Gotham Knights does the unprecedented by killing off Batman. As a follow-up to the popular Arkham series, this game brings in the Bat Family -- Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood and Robin -- to investigate the death of the Dark Knight. While the game itself has some bright spots, its lack of polish makes the experience much less of a thrilling Bat adventure.
Developer Warner Bros Games Montreal released a game in 2022 that looks like it could have come out in 2012.
It's especially frustrating when you remember that the Arkham series includes some of the greatest comic-inspired games ever made. Fans of that classic trilogy expecting the same level of quality in Arkham Knights are likely to be disappointed.
The Mediocre Four
Gotham Knights lets you play as any of the Bat sidekicks as they chase down evidence from their mentor's last case, to figure out why he died. This quest sees the group crossing paths with members of the Caped Crusader's iconic rogues gallery including Penguin, Harley Quinn and Mr. Freeze. As they work on the big case, there are side missions that let you stop criminals from robbing armored cars, prevent kidnappings and generally fight the crime you'd expect to occur on a Gotham night.
The Belfry in Wayne Tower acts as the HQ throughout the game. During the day, the group pieces together evidence to figure out what lead to chase next. At night, they patrol the streets. It's here where you can pick which hero to play as.
Although each character has their own unique abilities, that isn't always evident when playing. Red Hood is a brute with big powerful attacks, Batgirl has faster quick strikes, Nightwing is more acrobatic and Robin uses his staff more along with defensive gadgets. Yet most of the time, regardless of your choice of character, you'll just employ the same mix of regular and power attacks while dodging your enemies' blows.
The Arkham series established Batman's attacks as powerful and graceful movements, but that feeling just isn't present in Gotham Knights' combat. Instead, it comes off more like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat 'em up -- not satisfying or tactical.
Stealth was another important aspect of the Arkham series, and Gotham Knights includes segments where going in silently is the ideal approach. Unfortunately, as with combat, it isn't executed nearly as well. Most of the stealth takedowns consist of either attacking from a perch above or creeping up behind enemies, but there's a small window where these takedowns seem to suffer from technical issues.
Sometimes I'd be behind an enemy and take them down silently while in another instance at seemingly the same distance, my character used their ranged attack -- which is the same button as the stealth takedown -- thus alerting all the enemies in the area.
One sadly lacking aspect of the Bat Family is their lack of character. Dick Grayson (aka Nightwing) is the pseudo leader of the group, but he doesn't give off any assertive leadership vibes to show why. I was also frustrated by the constant worry that there needs to be a Batman patrolling the streets or criminals will take over. The comics have let Dick wear the cowl to prevent just that.
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Meanwhile, Barbara Gordon/Batgirl is grieving for both Batman and her father, Commissioner Gordon, who's been killed off alongside the Caped Crusader. Tim Drake, the latest person to hold the Robin mantle, is the new addition to the group and is mainly just an awkward kid whose narrative role is constantly looking up details on clues.
The outlier is Jason Todd, who goes by Red Hood and played a major role in 2015's Batman: Arkham Knight. In Gotham Knights' separate continuity, Jason is revived after being killed by the Joker through the use of a Lazarus Pit, a restorative pool used by Batman baddy Ra's al Ghul. This fact leads to constant awkward moments when the rest of the Bat Family bring up how Jason was formerly dead. But that doesn't go far because he's mostly just a hothead itching to bash every bad guy in the city.
None of the Bat Family really jump off the screen. Their dialogue comes off as wooden, lacking a sense of organic timing or any real humor. Surprisingly, there's plenty of dynamism to be found in email chains that can be read in the menu. They poke fun at each other in earnest ways, making me wish I saw that banter play out rather than having to read it.
If there is a shining aspect of the Bat Family, it comes with co-op play. Teaming up with other players is as thrilling as a Bat team up needs to be. Doing a slow walk into a room full of bad guys and taking them all down is one fun approach, but the real treat is sneaking around together and silently disposing of everyone. There's also the collaborative nature of solving certain puzzles that also makes for an enjoyable time. Gotham Knights is certainly best played with friends.
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Life in the big, dull city
Gotham plays a big role in the Batman lore, but this game's version for the iconic city proves disappointing. For a fictional metropolis based on New York, Gotham Knights' city feels desolate. There's hardly anyone in the streets and the random citizens you do encounter are lifeless.
This urban environment also lacks defining structures; some skyscrapers are noticeable and you occasionally come across distinct story-related locations, but everything else looks dreary.
Traversing the big city is also quite dull. The two main options are using the Grapple Gun to fly from building to building or using the Batcycle to get around fast. The former allows you to move across the city and scale its buildings, but there's a lack of finesse to it. A reticle shows up when a grapple spot is nearby, then the camera needs to be pointed just right or it won't show up. Then in some cases, the camera is clearly fixed on one spot but the Grapple Gun picks a completely different direction requiring you to cancel the movement and try again.
As for the Batcycle, it's devoid of any interesting physics. Every character rides it the same way, and it moves like a tank when turning. It helps get around faster and more directly than the Grapple Gun, but it's not much fun. This vehicle suffers from similar movement issues to on-foot characters -- they can get "stuck" on certain objects. It's frustrating that these heroes are supposedly highly trained vigilantes, but a corner of a table makes them stop dead in their tracks.
Later, short side missions unlock an option to fast travel to certain parts of the city: I recommend you do these to reduce the boredom and frustration of getting around.
Despite this, the usual array of collectibles, interesting photo points and other ways to spend your time in the city pop up while on patrol. Each offers rewards, unlockable content, gear for characters to use and more, but these feel designed for taking up time rather than as a fun diversion for players.
Gotham Knights makes some bold choices overall, but the execution is poor. It doesn't play or look great, nor does it properly showcase the characters meant to replace Batman. Instead of going to the extremes by ditching Batman and replacing him with four other heroes, WB Games Montreal should have re-established the franchise for the next-gen consoles and then switched gears with a follow-up. There's simply far too much going on in this game that doesn't come off as a 2022 AAA title.
Gotham Knights comes out on Friday for PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X|S for $70.