Gotham Knights gives gamers an adventure without Batman, but it surprisingly does a good job of filling in that massive gap with a thrilling new team to take his place.
Gotham Knights clearly takes some inspiration from the hit Arkham games, but separates itself enough to feel like a totally different game. In some regards this is really cool, and in some other instances you can tell the polish you would expect from the previous Batman games just isn’t there.
Developer: WB Games Montréal
Platforms: Xbox / PlayStation (played on PS5) / PC
Release Date: October 20, 2022
An Engaging, Shifting, New Story
Gotham Knights is a brand new story set in the Batman mythos. It pulls from a number of iconic storylines to tell an original story. Throughout the whole game you come across some really in-depth Batman lore, a lot of it got me really excited. There are little easter eggs sprinkled through every level, but the story itself involves my personal favorite storyline: the Court of Owls. I just couldn’t get enough of it.
Even better, certain aspects of that story will shift depending on which of the four characters (Nightwing, Robin, Red Hood, Batgirl) you choose to play. By and large, you will be playing the same overall story and hitting the same key points along the way. How you learn some more minute details, and how certain characters interact with one another will change depending on your primary character.
One of the best features of Gotham Knights for me is how it’s a “Batman story” that has go beyond Batman himself. Seeing these secondary characters in the absence of Batman is interesting, as we watch them develop, try to overcome this new challenging situation, and interact with iconic villains is a blast.
The best part is the interaction between the various characters themselves. Some of them attempt to tip-toe around their thoughts/feelings, while others are brutally honest with their beliefs. There is a clear power struggle between them all as they are trying to fill in the shoes of Batman and become a new leader.
What I found most engaging is how the dynamics of the story will change based on who you pick to play specific missions. While the core game won’t change, the way other characters talk or move around during missions will be different based on who you are playing.
There’s a point early in the game where I was Red Hood and Robin accuses him of not listening. Red Hood responds with “what, you can’t trust me?” When I played the same mission again as Batgirl, Robin was more helpful and energetic; talking about the next steps of the plan. There are even instances where Batgril sees a statue of Gordon and the scene is somber as another character explains who he was. Obviously she clearly knows her Dad, but remains quiet about it. Meanwhile Red Hood and Nightwing took the moment more as a history lesson.
Combat Highs and Lows
The best example of this is simply the combat. At first the combat feels just like a regular Arkham game with a free-flow style that allows you to press in the direction of an enemy, and begin creating combos by punching away. Combat basics are essentially the same in a sense that you can time your dodge and various attacks to do better moves, instead of simply smashing a button.
Each character flows very differently, however, in terms of speed and how they attack. Red Hood, for example, hits harder but is really slow and doesn’t leap from enemy to enemy very well. Meanwhile, Batgirl and Robin have more extensive range where they can leap into enemies and make multiple hits really fast, but they struggle to hit harder and tougher enemies take a little more finesse.
Gotham Knights is a massive (massive) game. I was not expecting the game to be as in-depth as it is in regards to the huge skill tree, various character interactions, and overall just progressing in the game. I’ve spent hours in the game and I honestly feel like I’ve hardly done anything. This isn’t a bad thing, however! I’m totally enjoying the whole experience.
The skill tree and the depth kick in almost instantly. At the very beginning of the game fighting honestly felt kind of clunky and slow, but as you progress you earn perks which include new moves. Frankly, I’m not too fond of certain things being locked behind the skill tree because it breaks the free-flow to fighting. Once you unlock them, however, then fighting becomes really fun.
I was fighting on a roof and tried to punch enemies hard so they would go flying; thinking I could easily just punch them off the roof. Instead they hit an invisible barrier and stayed within combat. I kept trying it until my co-op partner pointed out that hitting enemies off the roof was a perk to unlock. It seems like a basic thing that should be unlocked from the start.
There are other aspects I would like to be unlocked instantly too, like hanging on ledges and pulling enemies off, or pulling enemies with weapons etc. But it seems like almost all these basic moves are locked behind the skill tree.
Then you have the new momentum skills which are introduced rather early on. By completing combos and dealing damage, you start to fill a meter on the bottom of the screen. Once the bar is filled, you can use a special attack with your chosen character. This will vary based on who you pick. Robin, for example, can pole vault and attack an enemy even further away, while Batgirl has a cool special attack that deals a lot of quick damage.
The only problem with combat is it feels rather easy, which actually makes filling the meter rather hard. In most areas I found myself clearing out the enemies faster than I could even fill the meter. This is especially true when you have a co-op partner early in the game since there aren’t enough enemies spread between two players in most instances.
Each character is rather neat in a sense that you can totally customize them in your own playstyle. Personally, I enjoy Red Hood because the character is one of my favorites in comics, but also because he can be refined in the game into a brute force unit. I enjoy brawls and just smashing through enemies, while my partner is more of a distance and tactical player so it balances out.
This is why customizing things is so cool. If you find a co-op partner who balances your playstyle, then the entire feeling of the game flows differently.
The fact that the entire game can be played via a drop-in and drop-out co-op makes everything ten times better. You can be mid-mission and your buddy can drop in and be anywhere in Gotham City at any time. You can go off and do whatever you want, or create tactical advantages by entering areas at different angles. The game feels like it’s built to be co-op in every way. You need to communicate with a partner to develop their characters in a way that compliments yours.
One of the only things I don’t like about the co-op aspect is it isn’t polished in a sense of keeping you together at all. Yes you can go off and explore the city any time you want, but coordinating to be together is actually a bit difficult. If player ‘A’ marks something on their map, it doesn’t show up for player ‘B.’ You either need to travel to each other and follow each other using line of sight, or tell the person where you plan on going. Besides that, however, the co-op is a major element that’s pure fun for all players.
I only wish they dove a little more into this team aspect when it comes to the story. During some missions different characters are assigned different tasks to complete. As such, I figured if I replayed the mission as a different character then I’d get to do those tasks and see what happens from their angle. But I didn’t.
Instead you do the same mission with some slightly changed dialogue and interactions. It would also be neat if there was some swift way to change between at least two of the characters. Something like a button press that would send in Batgirl to do some swift quick attacks, then press a button and go back to Red Hood to do heavier damage. When you’re not able to play with a co-op partner, a perk like this would be really helpful. Basically by mid game I feel like I have to pick a favorite character and ride them out to get their story, that way I can play again with a different character and get their little tidbits of information.
The City Comes Alive
Every time I start the game, I’m blown away by how awesome the city looks. The details in the buildings (you can see into windows!) are insane and there’s tons for Batman fans to look for. There are so many buildings and random landmarks that Batman fans will be super excited to come across, which makes exploring the city breathtaking at every turn.
Gotham itself is extremely easy to navigate as well. You can hop between buildings, and get to basically anywhere you want without much difficulty. If you have a long distance to travel then you get a Batcycle you can spawn in any time you are near a street. Navigating on this is really fun and the controls are more arcade style than simulation. So you can drift around and dodge roadblocks in a swift, fun way.
Traversing the city is another aspect where different characters will impact how you move around. Each one will learn new ways to explore and travel. Nightwing, for example, is able to glide around from heights, while Robin has a short teleportation perk.
Let’s talk Frame Rate
Much has been made about the frame rate being locked at 30FPS. Personally, I’m not a huge fan myself, but there’s really only one time I noticed it being an issue.
It only really becomes noticeable when you’re driving around the city, or if there are a lot of weather effects happening at once. These instances are the only time I noticed the screen tearing, and the frame rate had a real hard time just maintaining 30FPS. I’m not exactly sure what the issue is, but if they were to uncap frames on next generation consoles then I think the only technical issue I had with the game would be solved. The are instances in larger battles where it becomes apparent that the game is struggling as well, but my major concern is driving around the city as it makes driving feel more clunky than it needs to be.
It doesn’t seem like the game is truly utilizing the SSD like other games because there are some extensive loading times as well when transitioning from HQ to the city. Extensive by “next gen” standards at least, since I would have preferred if the transition was a little more seamless.
Overall Gotham Knights has a really cool story, a really fun co-op mode, and an interesting and cool concept. That said, I feel like the game lacks some of the polish you’d expect from a Batman game. Don’t get me wrong, everything is done well, but not done in spectacular fashion. There is so much going on at any given time that nothing feels fully fleshed out. Even the story, without spoiling anything, seems to be straightforward with predictable twists. That’s not to say it’s bad in any way, it just has a “smaller budget” feel at times.