The legacy of Batman, the Caped Crusader, is one that can be hard to live up to. No matter the chosen medium, there will always be ways to improve and issues to solve. And for WB Games Montréal and Warner Bros. Games, that weight is even heavier for Gotham Knights, due to its connections and legacy linked to the excellent Arkham series. Yet, for all intents and purposes, this is one superhero third-person action role-playing game that has plenty going for it, based on its own merits.
While the style is reminiscent of, this is not a sequel to the Arkham series, especially since Bruce Wayne, AKA Batman, is no longer in the picture. This premise is made plainly clear right at the beginning of Gotham Knights so in his place comes his proteges – Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Red Hood (Jason Todd), Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), and Robin (Tim Drake), who not only have to contend with the fallout of Batman’s death but also the rising criminal element in the absence of the Dark Knight as well.
Obviously, such a monumental death comes with plenty of conspiracies and plot, and it isn’t too long until we find out that forces are working in the shadows to manipulate Gotham City. On a narrative side of things, this is prime comic book stuff, and for any Batman fan who has been enjoying themselves on that side of the fence, Gotham Knights has much going for it in terms of both stakes and action, albeit with some caveats.
Although the focus is squarely on the Court of Owls and all the other satisfying threads connected to the overarching plot, you cannot really take your eyes off the streets of Gotham City, which reeks of that supervillain stench. The likes of Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Harley Quinn, Clayface, and more are present in one way or another, providing players with opportunities to dive deeper into their side stories.
This is primarily the setup for gameplay in Gotham Knights, with each night serving as a starting point for players to engage in mainline story content, roam the streets in search of opportunistic and premeditated crimes, or sink their teeth into the extended villain arcs.
Letting players loose on Gotham City, the game offers a sufficiently huge play area to explore, with several boroughs linked together by bridges that can be explored in the air and on the Batcycle. It is no surprise that we spent hours, playing as the four heroes or Knights, just navigating our way through the streets, looking for collectible Batarangs, secret caches, and hidden Court of Owl signs amongst others, and of course, stumbling onto the neverending crime spree of bad guys in Gotham.
These can be in the form of more random, less challenging crimes such as a random robbery or resisting arrest, or the more involved premeditated crimes. As the heroes go about their business, defeating or interrogating certain informants will drop clues, which contribute toward building a meter that will reveal certain premeditated crimes for the next night. Sometimes, you might just get lucky, and get enough evidence to stop their plot the very same night, but most of the time, it is a cycle of progression that keeps on going in Gotham Knights.
Once you are at a designated scene, where more than 10 different premeditated crimes could potentially take place, your approach strategy is entirely up to you. Understanding the environment, scanning the various enemies to know what tools they have, and knowing your objectives are all key to success, just like knowing your hero inside out will help tremendously.
Need a single-target brawler that can deal out high damage and is equally capable of causing havoc with electronics? Batgirl is at your service. Need a ranged option that can still mix things up at short distances? Red Hood’s your man. As for Nightwing, he is excellent at crowd control, bouncing from enemy to enemy, and is great in co-op play with his buffs. Lastly, for Robin, stealth is his best friend, even if he is able to hold his own when things get hectic.
The overall combat and stealth systems will be quite familiar to those that have come from playing the Arkham games. You can take out enemies quietly and thin the numbers, or start things off with a big bang to strike fear instantly, and between light and heavy attacks, combos, dodges, and additional skills, there is much to like about the action in Gotham Knights. The breadth of skills brought by the crew is balanced by the many enemy factions and types, so combat is seldom boring, even if it can become formulaic after a while.
Aside from earning XP to unlock even more devastating abilities, Gotham Knights features a gear system that is more than just superficial flourishes too. Each Knight gets their choice of suit, melee, and ranged weapons, all with stats and bonuses that can come into play. In addition, it expands further with the addition of powerful mods, making it possible for powerful synergies that can truly deliver that superhero power trip. This constant progression is a great way in which the game keeps you going each and every night, solving crimes, bashing heads, and upgrading your gear along the way.
And when you are done for the night, it is time to head back to the Belfry, where players can track important story beats and clues, master their skills in training, upgrade gear, or change characters before the next bout of action begins. The game also makes sure to reward characters equally, with levels and ability points being doled out at the same pace, while milestone blueprints are rewarded so you are never too far behind if you decide to switch out. It is also the perfect time to check out various transmog outfits to change your heroes visually, together with a matching Batcycle to boot.
Now that the good stuff is out of the way, it is inevitable that a game that is following in the footsteps of a giant, deliberately or not, will have to face some comparisons and increased scrutiny.
If you are hoping for Gotham Knights to be the next evolution of the Arkham series, there is only disappointment to be found. While it may star the extended Bat Family, the narrative is never focused enough or intriguing enough to compare with the captivating plots of those games, and it could be down to the fact we are rooting for four heroes instead of a sole protagonist.
Sure, you may choose to mainline a single character throughout the entire game, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that there are other important players involved. The same goes for the villains on the side, whose content is generally some of the more exciting sequences in the game, but it all peters out too quickly and disappointingly.
At the same time, not all of the heroes are going to be useful on a solo run, like Nightwing’s focus on co-op buffs, while Batgirl is by far the superior choice for us due to her brawling and technological skill sets.
The night patrols, as alluded to earlier, can get repetitive and routine, and it contributes to how lifeless Gotham City can be, save for the folks you will actually interact with. And if you are hoping to level up to hit that level cap and get sweet gear, prepare yourself for many nights out on the town. Just when you think you can instantly gear up with your newfound toys, Gotham Knights forces you to end the night at the Belfry in order to craft the improved gear. While the scaling system for the enemy levels is actually a good way of keeping things interesting, this kind of gating is not exactly the most convenient or enjoyable way of doing it.
There has also been much debate about the 30FPS lock on consoles for Gotham Knights, and it is indeed a valid criticism for those more used to the buttery smoothness of 60FPS. It most certainly did not affect our enjoyment in Gotham City, but once in co-op play, it became clear that the technical limitations faced by the developers are not exactly off point either.
Venturing out into the city with a partner sounds like and is undoubtedly a fun experience in Gotham Knights, making every situation a fun mini sandbox for a dynamic duo to figure things out. Yet, the promise of an untethered experience comes with a price, with performance on the PS5 taking a hit whenever our partner is on their own somewhere dealing with whatever comes their way, slowing things down visibly and annoyingly.
However, in self-contained missions like the villain arcs, things ran more smoothly, showing the potential of what a co-op superhero game can be like. Whether WB Games Montréal is able to remedy the co-op issues remains to be seen, but at this stage, we are glad that the four-player co-op is still in the works and will come in a standalone mode.
In essence, this particular title was always going to find it hard to shake off the comparison with its more illustrious predecessors, so to speak. It does not exist in a vacuum, but for what it’s worth, it retains plenty of merits as an action RPG on its own.
Gotham Knights brings to the table a still-satisfying blend of combat and stealth, four distinct enough superheroes that should really get their own standalone games, and some interesting story beats that could use more time to be fleshed out. Whether that is enough to mask the issues will be a decision players will have to make, just like the contrast with the Arkham games. No one said being a superhero was easy, and the growing pains of Gotham Knights are a clear indication that the mantle of Batman is one that is hard to wear.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Gotham Knights is an excellent attempt at showing us the potential of superhero team-up games built on an established foundation, but the shadow of Batman looms large, and it is not always a good thing.
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Story - 8/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 7.5/10