Seven years after Batman: Arkham Knight capped off Rocksteady's impressive run with DC's Dark Knight, WB Games Montreal is returning to Gotham City with Gotham Knights. This game thematically picks up where the last game left off, even if the story takes place in an alternate universe. Giving the spotlight to Red Hood, Robin, and the rest mixes things up, but a lot of the result feels different for the sake of variety rather than in an attempt to improve the established formula. Anyone who loved the Arkham games will enjoy their time here, but Knights is no substitute for the real deal. Worse, it doesn't do enough to exist as its own entity outside of Bruce Wayne's impressive gaming legacy.
Batman is dead. So is Jim Gordon and any police sympathy towards the Bat Family. Jason Todd, Barbara Gordon, Dick Grayson, and Tim Drake are on their own against a city of criminals who slowly realize that their primary antagonist is missing in action. You can pick from any of Bruce's proteges, each with a similar set of combat moves and a more varied set of special abilities. Red Hood spits hot fire with dual handguns, Batgirl jumps into the action with a tonfa that transforms into nunchucks, and Nightwing deals in aerial attacks with his escrima sticks.
Whether you're playing single-player or multiplayer, your characters level up together, meaning you can switch whenever you like without losing progress or feeling the need to grind. However, one of the biggest problems with Gotham Knights is how little progress matters in the grand scheme of things. Most of the abilities you level up into are small stat boosts or minor combat enhancements you barely notice. Outside combat, there are no gadgets to mess around with, just sliding blocks and sudoku puzzles that feel out of place in a superhero actioner. If you don't like Gotham Knights' specific brand of punching goons until they keel over, you probably won't like the rest of it.
With that being the case, let's talk about the combat. At a base level, Gotham Knights preserves the flowing punches and kicks that made Arkham play so well. The inspiration is there, but the execution isn't flawless. The lock-on for each strike is less reliable, and some enemies take more hits than you expect. This is especially true of the heavies, which feel like damage sponges even on the lowest difficulty settings. In a way, this game feels like the next in a long line of imitators over the last decade trying to recapture the magic that Rocksteady effortlessly curated with their first Batman endeavor.
Instead of a dedicated reversal button, Gotham Knights requires purely on dodging, with extra damage awarded if you can hit the button with precise timing. This works, but it never feels precise enough to pull off reliably in the heat of the moment. Also, I was never required to utilize these so-called Perfect Attacks, so I learned to get by without them. Instead, my go-to moves were Momentum Abilities. These character-specific supers charge as you go through combat and let you pull off the coolest moves. From unleashing a hail of bullets to jumping in the air for jumping strikes on several opponents, these do just enough to break up the monotony of the punching and kicking.
It shouldn't be possible to talk this much about a loot game's combat without mentioning the loot, but I've found a way here. Gotham Knights seems disinterested in presenting anything remarkable with its character building, whether in its boring skill trees or its half-hearted attempts to string you along with crafting and better weapons. It's one of those RPG-lite systems where you're constantly watching the numbers go up, but your enemies go up in equal measure. There are only a few opportunities to fight enemies out of your league, and the rewards aren't there to justify the annoyance. There is some merit to finding suits with elemental damage resistances on higher difficulties, but this is already a game where the combat feels more like a strenuous task than a fun time. For most, Gotham Knights will be at its best at lower difficulties where the combat is still as fun as it can be without suffering from roadblocks that can hinder progress for minutes on end.
The loot system may as well be a useless appendage to this game, but it's a complex masterpiece compared to Gotham Knights' unfortunate stab at a crafting system. Each downed enemy drops one of a dozen or so colored icons, each representing a nameless crafting currency. You use these currencies to create new gear from blueprints that also drop at random from thugs you put down. It seems to be a way for the game to ensure that your suit and weapons continue to level up alongside your character, but the sheer number of pickups you receive in any given combat encounter makes the whole thing needlessly convoluted. Suppose you spend your hard-earned money on the Deluxe Edition. In that case, the developers are happy to gift you thousands of these crafting items right at the start, making the entire system utterly obsolete from the moment you start the game. At that point, it seems worth it just to rip the whole thing out and call it a day.
With all those convoluted systems in mind, it's telling that Gotham Knights lack the combat challenge rooms of the later Arkham Games at release. This is a combat system that players will not feel the need to invest in more than they have to. It works, but the real meat of the experience comes in how WB Montreal captures how it feels to take on the cowl and patrol Gotham City. Random street crimes break out wherever you prowl, and in-game investigations bring on the feel of being on par with the world's greatest detective. The game never strays from its core as an action experience, but these touches bring something unique that I could dig into. I wish the rest of Gotham Knights followed suit.
Outside the main story, a few supervillains pop up around Gotham with unique side missions and boss battles. These are easily the best content in the game, telling self-contained bite-sized narratives that feel more rewarding than the meandering campaign. There was so much initial hype for a Court of Owls appearance in the gaming space, but their story feels stuffed into a disappointingly overcooked jumble of concepts that never comes together for a satisfying whole. Gotham Knights does at least have the decency to zig in a few places where I expected a zag, but I found most of what it presented storywise immediately forgettable, even at the best of times.
One thing I do want to praise is WB Montreal's dedication to their quartet of starring heroes. The fact that the developers went through the effort of recording dialogue and animating cutscenes for each character (and some character combinations) throughout the game is admirable. I've always wanted to play a game centered on Jason Todd's pistol-toting antihero, and Gotham Knights gave me that experience in spades. Villain taunts were specific to my chosen protagonist's backstory, and it felt like there could be no other hero in the starring role by the time the credits rolled. I then watched as my roommate played through some of the same missions as Batgirl and saw the magic unfold. While it's not impressive enough to warrant a full replay, dipping into the included New Game+ option for a bit with a second hero was appealing after the credits rolled.
Graphically, this new Gotham City is a vibrant map to explore throughout your adventure, so much so that I wish Gotham Knights gave me more reason to grapple around it. Districts are full of recognizable landmarks and fun in-jokes for those in the know, but the collectibles are out of the way and far too obscure to just pick up on your way to your next mission. Worse, they give almost no reward to dedicated completionists outside of a few comic covers and sparse audio logs. Once you go through the errand of scanning a few drones to unlock the fast travel system and get your character's unique movement abilities, you'll quickly leave your grapple gun and motorcycle for the thrill of something close but not quite as good as Peter Parker's web-swinging over in Insomniac's superhero opus.
There's been much talk about Gotham Knights running at 30 FPS on consoles, but that didn't affect my playthrough all that much. Everything was smooth sailing on Xbox Series X outside of the same physics-defying sliding that the Bat Family sometimes utilizes to get into punching range of their next victim. The expanded open world is worth the trouble even without the reasons to explore it, as is the option for online co-op with friends and strangers. The missions I did as a team-up never gave me a problem, although I always felt hesitant to matchmake into a stranger's game and see spoilers far beyond where I was in the story.
After I was done, I had a few other adventures with fellow early adopters and found the gameplay a bit more fun with an additional pair of mook-mashing gauntlets at my side. Like many games with the bullet point prominently printed on the back, this cooperative game feels handicapped when you play all by yourself. Some of the combat scenarios seem almost to require a co-op partner, and I wish I sometimes had an AI companion to back me up in those instances. Instead, I was sliding between objectives and staving off massive crowds of clowns repeatedly as I was overwhelmed with things to do all on my own. It's another place where the addition seems sound, but the execution makes the game lesser than what came before for minimal added benefit.
Gotham Knights Review | Verdict
Each hero in Gotham Knights has to deal with Batman's long shadow throughout their adventure, and WB Games Montreal certainly had to deal with that when creating their new take on their publisher's bestselling formula. I hope they get another shot to perfect what they've presented here, as there are plenty of ideas worthy of further development throughout the game. However, while it can be fun with a friend, it's hard to give a glowing recommendation to this particular Bat-themed adventure unless you're absolutely starved for this kind of AAA action. There are better superhero games on the horizon, better action games on the indie scene, and better Batman games waiting in your backlog.
TechRaptor reviewed Gotham Knights on Xbox Series X with a copy of the game provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 5 and PC.
- Expansive and colorful Gotham City
- Nightly patrols make you feel like a hero
- Character customized cutscenes and dialogue
- Combat that feels off brand compared to past Batman games
- Meaningless loot, skill tree, and crafting systems
- Very little incentive to explore or gather collectibles