Holy spinoff, Batman
Every so often, things pass us by. October in particular was a packed month, full of games like Vampire Survivors, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, A Plague Tale 2, Alan Wake Remastered Switch, Scorn, Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection, NHL 23, and No Man’s Sky Switch: to name a few (and in this case, I’m being literal, comparatively!).
So it makes sense that Gotham Knights would slip through the cracks, especially when codes were semi-limited for it at the time. It’s time for Gotham’s crew to face the music.
Gotham Knights (PC, PS5, Xbox Series X/S [reviewed on an Xbox Series X])
Developer: WB Games Montreal
Publisher: WB Interactive Entertainment
Released: October 21, 2022
MSRP: $59.99 (PC), $69.99 (consoles)
As soon as I saw the RPG elements of Gotham Knights in that very first gameplay showing, I felt deflated. So you’re going to take a highly narrative-focused action series and dump mid-2010s sensibilities (that have been done to death by now) into it? Bold choice! It didn’t really pay off.
I couldn’t shake the sense that much of the Batman mythos was squandered here. “Batman is dead” is still an interesting premise if done right (even if it’s been touched in various forms), and having his team of sidekicks come together to stabilize Gotham could allow for a lot of cool character interactions and growing pains. That’s not even including the raw potential for The Court of Owls: the shadowy organization that’s barely been covered outside of the source material. But the game is so concerned about gamey things like numbers, crafting, and minimap blips that a lot of the impact of said narrative falls to the wayside.
A lot of your personal enjoyment is going to come from the character you pick (your options are Nightwing [Dick], Robin [Tim], Batgirl [Babs], and Red Hood [Jason]. For me, the majority of the game was spent with the latter, who is, let’s say, uneven at best. There’s some cringey dialogue in there (that thankfully doesn’t get too edgy), but his moveset, which involves non-lethal guns, does show some form of evolution from the Arkham formula. Choosing between all four characters to try and find your groove is a cool idea at the very least, and one of the few live servicey elements that actually has a point to it. It helps that you can swap at any time, and all of them level up together: avoiding one path of painful grinding.
Strangely, one of the very first things you do in the action game Gotham Knights is completely stop said action dead in its tracks, and look at a clue-based minigame to try and open a door. It’s bizarre, and you can tell that someone really had a bone to pick with the idea of copying the Detective Mode and wanted to do their own thing. Well, it’s different!
Characters are loaded up with abilities and skill trees, and it’s not nearly as intrusive or as busy as it could have been. Many of those skills are actually pretty fun to use and easy to trigger, and I found myself changing Bat-people often to see how everyone else handles. There’s a bit of a disconnect here with the encounters: particularly how many enemies can feel spongey without putting up too much of a fight. As is the case with prior Arkham games boss fights can be a bright spot, but there simply aren’t enough of them.
Where things go wrong is basically all of the other collectibles, which are rote “crafting” reagents or slow-drip cosmetic unlocks. The big red flag is collecting “clues” from enemies in the form of arcadey vacuumed pickups, which can trigger new leads. I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t want to spend copious amounts of time “chasing leads” and interrogating criminals. I just want to go from mission to mission like the old Arkham games and do my thing.
Once you’re playing the actual missions themselves, things do pick up. It’s fun to zoom around the city, and missions are relatively bite-sized, broken up into multiple interludes that all play into a chapter-based system. Not all the beats hit, and not everything comes together, but you do get the sense that you’re chipping away at a mystery, and the parts that involve the team itself are often insightful.
I couldn’t help but see many of the same mistakes as the DCEU’s Justice League film, though: in the sense that so much was rushed, and so much was jammed in without the proper amount of development. The events that unfold in this game almost feel like it could have been a trilogy, with Batman mentoring some of the squad in the first game, relying on them more in the second game, and then you spring the “Batman is dead” gimmick. If you don’t already care about these characters, a lot of the nuances will probably bounce off you: justifiably so. Too many factions are crammed into this narrative when each of the major players could have carried a single entry.
I wouldn’t say that the map that’s presented in Gotham Knights is authentically Gotham, but it’s not a bad open world setting either. There are plenty of opportunities to zip through with various grappling hooks, and although the map itself is too busy, it also means that you can reasonably wander around and find stuff to do randomly. Fast travel points and a vehicle that can be summoned nearly anywhere also add to the convenience of getting around.
Going along with the live service theme, the core game has two player support, and there’s also a four player side mode called Heroic Assault. At this point, I’ve been able to try two player co-op many times (mostly through the instant hop-in feature), and it was often a riot. In one session, I spent some time with another person who also played Red Hood (you can double up), who yelled, in character, “you want some?!” every time we would get into a skirmish. Then there’s the co-op partner who didn’t realize I was in their game for a solid 30 minutes, despite following them the entire time. It was seamless, and when I was done, I could hop back into my game quickly. If you’re interested in co-op at all, you’ll definitely want to jump in with someone you know (perhaps on a deep sale or when the game is eventually part of some promo) to get the most out of it; but I see where the team was going with it.
After playing Gotham Knights, I couldn’t shake the feeling that a lot of it had the air of an Arkham-verse fan game. While there is something there, you can almost reach out and touch the design-by-committee elements and witness the souls of some of the developers leaving their bodies. If you’re looking for another “Open World: The Game,” this one has you covered.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]