Gotham Knights review: Batman’s shadow looms large
Despite being unrelated to the Arkham games, Gotham Knights lives in Batman’s shadow
With Gotham Knights launching at the end of the week, fans of superhero games will be coming out of the woodwork and wondering if this particular power fantasy is worth picking up. And we can help you decide!
Here at RadioTimes.com, we’ve been playing Gotham Knights for a little while now, from its lengthy single-player campaign to its interesting multiplayer options (you can bring one online friend with you at any point in the open world, or you can randomly match up with a stranger in the same way).
Gotham Knights comes to us from Warner Bros Games Montreal, the same company that worked on Batman: Arkham Origins as well as various bits of DLC for Rocksteady’s Arkham Knight. And even though Gotham Knights takes place in a new continuity, it’s hard not to make comparisons with the much-loved Arkham franchise.
Of course, the game’s core concept doesn’t exactly help to wade off comparisons: Batman died at the end of 2015’s Arkham Knight, and he also dies at the start of Gotham Knights, leaving four of his sidekicks to pick up his final investigation. It feels like a premise that could have happened in the Arkham-verse, but in this case, it’s happening in a different universe altogether (presumably for corporate behind-the-scenes reasons).
Those four sidekicks - Tim Drake’s Robin, Dick Grayson’s Nightwing, Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl and Jason Todd’s Red Hood - were also familiar to Arkham fans, but they’ve been rebooted here with tweaked backstories and new voice actors. There are other similarities, too: a plot about Harley Quinn branching out on her own, barely mentioning the Joker, also feels like it could’ve worked as an Arkham Knights sequel.
As the game opens, using a lengthy cut-scene to show how Batman died in this new universe, it’s best to try and force the Arkham games from your mind. While there was a semblance of grittiness in the Arkham-verse, Gotham Knights seems to embrace the pulpy nature of comic books instead, with arch dialogue at the forefront and over-the-top Easter eggs in the background.
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Eventually, you’re given a choice between the four aforementioned sidekicks - which one do you want to play as first? And although the game doesn’t exactly try hard to tell you this, you can change character later (just interact with the outfits on display in the Belfry, the game’s replacement for the Batcave, to switch it up between missions).
In fact, that’s not the only thing that the game doesn’t make a big point of explaining. Yes, Gotham Knights is an open-world game and so part of the fun is in exploring the city for yourself, working through various to-do lists and gradually following the main quest markers. But the game also gives you ‘case files’ on a number of other villains, and this side content is where you’ll find some of the most fun story beats and boss battles.
For the most part, these case file quests are buried in the game’s menus (which are not particularly user-friendly), so you’ll need to remember to keep checking back on your Batcomputer so you don’t miss anything. For example, although you can pick up clues about Harley Quinn out in the open world, you’ll need to return to the Belfry later and actively select her case file if you want to see more of that story.
The menus aren’t the only thing that feels like it’s holding you back, either. The developers have made a conscious choice to put each character’s main traversal skill at the end of a mission chain, which makes the opening few hours feel like a bit of a slog (you do get a motorcycle for free, but riding about on that gets a bit dull).
For example, Batgirl won’t have a cape for you to glide around the city with. Not until you’ve done some virtual training and ticked off a couple of other objectives (one of which requires you stop 10 crimes in the open world). To do this for each character, just to get a cape (or equivalent item/skill), feels like an undue amount of homework for quite a basic reward.
So far, this may sound like quite a negative review, but here’s the twist: once you get into it, Gotham Knights is actually quite compelling. Once you’ve earned a few upgrades on the various skill trees (there are four per character) and learned the ropes, the combat starts to feel really fun. Maybe not quite as propulsive and exciting as Arkham combat, but it gets closer and closer as you progress through.
There’s also a satisfying gameplay loop to enjoy in terms of beating goons, gathering resources, upgrading your loadout and heading out to beat some more goons. And the city is always changing — while the Arkham games tended to take place on one very long night, with the citizens of Gotham almost always absent, the Gotham Knights version of the city feels alive with possibilities.
You’ll hear snippets of some weirdly normal conversations at street level. You’ll see a number of different nights as you work through the game, each of which has its own major story events to see and ground-level crimes to stop. And the city looks pretty nice on a graphical level, carefully blending gothic gargoyles with bright neon lights and impressive weather effects. There are too many massive bridges, though, so you’ll want to unlock fast travel locations as soon as you’re able to.
Is Gotham Knights worth playing, then? For fans of superhero games, we’d say that it’s very much worth checking out, although it might take you a few hours to really feel like you’re into the meat of it. When you cross that line from scepticism into acceptance, you’ll find yourself having fun in the playground that is Gotham.
‘Just one more mission’ is something we kept saying to ourselves, but each time we completed an objective, there was something else that grabbed our attention. Not all of the side quests are massively enjoyable (spotting Gotham landmarks and collecting old Batarangs felt a bit dull), but the overall feeling of working around the city and ticking things off does bring a sense of satisfaction.
In terms of the gameplay, the combat grew on us over time (especially once we understood the momentum abilities) and the detective work is OK (there’s an admirable amount of it, even though it normally boils down to picking a few things off a table). And in terms of the graphics, we were consistently impressed (barring one strange glitch involving Jason's hoodie).
Read more on Gotham Knights:
- Gotham Knights multiplayer - is it crossplay?
- Gotham Knights cast - all actors revealed
- Gotham Knights villains - who is confirmed?
- Why isn't Gotham Knights on PS4 and Xbox One? We explain
- Gotham Knights PC requirements - the specs you need
- Gotham Knights versions - what are the different editions?
- Can you change character in Gotham Knights? How to switch
- Gotham Knights achievements & trophies - the full list
- Gotham Knights length - how many hours will it take?
- Gotham Knights guide - how to overcome the toughest puzzle
To say much about the story would probably count as spoilers, but suffice it to say that there are some fun twists and turns here (and not all them were things we predicted, either). The dialogue never really stopped feeling stilted, though, even though the actors did their best to sell it. It does feel like there’s a gritty element missing (for a game that starts with a death, the four main characters are pretty much happy and polite with each other all the time).
All in all, then, Gotham Knights is a mixed bag, and it lacks the cohesive well-planned-out feeling that you always got with an Arkham game (or a Spider-Man game, more recently). If you like these kinds of games, though, we think you should find plenty to enjoy - especially once you stop comparing it to Arkham in your head, and just let these heroes step out of Batman’s shadow.
Gotham Knights launches 21st October for PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC. We reviewed on Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.
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