mr Freeze's ice bomb—meant that I ended up playing the post-game content for a lot longer than the story.
Shoutout to Rocksteady's artists, too, who created the most gorgeous, fan service-y alternate costumes for the Arkham games. I'm sure The Batman Incorporated skin in City was included just for me. While I think City is the most consistent of the four games, they've all got individually interesting elements, and Origins aside, I consider them all wonderful in their own way.