Over the last few years, I’ve felt a Batman-sized hole for games ever since I rolled credits on Batman: Arkham Knight so when I heard of Gotham Knights (both from leaks and officially) was coming… well I would be lying if I didn’t say I was excited to get that scratch that Arkham itch. I knew going in that what Batman Arkham Origins developer, WB Montréal was cooking up in Gotham Knights was completely separate from the Batman legacy that Rocksteady left behind but no matter what I couldn’t help but compare the two as both this game and the Arkham games are at the end of the day trying to do the same thing — inserting the player into shoes of Gotham’s dark knight and becoming the city’s protector from the darkness.
More Action RPG than Metroidvania
After spending the last week with the Bat Family, I can safely say that I like Gotham Knights but don’t quite love it. WB Games’ approach to the Gotham Knights was to make a familiar universe their own while stubbornly doing away with the Metroidvania aspect and other gameplay systems of what made the Arkham games such a treat to play. This was frustrating for me as a fan as the end result of those choices did hurt the overall game’s quality in certain aspects and sadly made the game more generic as a button-mashing action RPG with a lack of approach to being the world’s greatest detective in puzzles or crime scenes.
When I think about Gotham Knights after beating the campaign, I feel like what I got was a waste of potential for the DC IP as I wasn’t super impressed by it, felt more like a chore to get through. That’s not to say that the game doesn’t do anything well, I think the best thing going for it is the portrayal of a next-generation Bat Family storyline for the game’s cast that Batman has trained and instilled his values into over the years with characters like Dick Grayson aka Nightwing, Jason Todd aka Red Hood, Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl, and Tim Drake aka Robin (the third one).
The Court of Owls Want to Take Over Gotham
To add to that, Gotham Knights is the best attempt so far to bring the Court of Owls storyline to another medium while respecting the source material; not a lot of competition really with Gotham’s fumble of it being the last major adaptation. As for gameplay, I think it was super smart of WB Games to do away with the story campaign taking place in a single night like in the past Batman Arkham games but instead going out to patrol Gotham as your preferred hero and when you’re done that night is over. It benefits players to give their characters a break to replenish their limited health packs or back to the Belfry to continue the story or tackle side case files, by the end of the game I was probably on night 30 when credits rolled.
The story of Gotham Knights starts in the Batcave as Batman is seen fighting Ra’s al Ghul in a long popcorn-eating cinematic cutscene with so many well-known trophies the Dark Knight has collected over the years like the iconic mechanical dinosaur and giant penny. The fight between the two ends with the Batcave and Wayne Manor collapsing on both of them killing them, but not in a way where their bodies aren’t found so they could still be alive… no the game emphasizes that Batman is truly dead. Before his death, Batman barricades himself in a room in the Batcave to give himself a moment with a display case showing the Bat Family’s costumes — serving as an almost emotional goodbye as Batman sends a signal to his proteges. After the collapse, Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Barbara Gordon, and Tim Drake make it to the rubble of the Batcave and find Bruce Wayne’s body confirming that the Dark Knight is indeed dead.
Batman is Dead But for Real This Time
Not too long after, the funeral for Bruce Wayne is when all four characters decide the reason behind Ra’s al Ghul’s attack on their mentor and to carry on the legacy as Gotham’s protector as a team. Afterward, players can finally get into gameplay in an open-world Gotham that sure is big and on the Batcycle, you head to a clocktower in downtown Gotham known as the Belfry which is the headquarters of the Bat Family that they are moving into. I think what the game really does well and hammers home is that Gotham Knights is a four-story campaign game in one package. While it is the same story no matter what character you are maining, the difference is how each character reacts to the game’s narrative which will be different enough but at the end of the day is still heading in the same direction.
The game however does make an assumption you are playing the same character throughout the whole game. When I was in one cutscene of character’s notes I was still “alive” referencing a previous mission where I played a different character, so if you switch characters you may run into inconsistent moments like that in your playthrough. It’s really bold choice as I can’t think of a game in recent memory that has this kind of approach to player narrative choice with multiple characters at this production value. Even though technically this a team of Robins and Batgirl, they all have unique personalities that are grieving and broken people which you get to see a little of in optional cutscenes in Belfry.
The Bat Family Feels Broken Without Bruce
Firstly, Jason is the most extreme example as he is still dealing with PTSD and the effects of coming back from death through the Lazarus Pit. Secondly, Barbara is dealing with frustrations of her lost photographic memory and not remembering what her dad (who passed away years ago) looks like anymore plus her still dealing at times with her spine rehab. Thirdly, Tim Drake meanwhile is grieving the hardest for Bruce’s death and tries to put on a brave face but is still hurting inside behind his false smile. Finally, Dick Grayson was the first of the Bat Family and the adoptive son of Bruce Wayne, he feels so much after Bruce’s death as that man changed his whole life and helped him during a time when he had no one after the death his family, the “Flying” Graysons – the pressure to fill the leadership role that Batman has left behind and fins the truth behind Bruce’s death was stressful.
To reiterate, WB Games does a fantastic job on both characters of the main cast and the overall narrative. At times the game does lose focus on who the actual antagonist is, plus side cases featuring Batman’s rogue gallery feel like bad adaptations that are evil just for the sake of being evil, especially Mr. Freeze. When it comes to the portrayal of the Court of Owl’s storyline, my only complaint is that the reveal of who exactly the head of the court was and knew who exactly it was – the least shocking reveal in recent memory.
Gotham Knights’ Combat Feels Unnecessarily Slow
I think going into Gotham Knights‘ gameplay, I had no idea how much I would dislike it and compared to the Arkham series feels like a step-down. I’m mainly talking about combat here as to me it is the weakest aspect of my playthrough, when playing it just feels so slow in movement like the characters’ move sets are deliberately slower on the console than my finger is moving on the face buttons.
This comes into the question locking Gotham Knights to 30 FPS on the console is the reason behind it and it’s not as I’ve played the Arkham games on PS3/PS4 before at the same frame rate and they’ve felt faster than what a current-gen exclusive is offering. WB Games’ approach to combat design is more of a problem than anything with attacks feeling slower and enemies having more of a reaction time than the character I’m controlling. I think if Gotham Knights had a 60 FPS performance mode, the character movements would be less noticeable but other aspects of combat would be more in your face.
The actual open world of Gotham is a huge map that overall feels not memorable and interesting, there are tons of crimes you can get into which reveals hints for bigger crime missions you can dive into the next night. These missions are fun at first but once you go through every mission type it feels boring and unnecessary as they keep popping up no matter how many times you complete them which led to me ignoring them to focus on the end game.
One thing I couldn’t help but notice in gameplay is that, unlike the Arkham Games, Gotham Knights acknowledge the larger DC universe but it’s not in your face about it though as you receive emails from familiar characters reaching out to the four Bat Family members. Probably the most memorable message was Nightwing asking Clark Kent aka Superman if he can think up some owl puns like “I’m really tired this morning, I was up OWL night on patrol” – I didn’t say they were good puns though.
Customize Your Gear
Now I said Gotham Knights is more of an action RPG experience and that is even clearer with the game’s gear menu that allows players to customize either their suit, melee weapon or ranged weapon to increase their stats. Doing so will increase your health, defence, melee damage, ranged damage, critical damage, and power level – whatever you end up picking out will have a new cosmetic look to it that’s reminiscent of certain comic book costumes which you customize the colour, cowl, symbol, gloves, and boots in the style sub-menu. To get the new equipment you can earn them through missions or by creating them in the crafting sub-menu through material that’s littered throughout the game rewards in every type of mission. Players can get extra stats to their character through mods which are automatically equipped, but if you pick up more of the same mod you can fuse them together to get a higher-tier version of the mod type.
Gotham Knights is a beautiful pleasing game to look at as the character models and environments are wonderfully rendered in 4K at 30 FPS. Not everything is great though because just like Batman Arkham Origins at launch, Gotham Knights is dealing with its own fair share of glitches. Pretty early in the game when I was introduced to the game’s heavy characters, it did appear for me but only as a floating shield which made it impossible to progress as I could not fight any enemy because of this but I fixed it by reloading the game. Some smaller issues do pop up like when an enemy’s drone sometimes phases through the wall or floors. These are issues that will hopefully be fixed post-launch so anyone planning to pick up this DC game might not run into what I dealt with during my review.
Co-op is Great
When WB Games revealed Gotham Knights, the goal was to present a superhero co-op experience with the whole Bat Family and boy did it succeed. If the story is the best thing going for Gotham Knights then the online experience is for sure a close second. By heading into the multiplayer menu you can join a random player’s game and help them fight crime in their game, if you’re more into playing with someone that you actually know then invite them into your game and do some damage against Batman’s biggest foes and gangs. I’m not really into multiplayer but got a lot of enjoyment out of taking on crime together that rarely dipped online.
Gotham Knights delivers a fantastically told story dealing with the grief of losing Batman while carrying on the legacy as the protector of Gotham with players choosing between Nightwing, Red Hood, Batgirl, and Robin. While the narrative is good and all, the gameplay on new-gen consoles feels like it’s a step down from the Arkham games that came before it with combat that feels unnecessary and slow in motion that feels like a problem could be faster in a 60-FPS performance mode. The open world of Gotham Knights is vast but the missions do feel repetitive at times with the number of crimes that WB Montreal crammed into the game.
I wish the combat was faster and less frustrating but overall I think Gotham Knights is one that comic book and video game fans should pick up at some point. The story on its own has a ton of replayability even just to experience the same story again from a different perspective, who knows you might get something out of it.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]