Gotham Knight tries to present itself as its own thing and tries not to relate itself to its grandpa, the Arkham series. So ideally you wouldn’t try to compare them to each other, but that’s pretty impossible given how much they look alike, I mean, look at it. You can’t deny that it’s inheriting a lot of the Arkham DNA and is trying to apply a stronger open-world appeal to it.
Unfortunately, there are some evident twists and turns to the development of Gotham Knights and it has led us to where it is today. It looked like they were planning it to follow the games-as-a-service model first, where somewhere between that decision and its launch, someone made a hard turn on this ship before it sailed out to release. And now we find it as a single-player focused game with online functionality and multiplayer features as well. And now we have to ask, is it a deserving successor to the Batman games we’ve come to love from long ago? Come stalk the city for a night with us to find out.
The game starts with a twist that shouldn’t really be a spoiler for anyone who even took a remote interest in the title. Batman is dead, and those he took up under his wing now have to pick up the pieces, which would be Alfred and anyone who took up the name of Robin. Will they be able to fight off crime in the city that Batman had protected for so long on his own? Will they be able to uncover the plots that threaten Gotham and the masterminds behind them? It sure is a huge cowl to fill, and we’re out to see if they can.
Production (3.5 / 5)
I know this may sound a bit weird compared to other reviews, but I personally think that Gotham Knight looks pretty good on the PS5. Particularly the models of our 4 playable characters, they move great, they animate okay, and the same can be said even outside of their crime-fighting costumes. I also want to give a shout-out to the models of the villains, as they don’t just look good, some of them have several versions as the stories within the game progress. Seeing these characters change over time shows that your progress through the game has weight on these characters and they will change as you proceed. Unnecessary? Perhaps. Appreciated? Greatly so.
Let’s rip that band-aid off about the 30 frames per second rendering. First of all, by the time you’re reading this, they’ve already released patches that improve graphic performance, especially for PC. Is 60 FPS better? Honestly, it’s a bit hard to say. Anyway, I do agree that this is a terrible case of unoptimized gameplay. Perhaps they were trying to leave processing strength for multiplayer or they’re intentionally hard-capping the frames to make sure their net code works properly, I mean, we’ve seen this happen with FromSoftware already. On the other hand, I don’t think it really affects gameplay all that much. It would be a problem if frame rates would jitter between 30, 60, or whatever number, but my experience has been rather stable. I also don’t think that the input or timing required to play this game effectively isn’t really all that difficult even at this frame rate. So yes, it’s not a good frame rate for this day and age, and it’s definitely making the game look bad for that reason, but if we’re sticking to the question of the game being playable, it’s 100% tolerable as a frame rate.
The cutscenes where they’re mostly just talking to each other highlight how well-detailed the face sculpts are, and manage to express a good range of emotions that match their voices well. This makes these scenes a lot easier on the eyes and that’s important because there are quite a number of them.
The setting of Gotham City looks good enough when you look around for details, however, it lacks quite a bit when it comes to character. While it is true that there are some landmarks here and there between the major areas, it can be difficult to tell where you are without the use of a map. It’s hard to tell how Old Gotham is different from any other place you can wander to, save for maybe areas with ports or literally being on top of an area’s landmark. I think they missed quite an opportunity here to make it easier to identify an area with people, as the population density tends to be the same wherever you go. Some areas should be able to show off a stronger nightlife when it’s the business or entertainment district or barely has anyone around when they’re at the fishing wharf or other establishments that hardly have anything going on in the day. They do show a sense of this awareness by making separate regions of the city the home turf of factions that you encounter throughout the game. But considering that the Freaks, Regulators, Mafia, or whatever else can pretty much appear on any part of the city, it doesn’t really help in characterizing the areas all that well.
While I find the performance of the cast pretty impressive, the soundscape doesn’t really leave anything for me to remember. From gunshots, swings from bats or any other weapon, explosions, and even callouts from criminals you’re taking on, a handful of them stay within my memory as a key part of making combat a bit more convincing and immersive. But that’s about it. There are a few set pieces where I feel like the sound and the music really drive home a high point during my playthrough, but those are quick glimpses within the greater amount of the game tries to put you through.
Mechanics (3.5 / 5)
Gotham Knight’s combat doesn’t try anything new, without lock-on, any attacks you make are auto-targeted so long as they’re within range. Tapping will result in lighter attacks and holding the button down results in a heavy attack which is meant for guarding. Finally, you also have the evade button which is the only real defensive option in-game.
Instead of having a special charge or MP, you build momentum which is only made through doing combat, kind of like Devil May Cry or fighting games in general. Once you build a momentum charge, you can make use of Momentum Abilities, which vary per character. Red Hood can let out a barrage of bullets that staggers almost any enemy, Robin can leave a hologram of himself that also serves as a trap that hurts nearby enemies when it explodes, Night Wing leaps into the air to perform an aerial attack, and Batgirl can pummel enemies relentlessly. Generally, they also have a few gimmicks about each individual’s skills but most of them fall under you timing your button presses well or making use of manual aim.
Taking down enemies, completing encounters, doing bonus objectives, and clearing quests will all net you a certain amount of experience, where once you level up you are rewarded with some stats as well as a skill point that is used for unlocking new passives or other upgrades. Thankfully, your team of sidekicks shares gear and levels, so you don’t have to play catch-up when leveling up your other characters.
The other half of the mechanics revolve around the gear game, which may feel somewhere along the lines of Destiny or Diablo Immortal, but with crafting. Completing encounters or unlocking chests gives you whatever loot which I just chose to ignore in general, but you need these to create higher-level equipment that everyone can wear. You can also put mods on them to improve the several stats that tend to confuse me, as they have an overall stat called power, which shouldn’t be confused with the Damage stat, which is the actual attack power. Yes, I made the mistake of confusing the two which lead me to take much longer to kill even standard mobs for a little while, but really, what’s with all these stats? Sure, dividing your specialty between, damage, crit, momentum and element can make for interesting build variety, but there was probably a better way of doing this instead of trying to make me interpret several numbers at the same time when comparing equipment.
Character development isn’t complex, but man is it tedious. The first thing you’ll want to unlock for every character is their knighthood challenge, which gives them a traversal ability (aka flying) to help make navigating the open world a lot easier. Just that, for some reason, every one of the characters has to beat up a lot of goons totaling 10 crimes to stop before you can do this. That’s effectively at least 1 hour per character.
Content (4 / 5)
What you get to play through in this game has two very opposite experiences. Impressive, curated, and memorable experiences that I genuinely enjoyed playing. And generic content that pads the experience, like getting extra thick breading for your chicken. It can be nice, but it can really dull the flavor of the experience when Gotham Knights indulge into it too much.
You can follow the main story by simply going to the required map markers and letting the story play out, the talking cutscenes tend to get old, as that’s all you really get out of it. Go to point A, do some talking, and go to point B to take out a bunch of bad guys. This is generally the format.
Side stories or quest chains are kind of the same. So long as you meet the level requirement, you can proceed through the next chapter of whatever other villain you want to be after. Where your face is up against the likes of Clayface, Harley, and Dr. Freeze. I find that most of the stories laid out in these quest chains are pretty good, where they pair up the origins of these villains with the more modern issues we face these days, if not the wilder stories we hear online. Well, except for Dr. Freeze who just seems to hate the world.
What I haven’t mentioned yet would be what you do between these activities which are open-world crimes. It sounds pretty good in concept. Gotham Knights take advantage of the open-world design by letting you detect small-time crimes happening nearby. Some crooks may be bullying a police officer or trying to break into a store or other small-scale crimes. By stopping these smaller crimes by either asking the culprits or beating them to the ground, both work for some reason, you can learn more information about bigger criminal operations that you can get even better rewards for, like crafting materials or mods that strengthen equipment. Of course, these are harder to finish like having tougher enemies or needing to rescue hostages that have bombs attached to them, but they’re generally the ones you want to clear as they let you attain knighthood.
Generally, the open-world events are sort of the hamster wheel they ask you to run between major story points and as your main grinding activity. Need to know where the enemy’s base is? fight some crimes. Need help from the police department? Fight some crimes. Do you want an ex-crime lord to help be your informant on the goings-on in the upper echelons of society? You guessed it, fight some crimes. It’s not that it’s an awful experience, but the reliance on them does feel like the game is getting padded pretty heavily, and dilutes the experience with the title. It makes me wonder when I’ll get to the next big set piece that the game has in store, as a lot of what I’m doing is getting a lot of rinses and repeating.
Finally, while I do like the crafted sections of Gotham Knights, I have to complain a bit about the bosses. They actually don’t have a move set big enough to justify how much of a damaged sponge they are. Even with levels and gear that should be within the recommended range of the stage, they take way too long to finish off. That and how they hit and damage you generally isn’t fun, particularly Clayface. I wish they were either shorter, more varied, or at the very least don’t just violate all of the rules you learned about combat that you’ve learned in every other encounter. Sure, they don’t have to flinch easily, but can they at least not take 10 minutes to finish a phase? Thank you.
Features (3 / 5)
Gotham Knights offers the ability to jump into somebody else’s missions and help them take down baddies. So it does get awkward when they suddenly jump in during puzzle sections. There’s also a specialized mission mode that’s specifically for taking down powerful squads of enemies.
You also get a lot of alternate looks you can transmog your gear into so that you carry a consistent look regardless of what equipment you have on. You can even customize the color to a certain degree, which is pretty cool.
However I look at it, Gotham Knights is just a game that screams Live Service game. You log in, and the moment you look at the map, you see red marks all over the city, demanding your attention. You clear them, and seeing that your healing supplies are exhausted, and you retreat to the belfry to restock and upgrade your gear. You look at the map, new crimes are out there to be stopped. At some point, you remember that this game has a story to play through. You can literally place a battle pass or daily activities to clear, heck even an energy system that rewards you better like in Genshin Impact, and you almost change nothing with the game loop. It didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere except waiting for new cutscenes to play out as I grinded through the game. So in the interest of me catching up with the review backlog, I decided to put down the controller on this game at Level 33.
The thing is, you know that most of the story content is actually just more open-world activities repackaged as story missions. So what you’re doing when trying to finish the game isn’t really going to vary much from what you’re doing just to play Gotham Knights. Before I know it, an hour or two is passed and knowing it’s going to be more of the same stuff with some talking scenes spaced between them, I feel like putting the game down and just continuing another time.
It’s not to say that the developers weren’t really caring to make a good game though, you can see the care and thoroughness they’ve put into the game. Not only the models of your playable characters are great, but also the villains. They made an effort to make the more exotic enemies speak in a language that you can’t understand. There are set pieces that might as well be highlight reels that can be a great showcase to get new players on the Gotham Knights. And it’s a shame that they look a lot more fun than they really are.
While the game does do okay as a single-player experience, its one-size-fits-all approach makes for a generic moment-to-moment gameplay experience. Even differences among their abilities and upgrades don’t really change how I would approach each problem, with maybe the exception of Batgirl as she can actually manipulate the environment. Other abilities are generally stat upgrades that make fighting easier and encourage multiplayer sessions. It might have been better to assign villains to certain characters in the game and craft a story and challenge that is designed to push the limits or exploit the strengths of each character, and to make all of them part of the main quest instead of making them optional content. I believe that would have made a more unified, consistent experience if they had.
Gotham Knights is a game I had moments I truly enjoyed, and the game getting to a similar point in the game sometimes didn’t take a lot of work, but most of the time it demanded an hour or two. And sometimes the game just seems better to be played being your friendly neighborhood superhero, where you just stop a few crimes around the city and call it a night. It’s fun enough, but it’s like having an alternate job rather than an adventure. I like it for what it is, but I have a rough time recommending it.
But hey, I’m totally on board if there’s going to be a game that makes the biggest badass in this game playable, Alfred.
Gotham Knights has yet to leap out of Arkham’s shadow, scoring a 3.5 / 5.
Available on the PS5, the XBOX X/S, and PC.