Gotham Knights is a brand-new, open-world, third-person action role-playing game featuring the Batman Family. Despite a myriad of problems we encountered while playing it, ultimately it did more right than wrong. So, buy it if you’re a fan of the Bat Family. Otherwise, wait for it on sale.
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What we liked about it
The story is excellent, with hat tips for DC Comics fans
Alfred mourns Batman.
The story is engrossing and beautifully balances gameplay with the emotional arc of the characters. The game begins with the death of Batman, along with the destruction of the Batcave. Our heroes decamp to their new headquarters, the Belfry, and pick up where their mentor left off.
We first investigate the demise of Dr. Kirk Langstrom. Thanks to help from our augmented reality (AR) tech, we uncover clues that ultimately lead us to our shadowy nemeses, the Court of Owls. Insert warning music here.
Our caped crusading is made more difficult with the appearance of enemies like Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze and the Penguin. Since our ally Commissioner Jim Gordon (Barbara’s father) is also dead, the police are openly hostile to us. Still, if we’re tough and determined enough, we can foil the Court’s dastardly plans for Gotham. Insert strigiformophobia here.
We particularly enjoyed the hat tips to the DC Universe sprinkled throughout the game, including John Constantine’s punk band, Mucous Membrane, and Zatanna’s father, Zatara. Then there’s Otisburg. Otisburg! And if the name “Dr. Kirk Langstrom” sounds familiar, it’s because in the comics, he’s the villain Man-Bat. DC Comics fans will be satisfied with the presentation of the characters and the storyline, even as Gotham Knights tells its own tale. Consider this a Just Imagine or Elseworlds story.
The world then shifts to daytime whenever we chillax in the Belfry. Finally, a Batman game that has daylight — even if we only see it through the Belfry’s windows.
The characters are even better
Guns don’t kill people. Red Hood doesn’t kill people either, because his bullets are nonlethal.
You can swap between all four characters, making Gotham Knights feel like four games in one. Your choices are:
- Batgirl/Barbara Gordon, a savvy do-gooder with good self-healing abilities.
- Nightwing/Dick Grayson, a wise-cracking acrobat and the team player you want to co-op with.
- Red Hood/Jason Todd, the team’s laconic muscle and marksman.
- Robin/Tim Drake, who is geeky and excels at stealth.
The very best aspect of Gotham Knights is the character development, particularly the cutscenes. We get to know the people behind the cowls, and they’re all fun to hang out with — even Red Hood, who is more self-aware than you would expect from a bruiser like him.
Every 30 seconds in the Belfry, we overhear chats between the characters, and their dialogue ranges from the practical to the punny. We could listen to it for hours.
Most of the game involves doling out justice with our fists, and leveling our heroes isn’t just a way to become more powerful: It’s part of our emotional arc, to become a hero who can fill Batman’s bat-boots. Additionally, each character in Gotham Knights has an individual journey of self-discovery they take to learn about how they deal with death and life. These scenes bring out the best that the world of gaming and comic books has to offer.
We’re looking forward to replaying Gotham Knights so we can note the differences in how our protagonists react to the same situations and marvel at the dialogue that we will eventually get to hear, given that every plot cutscene has four different scripts.
Even enemies like Clayface, Harley Quinn and the Penguin are well characterized. And almost every character is voiced to perfection. (See The voice of Batgirl in our What we didn’t like section below.)
Co-op play works well — and gives you extra dialogue
Our co-op player, ZensPath, proves that Nightwing’s glider is overpowered, right before he flies away to Star City. (image by Jeremy Powers/ZensPath)
Gotham Knights lets you play co-op with a buddy, if you have a compatible system. In our case, because we were using PS5 consoles, we both needed a PlayStation Plus account. It worked seamlessly.
Co-op play allows you to get a taste of different character interactions: Jeremy Powers, our co-op partner (playing Red Hood), joined us in our fight (playing Robin) against Clayface. He had completed the scene himself a few minutes before. When the scene ended, he pointed out that in his version, Red Hood punched a wall, while in our shared version, Robin inspected the residue on the grate Clayface escaped through.
Better yet, it allowed us to get extra dialogue. On a mission with our co-op partner, Robin tumbled down a hole and said something like, “I’m glad no one was here to see that.” But because Red Hood was standing right there, he responded, “I didn’t see anything.”
According to Warner Bros. Montreal, you’re automatically placed at the same level as the instance owner. We couldn’t test this. Due to time constraints, we could only play together twice, and both times, we were coincidentally the same level.
You and your buddy can choose to play different characters, or hey, even two Nightwings at the same time. Expect a four-player co-op mode called “Heroic Assault” on Nov. 29, 2022, available as a free update.
All 4 characters play differently
Nightwing wonders whatever happened to the band’s front member, John Constantine.
Every night, we take one of the four protagonists out on patrol. You can thwart crimes of opportunity or 12 different types of premeditated crimes (stopping armed robberies, preventing hacks, etc). These dirty deeds are varied enough to maintain interest.
Combat fatigue (see our What we didn’t like section below) can be mitigated by switching different characters, each with their own combat style. You can also encounter these missions differently, depending on the way you’ve upgraded your abilities. For example, you might want to switch over to Babs if you’re planning to do some light espionage and your current Batgirl can’t be seen by cameras. When your chosen character has enough experience to level up, happily, the other characters level too.
Gotham Knights doesn’t require perfect timing, but it does reward good timing with stylish combat moves and a quick fill of the “momentum” bar, and this momentum allows you to unleash special attacks that make you feel like the world’s greatest detective turned world’s greatest kicker of ass.
It turns out our favorite character to play was Nightwing, thanks to his ability to generate momentum with acrobatic flips, then land a devastating attack.
It’s a solid example of an open-world game
Gotham City in all its glory.
Gotham is a huge city with five boroughs, and we can choose to stop a random crime. Or determine what happened to a corpse — and where their attacker went. Or following up on Harley Quinn’s strange career turn. Or meeting members of Gotham’s Watch. Or hunting down collectible items. There is never a dull moment in Gotham Knights.
Because there’s a prodigious amount to do, we recommend you unlock the fast-travel option as quickly as you can; you acquire it through Lucius Fox, after scanning many drones. This makes traversing the city a little more manageable.
What we didn’t like about it
The voice of Batgirl
Batgirl’s all about that cape, ’bout that cape, no grapnel.
The biggest disappointment in the game for us is director Patrick Redding’s decision to make Batgirl/Barbara Gordon sound too young for the character she plays. Even though Batgirl refers to her past role as information broker Oracle, aurally, you could peg her as a tween. The dissonance between her voice and her dialogue dampened our enthusiasm for the character we had looked forward to playing the most.
Combat can be frustrating and same-y
The momentum mechanic requires precise targeting. If you don’t point your camera directly at your enemy during certain special momentum attacks, well, let’s just say that nothing is sadder than watching Robin’s spinning bo staff go full General Grievous, only to miss your opponent completely.
Even though there are 12 types of premeditated crimes, the actual combat can be boiled down into one word: meh. There are only minor differences between the gangs and hoodlums that need taking down (and the dialogue from gangs and passersby can be repetitive or even ridiculous). Extra challenges, such as defeating two foes at once — a game mechanic swiped whole from Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man — make the game less repetitious but might not suit the play style of the character you’re currently with.
So, it’s disappointing, then, that you can’t swap characters while out on patrol — an omission that hinders the versatility of combat. We recommend spending as much time as you can spare on training. You will need it, particularly in the beginning.
Targeting lacks precision
Oh look. We’ve stumbled into Aperture Science’s Enrichment Center.
Travel around the city is primarily by Bat-grapnel. Unfortunately, it’s extremely twitchy, and the grapnel gun that allows us to latch onto buildings and catapult us across Gotham doesn’t always go where you aim the camera. Instead, it seems to grab onto the nearest anchor point — even if it’s off-screen, sometimes behind or below you. Our ability to crimefight using stealth was thwarted more than once when, rather than propel ourselves away from criminal activity, we sailed straight into it. Multiple times.
You also need to exercise situational awareness for “silent takedowns” that occur when an enemy (male and female, hooray for gender-inclusive baddies!) are right beneath you. If they’re standing next to more foes, this alerts them to our heroics, although weirdly, they wait for you to finish choking out their pal before pummeling. So although you may be offered the option to perform a silent takedown, it doesn’t mean you should.
Also sadly lacking is motion control option for precise aiming as well as any form of haptic feedback outside of cutscenes. While we recognize that not all controllers support it, these still feel like serious omissions for the AAA title Batfans have been waiting for.
This isn’t Arkham, and you’re not Batman
Red Hood’s boots are made for stomping.
The real killer croc in the room is that Gotham Knights is not the beloved Batman: Arkham series (Asylum, City, Origins and Knight), which was famously developed with rhythm in mind and innovated some of the most fluid combat in the history of gaming. Compared to Arkham — and frankly, most video games — combat here is bland.
Unlike Batman, a fully fledged crimefighter, you play one of four relatively inexperienced characters. Although it’s great in terms of character development, the irony of this approach is that, especially at the beginning of the game, you lack the Dark Knight’s signature moves and polished combat. This is deeply unsatisfying if you’re coming from the Batman: Arkham games.
It’s not just combat that we feel underpowered. It takes hours and hours of gameplay to level up to Knight, where you unlock a special travel ability: Batgirl uses Batman’s trademark cape to swoop, Robin can teleport, Nightwing has a massively overpowered glider and Red Hood trampolines on a mystic cloud of acquired taste. Until then, we have to be satisfied with the grapnel gun. There’s also the trusty Batcycle — a reasonable way to get around if you happen to be at ground level, like some sort of plebe.
However, as Gotham Knights progresses and our protagonists level up and dry the wet behind their cowls, the game does come into its own.
Crafting is weak
Why do so many secret societies have trouble with subtlety?
Crafting is another weak area in Gotham Knights. Having to constantly upgrade your gear was more confusing than it needed to be and isn’t particularly satisfying either. Here, when we raid chests or defeat enemies, an indistinct icon appears, telling us that we’ve picked up a resource; only in the Crafting menu do we learn what the resource is. Plus, the loot you acquire from random mobs includes items like “Pseudoderm” and “Rare Earth Metals.” Because that’s what mobs are into these days?
Items that we’ve looted from enemies include blueprints for suits, weaponry and modchips with different properties, such as critical chance and elemental effects. As far as we can tell, they’re dropped at random, so if we want a suit with particular abilities or a cool new look, there’s no way to specifically track it down. This stands in contrast to games like Horizon: Forbidden West, where you can target items you want to craft, and the game places the requisite materials on the map for you to hunt down.
If you think you have to be at the Belfry’s craft station to craft gear and items, you would be mistaken — as we were throughout most of the game. However, you do need to return home to equip them.
Gotham Knights is a good game, and we had a lot of fun playing it. It isn’t, however, a great game, and its shortcomings are disappointing. Its engaging story is marred by issues that other games have solved for years. But despite a myriad of problems, ultimately it did more right than wrong. So, buy it if you’re a fan of the Bat Family. Otherwise, wait for it on sale.
We feel the same way about Gotham Knights as we do the city of Gotham: We wouldn’t want to live there, but we can absolutely visit.
Gotham Knights: Official gameplay launch trailer
Want a peak of gameplay action before you buy? Warner Bros. offered a glimpse into Gotham Knights’ gameplay before the game’s release. Check out the video below: