Gotham Knights takes the Bat-Family into the biggest Gotham City yet

WB Games Montreal is about to welcome players into its biggest open world so far, one without the Batman.

WB Games

Gotham City has had two constants over the years. It's run rampant with crime and it has always had its greatest protector watching and acting from the shadows. However, Gotham Knights introduces a new twist by taking one of those constant elements away. The Batman is dead and that had led to a newer, more dangerous Gotham. Despite that, Gotham isn't defenseless, as the four remaining members of the Bat-Family have arrived to embrace the night.

Shacknews recently had an opportunity to go hands-on with the upcoming Gotham Knights. At first glance, it feels like a new entry into the Arkham mythos. After spending a few hours with it, it's clear that WB Games Montreal is doing more than just moving forward with a new storyline. The team is also using a gameplay formula that introduces as many new ideas as ones inspired by Rocksteady's acclaimed series. First and foremost, though, they've built a Gotham City that looks far greater in size than anything that has come before it.

Robin fights with his staff in Gotham Knights
Counter-based combat is still prevalent in Gotham Knights, but there are a few new additions to the formula.
Source: WB Games

The sizable Gotham City is big enough to hold the adventures of all four playable members of the Bat-Family: Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Robin (Tim Drake), and Red Hood (Jason Todd). While fast travel methods are expected after getting deeper into the narrative, players will find other methods for getting around a city so big that it's separated by a massive suspension bridge. Each character eventually unlocks a special traversal tool to help complement that usual grappling hook. Nightwing can take out a glider, Batgirl can use her cape to glide, Robin can use a teleportation gadget, and Red Hood can shoot himself into the air using the mystic energies left over from his resurrection. (Oh, right, that's probably important to mention for non-comic readers. Red Hood used to be dead, but he got better.)

Before unlocking those traversal tools, it's possible to get around the city by using the D-pad to call upon each character's Batcycle. For those who have some reservations from a certain previous Batman game, worry not, this is not the infamous Batmobile from Batman: Arkham Knight. The Batcycle is mainly used to go from Point A to Point B, though it's always possible to perform a few stunts. As I learned through some careless driving, it's also possible to careen straight into pedestrians, but it's the Bat-Family, so I have to believe these collisions are totally non-lethal.

When it comes time to get down to business, Gotham Knights feels like riding a bike to a certain extent. Stealth is largely the focus and the goal in many areas. Regardless of which character is being used, Arkham veterans will recognize the need to perform silent takedowns and the importance of avoiding being spotted across various corridor sections. Batman has also taught his sidekicks well when it comes to using detective work. Each character's costume can scan important items of interest, perform quick forensic analyses, and save images of vital pieces of evidence. It should also be noted that whichever character is on patrol, they'll constantly be in communication with the other Bat-Family members who are back at the Belfry, which is the clock tower out of which the team operates.

It's combat-wise where things start to change slightly. For the most part, Gotham Knights still works with the counter-based brawling that's helped define the Batman games for the last 15 years. Players will also get to add to that with a new Momentum system, which allows each character to perform special abilities by stringing together certain button combinations. They'll also have access to other special attacks, some of which can be enhanced by the character's skill tree or the Gear system. For example, it's possible to infuse elemental damage into certain attacks either through Robin's inherent use of electricity-infused gadgets or special stats offered by the Gear system. The Gear system was something I had questions about, but nothing that was answered by this hands-on session.

In terms of story, there wasn't a lot of the main story to pick up from this hands-on time. Instead, we got to take a closer look at Harley Quinn's role in the story. Unlike her recent pop culture appearances, Harley embraces her villainous roots much more in this game. When the Bat-Family finds her holed up in Blackgate Prison, she notes that she was doing a job for Batman behind the scenes. Once she learns that Batman is really dead, she orchestrates an escape plan that results in her being at-large for most of the game. Once Harley escapes, a new string of missions will open up, which will culminate with a final confrontation that proved far more harrowing than initially expected. Not only were her attack patterns erratic, she kicked me into a defibrilator at one point, at which point I had to rely on my co-op partner to help me up.

I did get to play one Harley side mission, which started similarly to other Batman titles. This was a hostage mission, one that would be simple as pie if it's done entirely using stealth. Unfortunately, I opted to use Red Hood, who likes to go in loud. Upon getting spotted, the hostages' bomb timers would activate. At that point, the player would have to defuse the bomb or watch as everyone explodes. After my second failure, it became worth noting that every character has an individual skill tree and a particular play style.

As we learned during Gamescom, Batman isn't the only main character to have died off-screen. Commissioner Gordon is also dead, which has totally changed the dynamic in Gotham City in more ways than one. Over the course of the game, players will deal with three distinct criminal factions. One is the Freaks, who fashion themselves after Batman's colorful rogues gallery. Another is the Regulators, who are more tech-minded baddies that utilize gadgetry for white collar crimes and aren't afraid to get their own hands dirty. Lastly, there's the Mob, which has had a resurgence since hearing of the Batman's demise. That's not all, though. With Gordon's passing, the Gotham City Police Department is reinventing itself into a force that's weening itself off of vigilantes, which means the cops will be just as hostile towards the Bat-Family as the actual criminals. In fact, the Blackgate mission saw patrolling police officers and security guards who were just as eager to take on the costumed heroes as the prisoners were.

Gotham Knights is looking like a deeper experience than expected, partly because the city itself is so massive. It's important to note that while it's possible to play the game with two-player online co-op, both players aren't tethered to each other. Unless somebody triggers a mission, it's possible for both users to entirely go their separate ways and explore the city on their own. Those looking to go solo and explore more of the lore are welcome to do that, as well. The Belfry is filled with case files, occasional character interactions, special cutscenes, and a spot where the players can change between characters.

Get ready to explore a Gotham City without Batman, as Gotham Knights comes to PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S on Friday, October 21.

This hands-on preview is based on a pre-release build provided on site by WB Games.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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