Batman™: Arkham Knight

The Epic Game Store giveaways have been especially good lately, but today they're just spoiling us. Six whole Batman games split across two trilogies, free to snag here for the next week and keep forever. The complete Batman Arkham series, full of bone-crunching violence and rainy neon streets, and the more comedic and family-friendly Lego Batman series.

The Arkham trilogy by Rocksteady are all excellent third-person brawler adventures. Yes, even the third game, Arkham Knight, which has a bit of a bad rap. Even after a botched PC launch forced them to pull the game from sale for additional porting work, most gaming PCs at the time struggled to run Knight at a consistent 60fps at the time. Fortunately, most gaming PCs (even laptops) now have enough muscle to deliver a smooth and pin-sharp bat-experience, and it's still one of the prettiest games you can play on PC today.

Pro tip: Arkham Knight's default Batmobile driving controls are borderline nonsensical on gamepad, and you're stuck using them at first. This presents a problem, as you'll be spending a sizeable chunk of the game driving it. Fortunately, the moment you complete the Batmobile tutorial, a new line—"Battle Mode Toggle"— will appear in the options menu.

Flipping that switch completely changes the control layout to behave more like a traditional driving game (accelerate and brake with the shoulder buttons), which makes navigating around the city far easier. When you hit the button to transform into tank mode works, it more like a third-person shooter. I highly recommend doing this.

If the Arkham series is a bit grim for you, there's always the Lego Batman series, developed by TT Games. Perfect for playing co-op with younger relatives, or just goofing around in for the young-at-heart, as they're gleefully slapstick nonsense and lean into a lot of the weirder parts of Batman lore. You'll meet plenty of lesser-seen villains, and the third game has Batman fighting cosmic threats alongside the Justice League. Unlike the earlier Lego Star Wars games which pantomimed their way through every dramatic scene, this series is fully voiced. Sadly they couldn't rope in Mark Hamill as The Joker again, proving that there's no such thing as a perfect game.

You can grab the Batman games here on the Epic Games Store up until September 26th. It's worth noting that—while Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are the GOTY editions bundling all DLC—Arkham Knight's DLC is not only not in the bundle, but also not available through the Epic Games Store.

There's more to look forward to next week as well. If you tune in at the same Bat time, same Bat channel, Epic are giving away surreal cosmic oneness simulator Everything and claustrophobic and intense FPS Metro 2033 Redux, both of which contain bats of assorted sizes too.

Batman™: Arkham Knight

Rocksteady has been pretty quiet since it set aside the cowl and finished up Batman, so there's naturally been a lot of speculation about what it has been working on since. Unfortunately, we're not going to be getting any answers at E3. Rocksteady won't be at this year's show. 

"We'll be watching as fans but remaining in London," wrote co-founder Sefton Hill on Twitter, "hard at work on the next big project."

Hill said something similar when asked about the Game Awards in November. The studio has something cooking, but it's not ready to tell us about it yet. It's probably not Superman, though. There have been persistent rumours, but Hill denied them last year. 

Fellow Dark Knight developer Warner Bros Montreal could be returning to Gotham, but without Batman in the spotlight, and that could still be making an appearance at E3. As for Rocksteady, there are hints that it's looking to make a live service game that heavily involves the community, judging by this Reddit AMA. With the studio's absence from E3, however, we'll have to keep piecing it together for ourselves. 

In the meantime, here are 10 games that could surprise us at E3.

Batman™: Arkham Knight

Batman Arkham developer Rocksteady will, once again, skip E3.

The London-based studio has been absent from the show for several years now, while it quietly works on a follow-up to its top-rated Arkham games.

Letting fans down gently, creative director Sefton Hill took to Twitter last night to answer whether his squad would be there:

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Batman™: Arkham Knight

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.

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Batman™: Arkham Knight

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:

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Batman™: Arkham Knight

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.  

Some online stores give us a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Read our affiliate policy for more info.  

Spec Ops: The Line

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?

Writing from the start

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."

Place in the pecking order

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."

Call the narrative paramedic

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."

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

Tom Bissell

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."

Making cuts

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.

How open worlds are written

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.

Our biggest mistake is that we've decided to consider AAA games as something better than they are

Walt Williams

"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."

How can games be better written?

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."

PC Gamer

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.

The Master, Fallout

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.

Argus mech, Vanquish

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.

Artorias of the Abyss, Dark Souls 

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. 

Jubileus, The Creator, Bayonetta  

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. 

Flowey, Undertale

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.

Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough, Dark Souls

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.

Mr Freeze, Batman: Arkham City 

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.  

Monster Zoo, Dungeons of Dredmor 

Evan:  Can a room be a boss? I submit that a room can be a boss.

 Jack Krauser, Resident Evil 4 

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. 

The Transcendent One, Planescape: Torment

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.

Twisted Marionette, Guild Wars 2 

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.

Image via Speciesgame.com forums

Aquifers, Dwarf Fortress 

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.

Giant Terminator Baby, Mass Effect 2 

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.

The Arkham Knight drill fight, Batman: Arkham Knight 

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.

Image via Gameranx.com

Zerstörer Robots, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus 

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. 

Alma, F.E.A.R. 2

Wes: What a piece of shit ending.

Ghaul, Destiny 2 

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. 

Pinwheel, Dark Souls  

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.

Image via visualwalkthroughs.com

Fontaine, Bioshock 

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.

Eli, Metal Gear Solid 5 

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. 

Vaas, Far Cry 3 

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.

Batman™: Arkham Knight

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.

Batman™: Arkham Knight

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. 

Some online stores give us a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Read our affiliate policy for more info. 

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