I’ve been reading DC’s Rebirth comics recently and some of the standout books in this reboot of a reboot have been Nightwing and Batgirl, so my general lack of interest in this game changed to one of curiosity and hope that they would take inspiration from these books for Gotham Knights. And for the most part, the characterisations do. But sadly the story, the setup and the execution aren’t quite up to standard.
This isn’t a spoiler, but the game starts with Batman’s death. Now if you’re thinking that the game starts where Arkham Knight ended, you’d be wrong. That game ends with Batman’s death and Red Hood’s redemption so you would think it would be the perfect launch pad for Gotham Knights, but for whatever reason, developer Warner Bros. Montreal decided to not play in the Arkham universe as they did with Arkham Origins.
Instead, they have decided to create a new universe, a mature one where Batman trained three Robins and one Batgirl. This could be understandable as it allows them to craft their own lore without being beholden to the Arkham lore. However, given that this is a Bat Family game and the structure of this one is similar to the Arkham ones, this is a game, fairly or unfairly, that is always going to be compared to the Arkham series.
Upon his death, Batman sends out a message to his former sidekicks telling them that he has left them the Belfry (Bats in the Belfry, get it?) a backup HQ that, for some reason, he hasn’t upgraded or even kept in working order. From a gameplay point of view this is a base that you get to upgrade over time adding a bit of a meta-game, but as a base for Batman, does it make sense that the ultimate doomsday prepper would not be prepared? Batman’s death was linked to a case he was working on; a conspiracy threatening all of Gotham that requires one Batman or four sidekicks to solve.
Thus you are thrust into a mystery involving genetic manipulation and a doomsday scenario that you have to rush to solve. Well, I say rush, but really you can take your time because Gotham Knights follows the Arkham open-world template to the nth degree. Or rather the Assassin’s Creed degree. Each (k)night you go out and patrol the city following the breadcrumbs to the inevitable conclusion. But if you want to relax by beating the snot out of some bad guys you can as Gotham is filled with criminals committing all manner of crimes.
The city is filled with busy work and crimes to stop which give you clues to other crimes to stop that lead you to little crime-solving mini-games to take down criminal bases. The mini-games are strangely simplistic when compared to the AR crime-solving that Montreal crafted for Arkham Origins. You simply search a very narrow scene for clues and then link the clues together to solve. It is simpler than any puzzle you would’ve found in a 90s point-and-click adventure and not at all challenging.
Speaking of the AR tech that Batman used, it is not present at all in this universe. Instead of a predator visual mode, a mode that in itself can be problematic as you tend to use it almost permanently thus losing all detail in the world, you have a simple ping system. I say ping because you hold the down direction on the D-Pad to send out a sonar ping that highlights bad guys. If you hold it down permanently, it allows you to aim at objects or bad guys to ID the usefulness in a battle, like junction boxes you can booby trap and enemies that you can interrogate. However, you cannot move and use it because as soon as you hold it, you stop moving.
Combat is also a step backwards. After the free-flowing combat of the Arkham games and then the next-level combat in Marvel’s Spider-Man, the combat in Gotham Knights feels stodgy and slow, while the combat animations are incongruent to that feeling because everyone is over-animated, flipping and diving all over the place. It is a weird disconnect in gameplay. Thankfully once you hit Chapter 2 you can switch characters and each character does have a different enough fighting style with Robin using his bo staff and Red Hood being the most different with his guns. Fighting is the main way to interact in Gotham Knights and it’s unfortunate that, while functional, it’s never as visceral and interesting as the Arkham games.
Initially, Gotham Knights has you travelling by motorbike. You can call this advanced electric bike that cloaks when not in use and ride around the streets. As you stumble upon crimes like in Arkham Knight, you can launch yourself into the air to start fighting. It is a dynamic mechanic to get you into the action as soon as you can and never gets old when you do it for the umpteenth time.
The bike, though, is symptomatic of the performance issues with the review code supplied. As has been widely publicised, the console versions (I played the PS5 one) runs at 4K and a locked 30FPS without the option of a lower resolution performance mode. Contrary to popular belief, you can actually notice the difference between 30FPS and higher framerates. But that does not automatically mean that 30FPS is a bad experience. Many of the best Sony games ran at 30FPS on PS4 including Ghost of Tsushima and Bloodborne.
However, this game suffers because of it. Everything looks stilted and stuttery. In the opening sequence, Nightwing had to jump up a platform and it looked like he teleported. On the bike, for whatever reason, it feels like you are driving at 25 km/hour instead of speeding along. The devs have tried to trick us by adding these speed lines to create the tunnel vision you get when you travel at speed, but they look like cartoon speed lines in an 80s TV show. This lower framerate really hurts the combat and contributes to the observations above.
All this detracts from the world that Warner Bros. Montreal has created. It is one that is obviously modelled on Gotham’s real-world counterpart, New York. Even the GCPD cars are predominantly white with blue lettering that anyone watching Law & Order would be familiar with. The city is a colourful one, not the sadly gothic and grim one of the Arkham games inspired by Burton’s films. The colourful neons coupled with the obvious decay and grime of the city evoke the NYC of the 70s and 80s that we all experienced in films like Serpico and TV shows like Night Court. It feels like a world that needed Batman and one that is suffering without him, giving you a sense of the challenge that is in front of your heroes and the GCPD.
The final thing that has to be mentioned is the fact that while there aren’t microtransactions in Gotham Knights, it seems likely it was considered when the design document was being drafted. Like Arkham, each character has a number of skins, but in addition to that, there is a crafting element based on finding and looting crates for a number of resources that will allow you to craft better weapons, sets of armour and eventually mods for the armour. The crafting isn’t interesting or deep enough to consume you so it just becomes an exercise in “do I have enough resources to craft this thing that gives me a stat boost?”
Gotham Knights is a decent game, but because it follows what has become the premiere superhero series in video games, it doesn’t quite scratch the itch that the end of the Arkham series left. Warner Bros. Montreal crafted a seriously underrated Batman game in Arkham Origins that gets more hate than it should but sadly, Gotham Knights does not live up to the standard that the studio has set.
Story - 7/10
Gameplay - 6/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 7/10
Gotham Knights is a decent game with a vibrant world and great costume variety, but it’s unfortunately hurt by average combat and technical issues.
Colourful, vibrant world
Great costume variety
Wonky dialogue and VO work