I’d love to come out of the gate and say that Gotham Knights and WB Games Montreal came out of the gate and surprised us all. I’d love to say that the 24 hours I’ve logged on the game from Steam were all productive. Hell, I’d love to tell you I could even get Gotham Knights to launch reliably. I can’t though. With most of the time I’ve spent with this game, I was going to come in here guns blasting, like Red Hood, but I’m also willing to be generous.
Gotham Knights has been a bit of a mess since it was announced. It was supposed to release last year, got delayed until later next week, but then moved up to its current launch day. Does that confuse you? As someone that reviews games, the bouncing around of dates was off-putting. In the end, I can’t say Gotham Knights stuck the landing with anything less than a face plan, but I will tell you early that there is a salvageable experience here.
There are a lot of things that Gotham Knights does. I wouldn’t be as bold as to say that the game does much of it reliably. However, in the late hours of my review, our editor was checking in on my progress, I did find it challenging to tear myself away. Was it the sunk-cost fallacy? Had I spent so much time trying to get this to play the way I needed it to that I was reluctant to quit? Was I afraid I just wouldn’t be able to launch the game again? No, I think I actually started to find some enjoyment in Gotham Knights.
Gotham Knights presents an interesting story. In the opening moments of the game, the World’s Greatest Detective dies. In the wake of Batman’s death, the Bat Family must come together and bring peace to a shattered Gotham City and solve his final case. It’s an interesting concept: a Batman game without the Batman. For the most part, the idea works. The Caped Crusader’s four sidekicks come together to present a compelling enough story.
As an open-world action-adventure game with puzzle elements, Gotham Knights, is able to stand on its own. I will also warn readers in advance that for the most part, it spends a lot of that time standing in more impressive Batman games’ shadows. Combat isn’t especially great, the world isn’t especially engaging, and the puzzles Gotham Knights presents aren’t really super satisfying or rewarding. What the game does has almost always been done before, and better. Gotham Knights doesn’t reinvent the wheel or really even revolutionize it.
The open world of Gotham Knight’s Gotham City has crime all over the place. There are lots of criminals to punch, shoot and choke out. You’ll encounter general street crimes where you can interrogate thugs and find out about premeditated crimes, which are more engaging mini-missions. My personal favorite ones were people rigged up to bombs. At those points, I felt like I was doing Batman things. Sneaking around, disarming bombs on hostages, taking out henchmen from the shadows, and watching those criminals lose their minds when they realized they were getting picked off.
While there is a lot to do within Gotham Knight’s open world, it also serves as an example of how less can be more. When you start unlocking fast travel points and faster ways to maneuver, Gotham City becomes a lot smaller. There is way too much filler territory in between the things to do, while many collectibles and extras feel more out of the way than needed. It’s a cliche phrase at this point, but Gotham City is an ocean wide and a foot deep. It’s more bothersome than enjoyable to run around the map.
Let’s talk about the world of Gotham Knights.
If you are familiar with Batman comics, the world of Gotham Knights will seem familiar, yet also alien. Before the events of the game, Commissioner Jim Gordon died. GCPD is more corrupt than ever and it seems Renee Montoya is the only person trying to right the ship. With Batman gone, Nightwing, Robin, Red Hood, and Bat Girl are doing their best to keep the city together. It feels that the story itself seems to take place later in Batman’s career as there are some notable villains absent from Gotham Knights. For example, they really seem to dance around mentioning a certain clown. It’s odd because his impact is indeed felt still.
That’s probably the weirdest and most uncomfortable part of Gotham Knights’ story. Characters are familiar enough, but there are so many liberties taken with them all, that it isn’t fair to assume that anything you know applies. Sure, Jason Todd/Red Hood was killed by the Joker and resurrected in the Lazarus pit. It doesn’t seem that he spent time opposing Batman though instead, it seems he had a hard time finding a place back within the Bat-family. Barbara Gordon was paralyzed, and she talks about overcoming it, but her time as Oracle and much of the event then led to her injuries are skipped. Her high-tech stuff is still present, but it’s just sort of assumed you already know.
I find the whole thing a little weird. You can learn more about the playable characters as you play the game and do story missions for them to uncover more, but there isn’t much to get you started. As the world of Gotham Knights is a different take on DC’s existing story, liberties are certainly OK, but I’m a sucker for giving me motivation. With Gotham Knights, it really felt like there was a lot left on the table. Especially because there is a major character missing from this line-up that would have fit fantastically within the world.
Fortunately, the story of Gotham Knights is compelling enough to keep you entertained. With the fallout of Batman’s death, there are enough intersecting stories that make bad guys feel sleazy and core villains feel caught up in the vacuum of his demise. In fact, that was probably one of the most interesting parts of the story. Without specifics, a world without Batman forces Gotham’s worst to have to keep themselves grounded. Without the threat of him providing blunt-force justice, they slip into more erratic behaviors. Within the wake of that chaos, new and old threats show up too. It certainly works to the benefit of Gotham Knights.
How is Gotham Knights’ gameplay?
I honestly went into this game expecting a gameplay loop much like Rocksteady’s Arkham series. In retrospect, I don’t think that is a fair comparison as this isn’t part of that franchise. It does give me a reference point though of what Batman combat should look like. Gotham Knights seems to have the right idea, but also doesn’t find the same combat sweet spot as similar games. I felt like most combat situations were handled by spamming attacks in the direction of bad guys. Things like throws kinda go all over the place so grabs only seemed to work best as finishers.
All four of Gotham Knights’ playable characters have a short-range weapon, a long-range weapon, and a collection of special abilities that take advantage of their fighting styles. For example, Bat Girl feels the most Batman-y, with graceful combos and Batarang attacks. Red Hood’s brutal special moves are best for heavy single-target damage or splash damage. Robin offers a bit more reach but seems to be weaker at larger distances. Nightwing is incredibly mobile and has abilities to take advantage of that movement.
Being able to switch between characters was welcome as it feels like it broadens the story and keeps gameplay fresh. Major mission gear drops also seem to carry over to all characters too, so if you don’t find yourself using one of the former sidekicks for a few levels, they also won’t feel too far behind. There is a crafting and mod system that keeps gear moving too so customization is a big part of the game. In fact, there are more than a dozen suits for each character and with several colorways and appearance options. It feels nice and fresh to throw a new suit on.
All in all, that level of flexibility is what saves Gotham Knights from being a hard pass. Any time the gameplay loop starts to feel stale, there are enough ways to change things up that it doesn’t feel like it is painfully forced.
Gotham Knights has an online mode as well, it’s pretty neat.
I feel like the biggest head-turner when Gotham Knights was announced was the ability to play online with other people. I know co-op or four-player gameplay isn’t revolutionary, but for an open-world game where you are zipping around all over, it’s not common. When I was able to get my game online without crashing, it was fun and also a little cheap at the same time.
Gotham Knights operate on a loot system based on levels. When you join another player, it seems experience piles up a lot faster if they are at a higher level than you. I found that I would start a match online, run a few missions and then come back to my own game a lot stronger than when I started. It was a fun, extra incentive to play online.
When you play online in Gotham Knights, players can choose to cruise around the city stopping crimes or jump into the main story. Enemies of course do seem to be a bit stronger when in online play, but the options for co-op also change the feel of the game too. At one point, when I was playing online, I joined a Red Hood that was taking on some more difficult content that required stealth. While we worked together to take out enemies, we were able to simultaneously take out a few guards that would have alerted each other in single-player. Also at one point, my teammate was about to get spotted and I was able to run up and take the guard down.
I felt like the only thing that took away from this online experience was that you can join a player that has unlocked more abilities than you. One of the biggest unlocks in the game are additional movement options to get around quicker. When I first started playing online, I found myself in a position where I was chasing down my teammates while using the Bat-cycle and grappling hook. It may just be because the player base was a lot lower in the review period, but joining smaller missions halfway through made me feel like dead weight.
If there is anything that will allow Gotham Knights to keep its name on people's lips for the next year, it will be the online gameplay. There will soon be a four-player online mode as well, which seems like it will be total chaos based on my interactions in co-op games. I’m hoping there are four-player takedowns because assisted takedowns were a lot of fun in co-op. Plus, as I said before, it’s an easy way to level up and unlock new abilities.
Technically, Gotham Knights misses the mark.
I mentioned it earlier, but Gotham Knights was an absolute headache to run reliably for this reviewer. I have a strong PC with a great processor and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card. I’m well above the system specs and for at least 2 days of this review period, I couldn’t run Gotham Knights. Initially, the error was because I downloaded the newest game-ready drivers, so I could fully optimize the game. I had to roll the drivers back to even play.
At this point, it seemed like we had found a solution to getting the game to work and I was able to continue the review. Unfortunately, the same error messages popped up when trying to join online games, or when just launching the game. I logged 24 hours overall on Steam “playing” Gotham Knights but I only really got about half of that as gameplay time while the other half was failing to launch, messing with settings or trying to figure out why I was stuck at odd frame rates.
With a lot of tweaking, I was able to spend some time without crashing. At the same time, I can say with certainty that Gotham Knights also isn’t a pretty game. Graphically, while settings options offer things like ray tracing and HDR, nothing ever made me sit back and marvel at the game, even when running on completely maxed settings. Sometimes, when switching settings or moving from one area to another, I would find framerates locked around 30fps or 60fps. Other times, when getting the game to start again, I’d find settings I changed had to be set again.
I’m not sure why a game that was delayed should have issues like this. The recommended settings for this game seem quite high, but even well above that threshold, I didn’t feel like I was getting a premium experience. In fact, if there is any reason I’d warn anyone to AVOID Gothan Knights, this experience would indeed be it.
Gotham Knights ends up dangerously mediocre
If you are a Batman fan, there is going to be a meaty experience to enjoy in Gotham Knights. With that being said, you will need to make allowances for a glitchy engine with below-average graphics and stability. If you are playing on console, you won’t get over 30fps either. My 3070 ranged from 13fps to 133fps, so I wish you the best of luck.
If you aren’t a Batman fan, I’m not sure that there is enough that stands out that dropping full retail on Gotham Knights is a smart move. The game could certainly use some patches, the full four-player mode isn’t out yet at release and I feel like holiday releases may quickly overshadow this game. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a great concept, but like Batman, it's crushed to death under all the debris.