Gotham Knights Review: New Ideas Aren’t Always An Improvement
As much as people loved the Arkham games, by the time Batman: Arkham Knight was released in 2015, most players were ready for something new. The games hadn’t necessarily grown stale, but you could see things heading in that direction if Warner Bros. Games kept putting out more of the same. Gotham needed new ideas, a new direction.
Gotham Knights has ideas. A game built around co-op play, it lets you and a friend save Gotham together, which is easily my favorite way to play it. Many fans have also been calling for more use of the Bat family in media in recent years, and this is a game that sidelines Batman in favor of starring four of his most prominent proteges. It’s a welcome change, and it spends time helping players get to know them in a way they might not if their main exposure to Gotham City is through movies and games.
Despite good ideas, though, Gotham Knights has significant issues at the core of its design. At its best, when you’re involved in an interesting story mission in some of Gotham’s most famous locales, it can offer a lot of fun, but too often, it is weighed down by a bland open world that rarely feels like Gotham City and controls which feel too stiff and on rails.
Gotham’s New Protectors
Batman is dead. Gotham’s protector is no more, and with him gone, the rest of his family must step up and protect their city while trying to solve Batman’s final case. While four heads may be better than one, he’s left them with a doozy as they have to solve the mystery of the legendary Court of Owls, a society said to have controlled Gotham from the shadows for hundreds of years but which most think of as nothing but an old nursery rhyme.
The story at the heart of Gotham Knights is strong, diving into the relationships between four of Batman’s most prominent pupils. Batgirl is dealing with losing yet another person she viewed as family. Nightwing has to return to Gotham and step into a role he sought to avoid. Red Hood is back on the side of the angels but still dealing with the aftereffects of being brought back to life with a Lazarus Pit. Robin has to figure out where he fits in now that he’s no longer a sidekick but instead must stand on his own.
With four protagonists, you have four ways to play. No, the differences between them aren’t massive, each character has the same fundamental skillset and options, but the four playable characters do feel different enough that choosing the right one is important. Nightwing and Batgirl feel the best, graceful and quick, with a nice mix of power. Red Hood sacrifices a bit of speed for more power, though I didn’t really enjoy the feel of his guns, and they weren’t worth the trade-off. Robin’s staff lets you attack from a bit more range. Robin and Batgirl also have excellent hacking skills, which can be useful as you upgrade their skill trees.
Defend The City
Combat feels excellent, smooth, and heavy hitting, with a satisfying flow between moves. It doesn’t feel like it’s evolved much from the Arkham games though and still retains some of the issues those titles had, notably that it’s easy to get locked into a combo with animations you can’t cancel out of, leaving you defenseless when situations change. Still, on the whole, I generally enjoyed combat, even if it eventually gets fairly repetitive. Movement outside of combat is clunky, with characters too easily getting stuck on walls or items, which can really break your immersion.
I actually enjoyed most of my time with the story missions, when things were moving forward. The focus on actual detective work, even if rudimentary and not as frequent as I would like, is very welcome. The major issues with Gotham Knights instead revolve around everything the game surrounds those missions with. In recent years we’ve seen a lot of games set in open worlds seemingly just because developers think this is expected, even when it makes for a weaker overall experience. Rarely though, have I seen a game that so fully represents why this is a problem as Gotham Knights does. In what I can only assume is a way to pad the game’s runtime, you’re frequently sent around a far-too-large open world to gather clues, which mostly means interrogating members of one of Gotham’s various gangs.
This is rarely fun. Gotham is empty, with almost nothing to do other than go to missions or beat up random criminals. It’s like the developers decided what their game really needed was the part of the Insomniac Spider-Man games that everyone liked the least. These encounters aren’t interesting, even when they occasionally mix things up with a kidnapping, having to rescue some black market organs, or disarm some bombs. The unbreakable combos can be a real problem here, too, as it’s far too easy to accidentally knock out the enemy you needed to interrogate, meaning you have to hunt down yet another encounter.
None of this needed to be an issue. The Belfry already serves as a hub base for your characters outside the open world. Simply launching missions from here, including the strong side-missions starring some of Batman’s most famous rogues, instead of requiring you to run around what amounts to another giant uninteresting hub, would have been a vast improvement. Everything that Gotham Knights does well screams for a linear mission-based game. Instead, the developers have shoved it into a bland open world which weakens the entire experience.
If Gotham had some sort of interesting visual identity, as it does in the comics or many other pieces of media, it would at least give you something to look at, but the Gotham here doesn’t have any personality. It feels like any other big city, with the exception of a few familiar landmarks. There’s a lot more to Gotham than just operating at night, and Gotham Knights captures none of it. It isn’t a visually impressive game either, despite being next-generation only. The graphics here aren’t bad, but they’re mostly fine, and the game struggles to maintain its framerate even with a 30 fps cap.
Moving through this huge but bland city isn’t even fun. You’ll mostly be ziplining from building to building or driving around on your huge motorcycle. The zipline is fine, but it’s far too easy to grab the wrong building and find yourself zooming off in the wrong direction. The motorcycle, meanwhile, is enormous and feels incredibly unwieldy early on. After getting used to it, I eventually settled into it as my primary means of transportation, but it topped out as a passable option. Even at its best, there’s just no sense of speed to it, though Gotham Knights certainly tries to make you feel like there is by blurring the edges of your screen while you ride.
Playing with a friend helps. Navigating challenges together, plotting how you want to attack, having someone else to help decipher the sometimes confusing puzzles and level design, if you have a friend to play through Gotham Knights with, I think you’ll genuinely have fun. There are some rather cool attacks where you and a partner can work together, which I really enjoyed. It won’t get rid of all the issues, but it brings out the best parts of what it has to offer. After playing it, I even understood the developers’ seemingly strange choice to have four protagonists but only allow two players to play together. Even beyond the performance issues that would almost certainly cause, four characters would feel too chaotic on these streets. Two feels like the right balance.
There are some truly fun moments in Gotham Knights. Playing with a friend highlights the very best of what the developers set out to do, and I enjoyed both the story and getting to see Gotham’s protectors outside of Batman grab the spotlight. If the developers had built Gotham Knights around its strengths, it could have been an easy recommendation. As is, you spend so much time in its bland open world that only those who plan to explore it with friends should seriously consider it.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Xbox Series X(Reviewed), Xbox Series S, PS5, PC; Publisher: Warner Bros. Games; Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montreal; Players: 2; Released: October 21st, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $69.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Gotham Knights provided by the publisher.