Reviewed on Xbox Series X | Written by Games of DAYNE
Gotham has descended into chaos following the death of Batman in an incredibly epic cinematic opening that establishes the passing of the torch to his quartet of titular Gotham Knights. Red Hood, Batgirl, Nightwing and Robin must step up to fill the boots of their fallen mentor and protect the city that he gave his life for.
The beautifully detailed and gritty sandbox of Gotham City offers a surprisingly brief main story, a variety of side missions and activities as well as collectibles and secrets to discover that don’t quite maximise the explorative potential of the crime ridden metropolis.
Taking to the streets as any of the four playable heroes alone or with one other player in seamless co-op allows for a more personalised experience due to the unique move sets and play styles that each hero offers, as well as the unique input and interaction they have in each cutscene.
Administering justice to the bottom-feeders of Gotham’s twisted underworld is a pretty personalised affair with fun cosmetic customisation, a somewhat randomised crafting suite and simplified combat system. With the ability to switch between the four heroes at any time between missions, Gotham Knights leaves the city in the players hands to protect in their preferred play style, a gesture that opens up this world to be accessible in a genuinely unique fashion.
It is impossible to talk about Gotham Knights in any capacity without first addressing the Gotham sized elephant in the room. This is not a continuation of the critically acclaimed Arkham franchise that first began with 2009’s Arkham Asylum which, along with its two sequels, was developed by Rocksteady Studios. The only similarity between Gotham Knights and Rocksteady’s trilogy is the world that the game takes place in.
The characters and events from the Arkham series are not the same in Gotham Knights, the events any characters that appear in both franchises has been through are not connected. The Batman of Arkham Asylum is not the same Batman that loses his life to establish the conflict rooted in the foundations of Gotham Knights. To compare the gameplay in particular is not fair, Gotham Knights has adopted a more simplified style than the combo heavy, rhythmic flow of the Arkham series. For better or worse, Gotham Knights is not “another Arkham game”.
The tragic loss of Batman pails in comparison to the loss of Bruce Wayne to Gotham’s new protectors. Bruce gave each of these characters a new lease on life, mentorship and family. The bond he shared as Bruce has left a mark different to that which he left as Batman to these young adults. Jason Todd, Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon and Tim Drake are just as central to the story as the masked counterparts Red Hood, Nightwing, Batgirl and Robin respectively. The relationships these characters had with Bruce and each other is interwoven with the main story cleverly to inject a touch of personalisation to each of them without overshadowing their vigilante personas.
With the publicised death of Bruce Wayne, only a handful of Gotham’s citizens are aware of the fact that this means Batman is dead but unfortunately, Gotham’s dirtiest players are quick to notice that Batman is absent, opening a unique window for an archaic wave of crime to populate every corner of the city. Led by Bruce’s trusty butler Alfred, the Knights look to restore justice to their city and overcome the pending conflict with the League of Shadows and the secret society that has infiltrated Gotham for centuries, the recently revealed Court of Owls.
The Court of Owls are positioned as the primary antagonistic force throughout the incredibly brief main story arc but fail to feel like a meaningful threat at almost every turn. Having infiltrated Gotham at such a deep level in secret for centuries presents a genuinely interesting storytelling opportunity that just isn’t capitalised on. Despite appearances from a host of characters from Batman’s rogues gallery and the big picture conflict that is laid out early on, the story feels as though it’s more interested in highlighting the rise of the Knights as a team and their struggles with this responsibility and death of Bruce. That’s not to say this isn’t interesting, it’s easily the highlight of the story but the broader physical conflict the Knights need to overcome is full of predictable moments, missed opportunities and non-threatening “big bad”.
A giant clock tower referred to as the Belfry serves as the base of operations for the Knights, equipped with crime monitoring and lab tech, a home twisting facility and of course, an impressive display for the suits of the heroes. The heroes that remain at the Belfry communicate with the player remotely to provide updates on their mission, acting as an eye in the sky and general overseer of their activities. The Belfry is perhaps best described as the launching pad for the players exploits in Gotham, referred to as Nights or Patrols.
Every time the player leaves the Belfry, a new night begins, and whenever they return, the night ends. Everything that happens in between, is happening in the Patrol. Without Batman to keep the streets under control, it’s up to the Knights to clean up the crime that’s ravaged the city for decades. It’s worth noting that Gotham is fully explorable from the get go, no regions are blocked off or accessible only with story progression. There are small Opportunistic Crimes which can be thwarted, larger Premeditated Crimes to prevent and a variety of other optional mission chains that become available as certain characters are met throughout the progression of the story.
Every crime stopped, every enemy defeated and a host of stats related to damage are tracked and presented at the end of a Patrol. Think of a Patrol like a gameplay session, everything you do in that one outing is tracked from the moment you leave the Belfry to the moment you return to it. These stats are presented on screen at the end of each Patrol.
While exploring Gotham and unleashing beat downs on the criminal masses, players can interrogate members of the three factions – the Freaks, the Regulators and the Mob – to uncover clues for crimes that will happen on the next Patrol in the form of Premeditated Crimes. The more clues uncovered in one Patrol will introduce even more Premeditated Crimes to track and prevent in the next. This completely optional mechanic is a fun way to introduce more to do for players looking for a deeper experience while also giving the more casual player just enough to do when taking a break from the main story without forcing them into lengthy play sessions unnecessarily.
These Premeditated Crimes however will only be available in the next Patrol after their clues are uncovered, ending the Patrol will abandon any that haven’t been completed and more clues will need to be uncovered to reveal more. There is not a fixed number of these crimes though so just because some have been abandoned doesn’t mean there will be less to do overall, it just means that enemies will need to be interrogated to uncover more clues to increase the amount of available crimes in the next Patrol.
All activities can be tracked by a rather cumbersome menu that divides them into Case Files for the main story chain, optional mission chains and individual crimes. The map is definitely easier to use to follow missions by simply looking at the icons and travelling accordingly.
Traversal in Gotham Knights is initially by foot or grapple gun, the latter of which can attach to almost any surface, and the Batcycle. While near any road the Batcycle can be summoned with a simple button press which makes covering ground a lot quicker and stylishly. The Batcycle can simply accelerate and drift, with no boost mechanics, and can perform wheelies to ride over small obstructions such as barriers. Ejecting from the Batcycle is a great way to get some additional elevation to reach higher surfaces with the grapple gun too, making for a solid combination of quick traversal where verticality is concerned.
There is a unique Heroic Travel ability for each hero that can be unlocked by completing a very brief mission chain called Knighthood. There are three steps that are identical for each hero, completing a specific training exercise at the Belfry, defeating five of a specific enemy variant of the Freaks faction and for completing ten Premeditated Crimes. Despite the mission chain being identical, it must all be completed for each individual. Doing so will provide access to the ability in a style that suits that hero.
For example, Red Hood has access to the Mystical Leap, which taps into powers from the Lazarus Pit which brought him back to life, and allows him to spring forward with a burst of that energy, and Batgirl is able to glide with her cape. As these traversals act like gliders, there is no way to go higher, rather they slowly descend and will need to jump from something high to re-trigger it as it can’t be initiated from the ground. Leaping from buildings or bridges for example will allow the ability to be used.
Additionally, there are a handful of Fast Travel points scattered around the city that can only be accessed by meeting Lucius Fox in the story. Once he has been met he tasks the player with travelling to locations and scanning drones in the area, and once this has been done, that area become accessible by a small Batwing style glider to Fast Travel to. All of the Fast Travel points can be unlocked in about twenty minutes total, which I highly recommend due to the frequent need to backtrack and move from one part of the city to the next throughout the story.
The combat. As I mentioned earlier, players comparing Gotham Knights to the Arkham series are setting this title up for failure before even picking up the controller. The highly fluid, free-flowing combo driven and rhythmic combat system from Arkham is nowhere to be seen. Gotham Knights has opted for a more simplistic combat offering that in many ways is more accessible, to casual players especially, though this does lead to combat encounters being as simple as button mashing for those that like to play in this fashion.
There are light and chargeable heavy melee and ranged attacks at your disposal to use in unison with a total of eight Momentum Abilities, all of which are uniquely tailored to the combat style of each of the four playable heroes. It is impossible not to acknowledge and appreciate just how unique these heroes feel, all distinctly different to each other and this isn’t just limited to their physical combat skills, but their movement, how they evade, slide and jump around is all unique. It genuinely feels like these four heroes have been built from the ground up in such a way that you could look at it as four games rolled into one, it’s very impressive.
Red Hood’s powerful range and hard hitting brawling prowess feels completely different to Nightwing’s ally buff focus, which in turn plays nothing like Robin’s stealth or Batgirl’s tech based play styles. This assortment of characters represents a broad host of play styles that are fun to experiment with.
The complete absence of any kind of block or counter system is certainly a head scratcher as players can only dive roll out of the way of incoming attacks or, if they’re lucky, possibly get their attack in first. This singular omission shifts the flow of combat from being dynamic to simply being a case of staying mobile and getting attacks in when there’s an opening.
Crouching and approaching enemies silently from behind, or sometimes from above, can allow for Silent Takedowns to dispose of enemies without others noticing or with Ambush Takedowns, unapologetically brutal and loud that let the enemies know you’re here and ready to throw hands. The dynamic of elemental damage keeps combat encounters tense, with fire, ice, shock and poison damage for instance being something to actively avoid while, with the right build, being able to distribute it effectively and turn the tides in a more explosive manner.
Adopting a variety of light RPG systems is perhaps most evident when it comes to building a load out. Each hero has three pieces of gear to experiment with; Suit, Melee and Ranged, and each of these gear pieces have a variety of stats to play around with such as Rarity, Level, Power, Defense, Health and elemental damage and other stat buffs.
Each hero has 15 suits, unlocked by crafting. These 15 suits each have a distinct look and draw from all sorts of the source material such as the Teen Titans and Batman Beyond. There are a variety of colour combinations, referred to as colourways, to unlock and there are three, readily available variants of the cowl, symbol on their chest, gloves and boots for each suit. This level of customisation is a lot of fun to play with and allows players to further play Gotham Knights their way, how they want to look and with their play style.
Cosmetics aside, the player is able to find and craft new weapons. New blueprints are unlocked as mission rewards and drops from enemy encounters, varying in rarity, level and stats. There are a wide array of crafting materials used to craft gear and where they can be found is viable by highlighting them in the gear menu, showing which enemy Faction can possibly drop them.
Mods can also be found and equipped to all gear types though different gear allows different amounts to be equipped. Some allow none while others can have up to three mods applied. Unwanted mods can also be fused by selecting four and creating a new, stronger mod that is influenced by all of the stats of those dedicated for consumption.
Gaining XP during combat and missions contributes to a player level that is shared across all four heroes, including the Ability Points that are awarded for doing so. For example, increasing in level by playing as Red Hood will award an Ability Point for him to use while also still being available for Batgirl, Nightwing and Robin. This is an excellent decision by developer Warner Bros. Montréal to allow players to have a more seamless experience when switching characters to prevent each hero having to be levelled up individually.
Each hero has a number of abilities to unlock that is specific to their play style. The initial level cap is 30 for the first playthrough but is increased to 40 if starting New Game + after completing the story for the first time. XP is given fairly generously and I had reached level 30 by the time I had completed the story and most of the optional side missions.
It’s great news that the four heroes share level progression as the grind would otherwise become very repetitive, very quickly, as the variety of crimes to fight in the seedy streets of Gotham seem grander at the beginning than they actually are. A handful of crimes soon become familiar and Gotham Knights’ mission pool is soon exposed to be as shallow as the length of its story. The fact that a lot of these random crime missions are needlessly tied to story progression, often serving little to no purpose or relevance hurts the pacing immensely, especially when tied to finding a specific enemy type that only has a chance of spawning during certain crime types at certain locations.
It’s a shame to not have a more dynamic offering of things to do, things such as car chases randomly breaking out and needing to be stopped or maybe bounty hunters randomly appearing are just two random ideas that could introduce an element of variety and surprise to the mission pool.
Much like their fallen mentor, the Knights all use detective elements to solve crimes and complete their missions. An Augmented Reality (AR) scanner is heavily incorporated into the structure of both main and optional side missions. Scanning objects to find clues, hidden switches and connecting clues to solve a puzzle become second nature, there were no instances where the solution was not apparent when the AR scanner had to be used.
The interactions between the supporting cast of characters and the four playable heroes is slightly different depending on which combination of characters are present. The overall narrative remains unchanged however, there are no alternate endings that are derived from particular characters being played but instead, it’s the smaller human interactions that feel varied enough to allow each hero to feel like they are the star of the scene and story instead of supporting characters reacting and conversing with them in a more generic manner that would cover the team safely.
Personal tidbits from their backgrounds are referred to by themselves and others that transform these interactions into something more meaningful. Instead of juggling the narrative to have each of the four heroes referenced within every interaction, this approach allows Gotham Knights to feel as though the story is played out from a singular, more personalised perspective that, given the brevity of the main story mission chain, allows for exploration in subsequent playthroughs.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the story is its length. To play through the story mission chain only, ignoring any optional missions or exploration, took just over eight hours on the Normal difficulty, entirely solo. No grinding levels or better gear, no co-op partner, no exploration. While I understand and appreciate that most people will mix their exploration and side missions with the main story in their playthroughs, this is alarmingly short for a title that has such a wonderfully realised world as this Gotham City.
By the fourteen hour mark I had completed the three side mission chains that feature iconic villains and found most of the collectibles, still solo. There are still races for me to do, optional mission chains to earn some more XP and gear rewards but overall, a short story and equally shallow variety of things to do will make it difficult to encourage people to return in the long run, at least without friends.
Co-operative play goes a long way in managing to expand the fun factor in Gotham Knights. With the entire city explorable for both players, and no distance restrictions to keep players tethered to a certain proximity of each other, Gotham becomes a different kind of playground to explore. Each player can go off and do their own thing or can work together as intended and complete missions and optional crimes twice as fast.
Though not instantly accessible, co-op becomes available after completing just a few missions. Oddly, despite starring four butt-kicking heroes, only two players can take to the streets of Gotham. A four player game mode has been announced prior to launch, set for a November release, though this is waves based combat encounters and not the free-roaming exploration of Gotham that is currently present in-game.
Gotham Knights is a great looking game. Gotham itself has been brought to life with a wonderfully contrasting vivid, gritty and dark style that make it a believable sandbox for Gotham’s grim underworld societies. The Knights all look excellent and the attention to detail in their suits is truly amazing. For as good as Gotham Knights looks it doesn’t quite live up to the standards set by the current generation of consoles. Performance wise I personally ran into no issues with the singular exception of a crash during multiplayer.
The sound design is excellent, with top notch voice acting from all of the main and supporting characters, a tense and atmospheric score that shifts its focus to match the mood of a scene in an instant, satisfying sound effects during combat and in particular when the various gadgets of the heroes and their criminal opponents come into play.
Gotham Knights sets itself apart from the Arkham series it undeniably fails to escape comparison of in a number of ways but it’s also unable to achieve the greatness that latter achieved on a number of levels.
The customisation of the four heroes is easily a stand out highlight. From cosmetic to functional, switching between the four heroes and having them feel and look so unique is a genuine joy and the city of Gotham is genuinely jaw dropping. Everything on the surface is excellent, it’s not until the bones of the open world and gameplay are exposed as rather shallow that Gotham Knights succumbs to the shadow of its admittedly unaffiliated predecessors.
Gotham Knights is a good game, especially in co-op, that unfortunately just can’t reach the high bars set by Rocksteady’s Arkham series. The brevity of the main story, simplistic combat and repetitive crime variety keep the experience feeling safe rather than taking some bold risks to even try to compete. If the Arkham titles didn’t exist, Gotham Knights would stand a little taller and shine a little brighter but shallow mission variety and a combat system that lacks depth and fluidity leave a different kind of mark that, like Bruce Wayne, can’t escape its fate.
+ Epic opening
+ Excellent customisation
+ Distinct play styles of the four heroes
+ Solid writing and personalisation of the Knights
+ A lot fun in co-op
– Extremely short story
– Most story missions are very brief
– Repetitive crimes and mission variety
– Only two player co-op
– Simplistic combat
Developed by: Warner Bros. Games Montréal
Published by: Warner Bros. Games
Release Date: October 21 2022
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5 and PC
* A digital code was kindly provided for the purpose of this review *
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All digital imagery was captured by Games of DAYNE in-game on Xbox Series X