Judging purely by its cover, Gotham Knights looks like "Batman Minus Batman." It's a game where the Caped Crusader has been taken down and it's up to the rest of his wards to pick up his mission in his place. In practice, Gotham Knights does feel a lot like a Batman game that's missing the Dark Knight, but in its place is a game where WB Montreal tries some new ideas that are only slightly bogged down by some familiar troubles.
Dial F for Family
Out of the gate, Gotham Knights hammers home its premise. This is a world without Batman. If you don't believe that by the marketing, the opening minutes will emphatically confirm that. The Batman is gone, killed in a climactic battle with one of his oldest foes that takes the Batcave down with him. In the aftermath of this shocking turn of events, Batman's four most trusted sidekicks step in to be Gotham City's protectors.
Gotham Knights' story is one that holds a lot of potential, but even as the game introduces new threats like the Court of Owls, the narrative never really comes together. These are four heroes that are brought together by tragedy to face a greater mission, but the concept of them as a family never feels like it truly comes together. There are cutscenes between patrol nights and occasional scenes where they can be seen hanging out, but when it comes time to get to work, there's rarely any interaction between the heroes outside of headset comms. There's nothing that makes this story feel like it's about the four Bat-Family characters as a family. This could have just as easily been a Nightwing story, a Batgirl story, or a Robin story. (Maybe not Red Hood so much, but I'm sort of biased.)
What's interesting about Gotham Knight's core idea is that it takes everything that Batman excelled at, specifically in the Arkham series of games from Rocksteady Studios, and splits them all in four. Nightwing has Bruce's agility. Robin has Batman's proficiency for stealth to the point that he can even unlock a skill to hang bad guys upside-down, Arkham-style. Batgirl has a knack for gadgets, leaving her able to hack hostile systems and even overload enemy guns. Lastly, Red Hood has Batman's love for guns. Wait, that's not right at all. No, Red Hood is the wild card of the bunch, able to use non-lethal ranged attacks for a different way of approaching this established formula.
Having a fraction of Batman's talents makes a game like Gotham Knights more of a challenge when playing solo, but the concept does lend itself much better to online co-op play. While my time playing online was limited, I did like that my partner and I each had a distinctly different style at work. What's funny is that we could both go on patrol and do our own thing and the city is big enough that we could never run into each other.
The only time co-op scenarios are forced are when entering specific missions, at which point it's time for a good old-fashioned superhero team-up. This can happen in the campaign, but a major plus of some of the more prominent side mission paths is that their later scenarios are standalone stages. This allows me to table those side stories until I can recruit a friend on a better night to help me out.
As noted in a recent preview, this is the biggest Gotham City I've seen so far and it's both to the game's benefit and its detriment. Gotham is the most alive it's ever been and features regular crimes that pop up during each patrol. There are even a few instances where players can interrogate criminals to get clues on other crimes that might be happening elsewhere in the city. I greatly enjoyed this more dynamic Gotham until I got about halfway through the game and started to notice that dynamic crime suddenly became a lot more formulaic. I would be solving the same crimes, fighting the same thugs, all hiding along the same set pieces. It started to feel less dynamic and more repetitive. That feeling of repetition wasn't helped once the charm of driving the Batcycle across Gotham wore thin.
Each character also has a traversal tool to help them get across the world, but they aren't available at the start of the game and all have to be earned individually. In fact, this leads to one of Gotham Knight's issues, which isn't a deal-breaker, but is worth mentioning, and that involves characters and the way they progress.
In an effort to make it easier to jump from one character to another, Gotham Knights allows all characters to share XP. If you raise one character to Level 10, everyone is at Level 10 and has all of the Ability Points (AP) that goes along with that. That's great until you get to the Knighthood skill tree. Every character gets a fourth skill tree, which also unlocks their traversal tool, but it has to be unlocked for each hero and that makes it more of a chore to switch between characters in the late game.
With that said, there isn't a lot of incentive to try everybody. It is entirely possible to experience the full story from the perspective of one character from start to finish. That's not ideal, but WB Montreal doesn't offer much reason to pick anybody else up, other than a desire to change things up. The last thing to note is that there's a gear system in place, where players can pick up blueprints for different suits with distinct power sets. However, outside of the visual differences, I barely noticed anything that stood out between the different pieces of gear and it honestly felt like more of a chore to keep track of than anything else.
Fight like a Bat
Gotham Knights bears some resemblances to the old Arkham series, but where it starts to feel like a whole new animal is with the combat. This is a much more melee-focused affair, where players are encouraged more to dish out pain rather than engage in finesse-heavy counter-brawling, like in the Arkham games. This is fine, because going in a different direction isn't bad in itself. The problems begin when Gotham Knights starts to pick up some of the old kinks from those old Batman games.
First of all, character movement feels like it hasn't improved much since the days of Arkham Asylum. Everyone runs and walks with a weird sense of momentum and it makes stopping on a dime impossible. It doesn't help that you have to position yourself in just the right spot to interact with objects or talk to people. That's annoying on its own, but when you're in the middle of a mission where time is a factor, such as the side missions that require transporting organs to a nearby ambulance, it quickly becomes aggravating.
The other big problem is targeting. This feels like another holdover from the old Batman games, but one that I feel has gotten worse. When facing down crowds, it feels like heroes will aimlessly strike whatever's near them, regardless of whoever presents the greater threat. This would lead to taking unnecessary hits from larger brutes. Targeting with projectiles is much worse, as there were instances where I'd hit the projectile button at a distant target and not only would it not go towards the hostile, but my hero would actually target the nearest environmental hazard and blow themselves up. Fighting with the game's targeting proved to be my biggest annoyance with Gotham Knights, one that isn't enough to make it a bad game, but enough to keep it from being anything truly great.
After getting past (or at least getting used to) the game's various snags, I did begin to appreciate some of the combat formula's additions. The Momentum system is a fun new feature that adds several extra attacks to each character's arsenal. Finding a combination of basic attacks and Momentum strikes that works proved to be one of the more enjoyable aspects of Gotham Knights and something that I definitely could not have gotten out of previous Batman titles. It doesn't have the same "ballet" flow that I would get out of the classics, but there's a lot more variety now to what I can do while in combat.
Bats on patrol
Gotham Knights had the potential to be a special kind of story, one that propels the supporting Batman characters into a new light, united by the loss of their father figure. Instead, the narrative feels disappointingly half-baked. It's not bad, but it doesn't live up to what it could have been.
The same can be said for the rest of the game, which looked to build on the Arkham foundation and stand out on its own merits. While the city is marvelous to behold and it's fun to deal with a more dynamic crime system, I quickly got tired of dealing with the same crimes over and over.
I do like the addition of co-op and what it opens up, especially in the case of more instanced missions. Combat still has some of the same hiccups as the old Arkham games, but if those didn't turn you off then, they shouldn't be much of a deterrent now.
Batman has trained these heroes for this moment, but they aren't ready to rise to the occasion just yet with Gotham Knights.
This review is based on an Xbox digital code provided by the publisher. Gotham Knights will be available Friday, October 21 on PC for $59.99 USD and on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S for $69.99. The game is rated T.
- Gotham City is huge
- All four characters have distinct styles
- Solid story concept
- Momentum system makes combat more interesting
- Co-op is used effectively
- Dynamic crime system is cool
- Shared XP system is mostly effective
- Clunky movement
- Targeting can be a nuisance
- Dynamic crimes become repetitive after a while
- No real reason not to stick with one character
- Gear system is largely negligible
- Narrative falls short of its potential
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Gotham Knights review: It's simple, we kill the Batman
Thanks for the review Ozzie.
John Linneman from Digital Foundry; "So Gotham Knights seems pretty bad. Oliver will have a video soon but the seven year old Arkham Knight from Rocksteady looks DRAMATICALLY better visually."
PC Gamer: 49/100
"its large-scale version of Gotham is rife with duplicated crimes and almost no reason to keep it safe in the first place. It's a mostly empty playground for its four heroes to farm XP for the next mission."
I really wanted this title to be good.
To be fair " constant stuttering problems " is a staple to any UE4 game and it's a factual issue of that engine branch. Only recently as of this month has UE5.1 finally fixed the stuttering since it has the new Automated PSO Gathering feature, so this is not specific to GK.
The day all UE games no longer have stutter will be an amazing time for devs and gamers and that time will be now going forward to all UE5+ games \m/ :) \m/ .
Digital Foundry isn't kind:
Gotham Knights Has Problems Beyond 30FPS