Gotham Knights Review – Good Knight and Good Luck

Reviewed October 20, 2022 on Xbox Series X

Platforms:

PC, PS5, Xbox Series X

Released:

October 21, 2022

Publisher:

WB Games

Developer:

WB Games Montréal

When it comes to superhero titles, many would consider the Batman: Arkham series to be the gold standard. Creating a captivating open world to explore with lots to do, many hidden secrets to find, and memorable, addictive combat—the Arkham trilogy is loved, and with good reason. Gotham Knights, from developer WB Games Montréal, is set in a similar Batman universe but with a co-op twist, and has the unenviable task of trying to meet the lofty expectations of its Arkham predecessors. Despite some questionable inclusions that feel like they’re more padding than essential, Gotham Knights provides an entertaining open-world action game that mostly plays it safe with a solid campaign and punchy, satisfying battles.

Batman is dead, and it’s up to the Gotham Knights to ensure the city is kept safe, minimising crime and dealing with the various nefarious villains in Gotham City. Batman’s shadow looms over the remainder of the game, as the four heroes, Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing and Red Hood come to terms with their grief over losing Bruce Wayne, while also dealing with the threats to Gotham City with gusto. These particular heroes are not a crew that I’ve really spent a lot of time with or know much about—even Robin and Batgirl are usually just associated as sidekicks for the main Bat himself. But Gotham Knights does an admirable job of making you care about these four characters and their personal struggles as they step out of the shadows and into the spotlight for the first time.

The dynamic relationships are shown in cutscenes that are unique to each character, as they interact with each other and the outside world. You’ll be able to bounce between each of the four heroes during your playthrough whenever you want, and it’s worth doing so, as you’ll only see certain moments when you suit up as each individual. Most of these take place at The Belfry, which is the home base of the four Knights where you can track progression, upgrade gear and switch between characters after a night of patrolling. Some of the dialogue is a little cringe, sure, but each character-specific cutscene peeled back another layer of the onion for each of the four heroes that I really appreciated, adding some good depth and diving deeper into their backstory.

“…The Court of Owls, a secret society made up of Gotham City’s wealthiest families… mostly a bunch of pretentious wankers who wear silly masks…”

While you’ll encounter some of the loved villains from Batman’s history throughout the story, including Harley Quinn, Penguin, Mr. Freeze and others, the main baddies here are The Court of Owls, a secret society made up of Gotham City’s wealthiest families. They’re mostly a bunch of pretentious wankers who wear silly masks, but it provides an avenue to have many conspiracies and hidden architecture within the city itself that is fun to uncover and piece together. Investigative scenes enhance this, moments where you need to solve puzzles by matching evidence in specific combinations. Again, The Court of Owls is new to me, and I enjoyed taking on a new villainous group with intriguing twists along the way.

The main case files (and additional case files for each villain) are the real stand-out in Gotham Knights, leading you through confrontations with the various villains and learning more about Gotham City’s dark underbelly. These structured and relatively linear quests are where you’ll find the majority of the interesting storytelling, with lots of cutscenes moving things along and a solid mix of combat, exploration and puzzles keeping them interesting. They also take you to locations otherwise inaccessible, with some neat throwbacks, which I appreciated. They also provide some interesting twists on characters I know and love. Harley’s arc in particular is a stand-out as being comical and cheeky, as you’d expect, and some of the boss battles are particularly memorable in style.

The rest of Gotham City unfortunately is not quite as compelling to explore by comparison. There are criminals doing crimes in the streets which must be stopped (by using your fists, naturally), time trials for your Batcycle, drones to be scanned to unlock fast travel points, and other distractions. There’s a lack of variety to these though, and after sampling a few I only really felt compelled to stick to the main story, that was far more interesting. Annoyingly, some of the main case files require you to meander about the city with filler objectives like “interrogate 4 gang members here” or “prevent 3 crimes there”, which felt like roadblocks that kept me from getting to the really good stuff. Having to return to the Belfry between each major plot point was also a bit of a pain in the arse; many times I wished I could just keep progressing in the open world instead of going back to base over and over.

Of course, the main way you interact with everything is through your fists, and Gotham Knights features a combat system that is relatively robust and enjoyable throughout the whole experience. The best way I can describe it is “Arkham-ish”, with its own spin on things that does help it stand on its own. It’s a bit slower than the fast-paced counter-heavy combat system from the previous franchise, but it still does have that nice flow as you bounce between enemies, bashing them around and using the environment to your advantage to pummel them into a wall or throw them down with a satisfying finishing move. It’s snappy and satisfying, as you’d hope.

You have a close-range attack and a ranged attack mapped to a button each, and you can hold the button down to make them into a strong attack, along with grabs and throws. The extra wrinkles are the range of abilities that you have access to, called Momentum Abilities, that you charge up by dealing damage. They are tailored to each of the four different characters and can range from powerful takedowns, dangerous ranged attacks or larger area-of-effect abilities to help with crowd control. To unlock them you have to earn them (again, by killing x number of x foe), which I didn’t like doing, but there’s no denying they are fun and incredibly effective in a pinch.

I spent some time playing as all four of the titular heroes, and they absolutely all have their own strengths and focuses. Batgirl is balanced, more effective at going after a single target and throwing her Batarangs, while Nightwing is very acrobatic, able to create distance quickly with attacks that have him flying up and crashing down on enemies. Robin is able to use a decoy to distract but is no slouch in hand-to-hand combat either with his Quarter Staff, while Red Hood mixes his ranged handguns with intense strength, able to grab even the biggest baddies and slam them to the ground. The combat itself is easily transferable, so you don’t have to worry about switching ruining your experience; it’s also handy that progression is across all characters when it comes to XP and upgrades, so you’re not penalised greatly for changing it up.

Enemies range from your disposable thugs to more ninja-like entities with more diverse attack patterns, but some of the foes you’ll fight just feel plain cheap. One in particular has to be hit with a strong ranged attack before you can do any other damage to them, but these attacks often wouldn’t land properly or they would only stun them for a useless split second. Some enemies disappear and reappear when you’re trying to attack them, which can be very frustrating. Difficulty doesn’t necessarily increase exponentially, but their health bars certainly grow, meaning they are spongey and you’ll need to wail on them a lot to take them down. In later missions, you’re thrown many back-to-back combat scenarios with multiple of these big health bar jerks that sucked a lot of the fun out of things. Give me a challenge, yes, but don’t waste my time.

Beyond earning ability points to add more buffs and skills to your repertoire, the other core way you’ll get stronger in Gotham Knights is via gear, crafting and mods, but these elements feel like they have been added in to tick an RPG box rather than being genuinely well thought-out. Gear is found as you play, and crafting can happen back at the Belfry to upgrade your suit, melee or ranged weapons. There are several crafting materials that are found in chests or dropped by enemies after you defeat them, represented by holographic coloured symbols.

After finishing the game and completing a lot of side content, I still couldn’t tell you what these resources are. In fact, I’d just routinely check my character, choose the strongest piece of gear I could craft (which, at least, is laid out pretty clearly), and equip it without much further thought. The various mods you’ll find are the same; while you can focus on health, damage or abilities, I usually just selected the highest number and didn’t think much more about it. I love a crafting system as much as the next RPG nerd, but you have to give me something to care about or something to strive for specifically, otherwise it all just feels unimportant.

“…I really appreciated the freedom to explore and do what I wanted with a friend playing by my side.”

The fact that the non-descript crafting materials are the main thing you earn from finding chests and exploring is a shame because traversal through the world itself is fun. Gotham City looks good, and citizens in the street will comment on your progress as a hero, cheering you on as you make more of a name for yourself. You have a handy grappling hook that means you can easily aim and shoot at any tall building and climb it instantly, and although it has moments that go a bit haywire, it mostly works well and feels good. Likewise, the Batcycle is a good way to get around the streets, although this is where the 30 FPS is most obvious; I know it’s been a controversial point in the leadup to launch that there is no “performance mode”, but really it didn’t hamper my experience that much, except for when I was on the bike.

In terms of other reasons to explore, other side activities feel like they were added in for the sake of it, like collecting Batarangs scattered about the city, finding secret crates to get more mods or documenting street art for Robin. They were fine distractions to grab when I was on the way from point A to point B, but never made me want to stray too far off the beaten path to find them on their own merit. I just wish that the side stuff was a lot more fun, rather than a laundry list of things to do, so I mostly fast-travelled once I unlocked the ability to do so. I can’t help but compare Gotham Knights to the Arkham series that absolutely nailed the diversions, like the Riddles hidden throughout the city; standing at a charging station and waiting 1 minute for a drone to land so it can be scanned is just plain boring.

The absolute saving grace is that the entire game can be played with a friend in 2-player co-op, campaign and side missions included. It’s seamless, drop-in, drop-out cooperative play that makes it easy to connect with another hero and fight crime together. It’s also fully untethered, which means you can be stopping a crime on one end of the city while your mate is completing a time trial on their Batcycle somewhere else. Only the main quests (and moving back and forth to Belfry) are instanced separately, and I really appreciated the freedom to explore and do what I wanted with a friend playing by my side.

Additionally, it unlocks new banter between the heroes, and being able to complete tag-team finishers on enemies is a nice touch. It’s worth shouting from the rooftops too, mission progression is saved across both user profiles, so it’s not that crappy system where the host game unlocks stuff while the guest gets nothing. I wish more games would do this, and it makes Gotham Knights an easy adventure to recommend if you’re looking for a solid 2-player escapade.

7.5

Good

Positive:

  • Main villain case files are entertaining and well crafted
  • Compelling, likeable heroes with interesting stories
  • Combat is simple at first but has some depth
  • Seamless, untethered cooperative play is a blast

Negative:

  • Side missions feel like mostly filler
  • Stronger enemies are annoying and far too spongey
  • Crafting and gear systems feel tacked on and uninteresting

Gotham Knights smartly puts focus on some iconic DC Villains and showcases a new threat with an interesting story full of conspiracies and secrets. It does a good job of establishing this story with underrated heroes, tying in fun action which is enhanced greatly by playing with a friend. Other elements, like boring diversions from the main story, a tacked-on crafting system, and an over-reliance on throwing piles of long, repetitive battles in your path towards the end are less successful, but I still enjoyed my time exploring Gotham City overall. Especially if you have a sidekick, this is a superhero adventure that is well worth suiting up for.