Review – Gotham Knights
Here’s the most obvious statement I will ever say in this site, one that will also paint me as a boomer: I don’t understand social media at times. It feels like every now and then the internet collectively tries to overreact towards a new (or old) piece of pop culture, calling it “the worst new thing ever” from out of nowhere, most due to coattail riding and herd mentality. Liz Phair’s self-titled album from 2003. Nu-metal as a whole. Resident Evil 6. The whole Bayonetta 3 voice acting drama. Castlevania 64. The Switch port of Alan Wake. Contra: Rogue Corps. Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. The whole “Twin Snakes vs. Metal Gear Solid” debacle. While not in the same level of overblown drama as these other examples, I’d call Gotham Knights the brand new “victim” of this mentality.
Prior to release, people had already given up on Gotham Knights for a multitude of reasons. I get the disappointment towards the framerate cap on consoles (which I’ll talk about down below), but the rest of the complaints felt… exaggerated and a bit confusing. “It is too much like Arkham“. “It isn’t Arkham enough”. “It’s a tie-in to a lame upcoming TV series” (it isn’t). “It’s too RPG-ey” (it isn’t). “It’s a live service” (it also isn’t). Reviews dropped and the game was being lambasted as something broken, excessively grindy, the brand new exhibit A for greedy, AAA game development. I got the game, I started playing it expecting not much out of it, and despite a bunch of serious issues, I actually really liked it. Yeah, Gotham Knights is a good game, and I absolutely recommend it.
Now, let me get the following out of the way in a quasi-FAQ manner: yes, the framerate cap is ridiculous given how Gotham Knights feels like a PS4 game at its core, complete with cracks on the wall in order to hide loading times. It is not a live service game. In fact, it’s barely a multiplayer game: sure, you can team up with other people and do nightly patrols with them, but the entire game is mostly a single-player focused, open world action-adventure. It’s not related to the Arkham games in any way, being set in a totally different universe. In fact, gameplay-wise, it reminded me more of Insomniac’s Spider-Man game. Finally, this isn’t a live service: there are no microtransactions, and the gear and looting mechanics are minimal, close to nonexistent.
That doesn’t mean Gotham Knights hasn’t been planned with live services in mind. You can see traces from what was probably a different gameplay loop when venturing through Gotham. That can be mostly seen on two things: chests and the bizarrely shallow progression system. You have an experience bar, and you can level up, but you don’t have stats or anything resembling a typical RPG system. When you level up, you have access to new weapons and gear to craft back at your base. You craft said gear with materials found inside chests. That’s pretty much it. The more you play, the supposedly more experienced your superhero becomes, allowing them to craft new gear. Like a Batman knockoff superhero desperate to prove him/herself would. A true “rags to riches” story in a universe where its main character’s superpower is infinite money.
It feels weird, doesn’t it? I am pretty sure these hidden chests used to contain actual pieces of gear and cosmetics at a point. I cannot confirm this, but Gotham Knights oozes that feeling of having been originally developed to be Warner Bros’ competitor to Square Enix’s Avengers game. We all know what eventually happened with Avengers, as well as the public’s overall perception towards live services with upfront payments (aka, a price tag), such as Babylon’s Fall, so it wouldn’t shock me to find out Gotham Knights‘ many delays were a consequence of WB telling its Montreal Studio to remove the game’s live service elements, leaving just a very simplistic multiplayer mode at everyone’s disposal. For the most part, this is a story-driven game. Thankfully, its story is excellent.
Long story short: Batman dies at the beginning of Gotham Knights. That also includes the death of Bruce Wayne in the eyes of the public. Gotham is now devoid of a protector, meaning that Bruce’s old protegees have to step up and become the saviors of this godforsaken toilet of a city. It also means that many different factions are taking advantage of the Bat’s sudden “disappearance”, turning it into a hellish landscape for the poor citizens roaming around town. In the middle of all this, we uncover the existence of the Court of Owls.
I hate the fact that the introduction of the Court of Owls, arguably the coolest and creepiest villainous organization in Batman’s entire canon, was spoiled by WB right when Gotham Knights was first announced. They don’t show up in the game right from the getgo, taking a good few hours of detective work and mystery-solving before you fight your first Talon. It could have been a fantastic surprise, as the game’s excellent story does a pretty good job of slowly adding more enemies and twists the more you play it. For the most part, the main story is centered around the Court, but many other Batman villains show up in secondary missions and sidequests. Those missions do NOT feel like an afterthought, so don’t worry, WB Montreal does a good job with its source material… for the most part.
I really liked the way the game portrays its protagonists. They all feel different, not only from a story perspective, but also from a gameplay perspective. Nightwing (Dick Grayson) is the team’s leader, a guy struggling to be respected as such by his teammates. His combat style feels IDENTICAL to Insomniac’s Spider-Man game, complete with somersaults and stun darts that act exactly like Peter’s stun web shots. Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) acts more like a hacker, and is a more defensive character that can take more hits. She plays like Batman from Arkham City onwards. Red Hood (Jason Todd) is a PTSD-suffering snarky douchebag. He is a slow brute, packing one hell of a punch with his attacks, but being way too slow and somewhat frail; as a result, he’s best suited if you want to play Gotham Knights like a third-person shooter.
Then there’s the weak link of the bunch, Robin. More specifically, this is the Tim Drake Robin we’re talking about, also known as “the least interesting Robin”. He doesn’t have the iconic fame as Dick, nor does he have the amount of character build as Jason Todd. He doesn’t have the deeper connection to Bruce Wayne like Damian Wayne does. He’s just… there. A nerdy kid next to a bunch of adults. Gameplay-wise, he is stealth-driven, playing like Batman from Arkham Asylum. He isn’t unfun to play as, but his character development is super weak, and his voice actor doesn’t deliver a good job. Everyone else, from the heroes to villains and support characters, all deliver.
It’s a shame that the game doesn’t run well on these newer machines, despite being next-gen only. Granted, I did play it on the Series S (#partoftheproblem, I know), so I wasn’t expecting the most amazing of performances. Other games such as Guardians of the Galaxy ran at lower framerates on the console in order to deal with its inferior hardware. To be fair, there were annoying framerate drops, but they weren’t egregious. It just felt odd, as if I had reverted back to playing a AAA game on my older Xbox One or PS4. Too bad, since Gotham Knights boasts some great direction, with Gotham being a fog-ridden hellhole with neon lights and art deco buildings. One of the best depictions of the city in any game, if not THE best.
Sadly, it comes at a cost: the city is TOO big. Gotham Knights features one of the most unnecessarily immense maps in an open world game I have ever seen. It wouldn’t have been such a big issue if this Gotham was a continuous landmass, like Spider-Man‘s Manhattan, since you have access to a fantastic grappling hook similar to the one from Arkham City, but with a much longer reach. The problem is that this Gotham is an archipelago separated by long bridges, meaning you are forced to go from one island to another constantly, with your (not so nimble) motorbike. Was this a decision to mask loading times or offload RAM usage? I am not well-versed in this to know the reason behind shoving in these massive bridges in Gotham, but they did hamper the game’s pacing quite a lot.
But when you look for a randomly generated crime nearby, this is when Gotham Knights shines. This gameplay loop did not feel repetitive at all to me. I’d start off a new nightly patrol, beat up some goons, extract information from them, and unlock a bigger crime to solve. Those would range from terrorist attacks to bomb threats and bank robberies. Typical stuff you would expect from a day in the life of a Batman-esque superhero. I’d then grab experience points, level up, improve my gear, unlock new kinds of randomly generated crimes, so on and so forth. I’d then interrupt these sections by going back to base to craft new gear, play a round of Spy Hunter on an arcade machine, and watch some CW-esque dialogue scenes. And proceed with the game’s excellent story, of course.
I am not going to try to tell you that Gotham Knights is a pristine superhero game devoid of issues, for there are many, but I really enjoyed playing it. In fact, I haven’t stopped playing it yet. Its story is fantastic, and the core gameplay loop is solid, whether you’re talking about a story-driven solo mission or yet another nightly patrol with some mates. It is not, however, a game that deserves the label of “next-gen only”, as its performance is outshined by many other PS4 and Xbox One games. This wasn’t enough to stop me from enjoying it. I’d dare to call it misunderstood at the end of the day. If you’re a superhero fan, and if you can understand that this isn’t an Arkham game, nor was it developed to resemble it, you’ll have a great time with Batman’s sidekicks.
The art style and atmosphere are fantastic, but I can’t help but feel like Gotham Knights looks like a PS4/Xbox One game at best, making me wonder why the hell am I playing it at a mere (and unoptimized) 30 frames a second.
Each character feels distinct enough, and the “loot” and RPG elements are so minimal you won’t even pay attention to them. I also like the night patrol gameplay loop. I am not a fan of the unnecessarily immense open world and the aforementioned framerate issues, however.
Great music and great voice acting from everyone besides Tim Drake’s actor, in my opinion. Some of the dialogue felt CW levels of cringy, as well.
The story is fantastic, the core gameplay loop is solid. I played the game for much longer than I could have expected, being unable to stop. It’s full of really annoying issues, however, and I cannot ignore them. I still recommend it to Batman fans without a doubt, though.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Gotham Knights is available now on PS5, Xbox Series S/X and PC.
Reviewed on Xbox Series S.
A copy of Gotham Knights was provided by the publisher.