Gotham Knights Review
As one of the big-ticket releases this month, Warner Bros. Games and WB Montreal’s Gotham Knights certainly has a lot to live up to. Often compared to the Arkham series despite being a totally different game of its own, the main premise is that Batman is dead, and it is up to Batgirl, Nightwing, Red Hood, and Robin to lead the crusade against those who wish to bring harm to Gotham City.
It’s an interesting prospect, for sure, but a daring one as well. Without the iconic character, these four Knights have big shoes to fill, especially against some of the most infamous DC Super-Villains, such as the crafty Penguin, cold-blooded Mr. Freeze, mastermind criminal influencer Harley Quinn, shape-shifting colossus Clayface, and the mysterious Court of Owls, a secret society made up of Gotham City’s wealthiest families.
Your enjoyment of Gotham Knights will largely depend on your ability to stop comparing it to the Arkham Games. It’s a tough ask, and while unavoidable, the Knights stand heroic but struggle to fully escape from the shadow of the bat.
The Bat is Dead
Yes, you read that right. Batman is dead. This isn’t a spoiler, as the game was literally promoted with this fact front and center. Players will be treated to an amazing and lengthy scene that shows how Batman meets his fate and how the Knights try to pick up the pieces and carry on the legacy of the caped crusader.
Somehow, Batman still pervades many aspects of the game. Despite his absence, he appears throughout the tutorial challenges, as if teaching the Knights the tricks of the trade. His name is mentioned often, even by the villains who are also just learning about his passing. In a metaphorical sense, Batman is well and alive.
As such, it’s hard to totally separate the game from the personality, and even harder to not compare it to previous Batman titles. Gotham Knights looks and feels similar, but also vastly different at the same time. Immediately, you’ll notice a Gotham that is not as dark and dreary as what the past games and movies convey. At times, Gotham even feels too colorful and well-lit, which is an extremely opposite take on what you may be used to.
Gotham is vast, and there are quite a number of districts to explore, but the streets feel a little bit too empty. There are dynamic events spread throughout but seemingly spread too thin, and these activities usually range from simple heists or hostage situations to a few hideouts and bank robberies here and there. They didn’t feel to enticing nor rewarding to do, and the Knights may be better off focusing on the main storyline.
Surprisingly, the storyline of Gotham Knights is entertaining, and in some ways, feels like it was lifted from a comic book. If fact, if you can look past some cheesy lines sprinkled in between, an intriguing story awaits focusing on the main protagonists of the game – the Court of Owls, a secret society formed by the wealthiest of personalities of Gotham that rule behind the shadows. I’m not too much of a big Batman nerd, so the whole Court of Owls arc is a stranger to me, but I can imagine that comic book buffs will find entertaining tidbits throughout.
As expected though, divvying up the story across the four Knights makes it feel less focused, and even though some interactions change depending on who you are controlling, the game doesn’t offer enough in this place to see everyone develop on their own.
Things go Bump in the Night
Gotham Knights takes place over day and night cycles. The characters take refuge in the Belfry during the day, reading up on hints and clues before heading out during the night to kick some behind. The day sequences serve as a breather where you can craft items, upgrade your weapons, customize your bike, and do some training challenges on the side. In fact, you can only equip your newfound gear during this phase, adding unnecessary inconvenience to players.
The Knights take over the streets of Gotham during the night, where you are free to roam around and finish up side quests and activities before progressing through the storyline. As expected, there are a number of collectibles for completionists out there, and while the temptation is there to wander the streets looking for stray Batarangs, they don’t feel satisfying and rewarding enough to find and will eventually feel routine and formulaic.
Some missions will trigger some sort of crime scene investigation sequence, where the Knights will have to use their brains instead of their brawn to solve some tricky puzzles. The idea is novel, at first, as you’ll be reading through multiple clues and matching the correct pair to find the next clue to advance the story. Over the course of Gotham Knights, these investigations can either serve as a momentum breaker or a breather from the action, depending on the player.
One of the biggest draws of Gotham Knights is in its combat sequences, and while it doesn’t hit the highs that the Batman Arkham games does, it is a fairly decent outing with a couple of neat ideas spread across its combat and stealth systems.
When stealth is required, Gotham Knights offers a fairly decent system that allows for stealth takedowns from multiple angles. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, but it certainly is a welcome addition to the game that allows players to choose how they approach certain encounters instead of just jumping in with Batarangs blazing.
Each of the Knights are masters of their own arsenal, with Batgirl and her deadly tonfas, to Robin and his agile staff. Despite the difference in weapons, the individual playstyles of the Knights don’t feel too different from each other, with battles usually resulting in repeated button presses that offer little strategy apart from the occasional dodge and ability use.
While mostly similar, the Knights distinguish themselves mostly through their unlocked abilities, which further points out their specialties. Batgirl specializes in whittling single targets down with her hard-hitting skills and mix of tech wizardry. Nightwing uses his acrobatic skills to jump between crowds to control the battlefield.
There are a good number of enemy variants in Gotham Knights, each requiring a certain technique to conquer. The approach to these thugs may be different, but going back to my previous point, they don’t require too much strategy compared to other thugs in superhero games like the Arkham games and most recently, Spider-Man. For example, there are shielded opponents, but all it usually takes is one heavy attack to break their guard before you shower them with a combo, rinse and repeat.
Gotham Knights also employs a gear-based progression system that will feel familiar, giving each character a choice of suits and weapons with a wide range of stats to consider. Adding another layer of depth are the mods you can slot into your gear, allowing for a nice synergy that can affect your ability to dish out damage.
My one big complaint about the combat in Gotham Knights is that it lacks the impact and heft that you would imagine a superhero would have on these street thugs. Compared to the Arkham games, where the hits are fierce and crisp, this game pales in comparison. It also feels less fluid to control, adding to the list of complaints that make the combat much less entertaining.
Despite this, the animation in Gotham Knights is a huge highlight. The acrobatic moves they can do during battle is a feast for the eyes, and the finishers are fantastic. During co-op, the Knights can even do a team-up attack to bring the pain, but it is implemented weirdly because you’ll have to whittle down the health of the opponents first, grab them, and activate the team-up attack. It’s needlessly complicated and really ruins the momentum of the battles.
Untethered co-op in Gotham Knights is also quite the seamless experience, although it has to be said that while you can go your own separate ways while exploring, the dip in performance and frame rates is enough to discourage playing this way for an extended period of time. This is certainly a downer, as it was recently confirmed that Gotham Knights runs at 30 FPS due to the implementation of this system, so further lowering performance during untethered co-op is a bad look.
What we liked:
- Story is surprisingly entertaining
- Animations and fight finishers are fantastic
What we didn’t like:
- Combat lacks fluidity and heft
- Gotham looks and feels lifeless, with generic activities scattered throughout
- UI looks horrible and is confusing to navigate
- Limited to 2-player co-op
Verdict: Wait for it…
Gotham Knights does a lot of things right but keeps flying low and fails to push past the point of just good to great. Crime fighting is best done with another Knight by your side, and the untethered nature of its co-op play feels great until you experience the massive performance drops.
Combat is one of the biggest elements where Gotham Knights falls short. Despite the fantastic animation work and stylish moves, combat doesn’t feel as responsive, and it takes a while before more abilities are unlocked that break the monotony of a few repeated button presses. Outside of finishers, fights lack the heft and impact to make them feel solid.
Players will need to look past a number of things before considering the game, which could be a tough ask, especially with other big-ticket titles launching within its release window. It’s a shame, because Gotham Knights has some interesting ideas that simply suffer from average implementation. A lot of things in the game feels ok but not great, and fans of the Bat-universe can find quite a decent adventure that can easily entertain.
*Gotham Knights was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publisher.