Gotham Knights key art

Gotham Knights – Review: Get your mask on

Not for you if:

  • You can't overlook the mediocre gameplay loop
  • You want ultra smooth 60 frames per second in your games
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I have to admit that it’s a bit bizarre for the first game based on the Batman mythos, after the sensational Arkham Knight, to not feature Batman. Still, Gotham Knights is one of the hottest releases of the year, a notch below Elden Ring and God of War: Ragnarok. Having spent five days almost non-stop in front of my screen, it makes perfect sense to me. Gotham Knights is a highly engaging experience: no matter how many flaws you may identify in this particular title, it’s so entertaining that they simply have no impact on the experience.

But let’s get the most important question out of the way: is Gotham Knights better than Arkham Knight? No. You see, WB Montreal didn’t set out to create anything even close to Arkham Knight. It’s a completely different experience, based on co-op mechanics, but one that is completely playable as a single player. We don’t have the Dark Knight going against the sinister city of Gotham, here you and three friends are taking the lead. You are being called upon to fill the void of Batman’s loss. I was really impressed by how seamlessly (in general) they made it work. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Harley Quinn's notes for the last Batman case
  • Red Hood badass moment in Gotham Knights

TL;DR

Gotham Knights demonstrates that the single most important thing about a video game is making you have a good time. There are plenty of issues here, some harder to overlook than others, but the engaging story and great co-op experience can make up for it at times.

All images in this article are screenshots from the PlayStation 5 version of Gotham Knights.

Presentation

The eternal Halloween

Gotham Knights is in perfect sync with its release period. Halloween really is the best time to play this title, as its art style is almost entirely based on the time of year when we wear masks and celebrate all that is scary. In fact, it’s one of the main pillars in this story, and while it’s always in-your-face if you think about it, it’s something you’re called upon to figure out for yourself. In essence, the people of Gotham perceive Batman’s students as masked children trying to “fill the boots” of the Dark Knight. The point of the story is to prove that it’s not what’s under the mask that matters, but what the mask stands for.

Gotham Knights certainly has style, but above all, it has colours. It makes the Arkham series look like its emo cousin with its muted grey/orange/red colour palette. Gotham may no longer be jaw-dropping with its heavy tone, but it sure is a joy for the eye to behold. The palette moves from purple and blue to yellow and deep orange. The city is dark, with the characters standing out from their surroundings rather than blending into them. The aesthetic choices are deliberate, the story WB Montreal wants to convey here is clear, if only you give it some more thought: our heroes just don’t fit in the dark environment no matter how hard they may try.

The costumes are colorful with strong differences between them, just like our heroes. Mismatched, until you put in a little effort. The customization is one of the best features of this title. There are 15 original uniform designs to choose from, and all are customizable to a satisfying degree, with alternate options for mask, emblem, gloves and boots not only in design but also in colour. The suits are ranked in “families” of uniforms, and are inspired by iconic Batman comic book series like Year One and Eternal. Of course, most of the suits are locked behind the progression system, and so if you want to be a badass with your friends you’ll have to try a little harder.

  • Robin in Gotham Knights
  • Batgirl in Gotham Knights

Performance needs a lot of work

There is no doubt that Gotham Knights is a good-looking game. The textures and animations are visually pleasing, but the erratic frame rate is a huge hindrance on a road that otherwise seems covered by rose petals. There was a big fuss a couple of weeks ago when Reddit users discovered that the game has no performance mode and runs at a locked 30 frames per second. For me, since it’s a story-driven game with no PvP capabilities, this isn’t a big problem, especially if it’s running in native 4K. However, this assumes the frame rate is stable, which is not the case in this particular title.

Frame drops were quite frequent, sometimes you even had the impression that the game froze. Really annoying, especially considering that it happened mostly during combat. Furthermore, Gotham Knights is one of the few titles that have a plethora of loading screens, even on current-gen systems. Presumably, this is done to separate the wider city space as a large lobby that other players can connect to, while the interiors are separate spaces. Indeed, the cause of both frame drops and frequent loading screens seems to be the constant communication with the servers, so we can be somewhat understanding and make small concessions. Keep in mind, that this experience is based on a pre-release build of the game and may be improved in the process.

Story

Gotham Knights may not have been designed as a single-player story-driven experience, but it’s certainly up to the task. Your adventures in Gotham are not only accompanied by your friends, but also by a fairly interesting plot that keeps you motivated to keep playing. As a co-op title, Gotham Knights does a great job of combining the co-op element with a sense of curiosity to push you to complete quest after quest. It reminds me of the similar experience offered by the iconic Borderlands 2.

Alfred and Dick Grayson at Bruce Wayne's funeral

In the city where bats no longer fly

In case it wasn’t obvious enough already, the backbone of the story stems from the death of Bruce Wayne. His death is the first thing you see when you start Gotham Knights, and it’s constantly in front of you throughout the story. In fact, it’s not Bruce Wayne’s death itself that shocks life in Gotham City and the Batfamily (I honestly hate that name), but the continuation of daily life without the city’s mega-businessman patron. Four people try to fill the void left by one, and it proves to be a lot harder than you’d expect. The biggest challenge they face is to achieve harmony between them, but also to trust their abilities when no one else seems to believe in them.

The biggest problem with Gotham Knights is that it throws you in the gutter without explaining first how you got here. You find yourself surrounded by four characters who, if you’re not familiar enough with the DC Universe, you know very little about. For example, those who have only played the Arkham games will be very put off when they see Barbara Gordon as Batgirl rather than Oracle. Likewise with Jason, who instead of being dead, is now Red Hood. Do your homework, then, because you’ll have spent 10 minutes in-game, and the lore will have already gotten to the third Robin in a row without you getting caught up. Each hero has his own side-story and his own problems to solve, and that’s something that adds significant replay value to Gotham Knights.

Even the city of Gotham is very different from our last visit. It is not in the warlike state we were used to but in business as usual with crime reaching new heights. However, not everyone is against us. The Knights of Gotham will find allies (or at least partners in crime) in the faces of the city’s most unexpected residents. Such as Harley Quinn who, after the death of the Joker, decided to become a Life Coach for criminals. Or Penguin, who after being locked up decided to become a legal outlaw.

  • Red Hood using the Batcycle
  • Harley Quinn in Gotham Knights
  • Tim Drake is little more than a teenager in the Gotham Knights timeline

From the pages of a comic book to the vibrations of a controller

I wasn’t expecting much from the plot of this specific title, which seems to have been unfair. It’s a pleasant departure from the heavy cinematic tone of the Arkham series, although the visual presentation contributes to that more than anything else. Gotham Knights’ story is lighter, easily digestible. You don’t expect mind-blowing genius scenarios as you did in Arkham City, so you’re impressed when the writers hit you with something that’s actually clever. I was particularly struck by the humour, with the comic reliefs not treated as comic reliefs by the plot itself, but as an integral part of the story. If you read DC comics you’ll especially appreciate this because it fits perfectly with the profile of the stories the comics tell.

What impressed me, however, was how cleverly the developers used the gameplay as a stop-gap from one piece of story to the next. There are roadblocks every now and then in the story flow. Our heroes take on the role of detectives, and when you run out of clues you have to go find new ones to continue your investigation. The story is well-written, and the cases are sequenced episode-style: each one leaves you wondering where the next one will lead. So, doing some side activities and leveling up in order to be able and move on to the main story, where in other titles it would seem like a chore, suddenly it’s not so annoying. If we were mice, the story would be the cheese and putting in the grind would be the trap, and personally, Gotham Knights hooked me. Still, your experience may vary depending on how much time and patience you can afford.

Gameplay

Locking parts of the story behind the gameplay can be a legitimate way to generate cliffhangers, but that only works as long as the gameplay can carry the weight of long sessions and that is hardly the case with Gotham Knights. There are times when the gameplay is really fun, especially while playing co-op. But as much as you overlook the technical issues and the constant obstacles the game throws in your path, the repetitive nature of the gameplay loop is unforgivable. You want to love the game, but the game doesn’t want to be loved.

Robin and Lucius Fox atop the Foxteca tower

Combat is pleasant on one hand, superficial on the other

The core gameplay is split into Nights, during which you wander around Gotham stopping various street crimes, or executing cases. At first, this is somewhat interesting because there are several different types of crimes you can interrupt, and they’re far more well-paced than Miles Morales’ Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man app. However, the more you play, the more you realize that the only way to bring variety to the gameplay is to change character. Each character has completely different abilities and fighting styles, and you can switch characters once you return to the Belfry following your nightly patrol.

The combat system is very simplistic and that is its biggest problem. It is a simple brawler in which you have light and heavy melee or ranged attacks at your disposal. You can face each battle head-on and all encounters look the same. Why? Because the game doesn’t present any real difficulty. In the first 2 hours you’ve seen almost all kinds of enemies, and even on the highest difficulties, the only thing that changes is the speed and number of enemies. Even when you lose, you respawn just a bit further and try again.

Characters have light and heavy variations of the classic melee and ranged attacks at their disposal, as well as special abilities that deepen each character’s personality. Chaining up repeated hits on enemies, without taking a beating yourself of course, fills up the special attack bar that you can then use to launch a powerful enough attack to damage more than one enemy. Not all abilities are focused on attacking of course. Unfortunately though, even the simplest ability empties the entire ability bar, which will definitely force you to only use the strongest abilities, since you’ll have to refill the bar anyway.

  • Doing an organ-saving side mission on Gotham Knights
  • Fight sequence in Gotham Knights

The city is beautiful as long as you don’t have to cross it

The movement in this game is overly clunky and not in the sense of the solid handling that souls-likes offer. Here there are simply moments when your character doesn’t obey your commands. The movements feel predetermined, as if the movement is dependent on the animation rather than the other way around. The main mode of movement is the grapple gun that all characters have, allowing you to grapple from one vantage point to another. Once you choose where you want to move, that’s it, you’re stuck there until the animation is complete. You are given the option to choose your next “destination”, but there doesn’t seem to be any consistency in the movements. Once one animation is over, it just starts the next one.

Of course, there are faster ways to get from point A to point B. Each character has their own means of transportation, such as Nightwing’s glider. They help make the downtime less from one mission to the next, but they are locked behind specific challenges that you must complete. This isn’t a particular problem, as the Knighthood Challenges aren’t difficult unless you intend to complete them for all four characters.

All characters have access to the Batcycle, which is essentially a smaller version of the Batmobile from Arkham Knight, just without the weapons and with the little wheels. It’s definitely the fastest mode of transportation, but driving in Gotham Knights is dull to say the least. To give you an idea of what I mean, you can’t fall off the bike even if you run into a wall or run over pedestrians. As you build up speed, instead of adding motion blur to the environment, white “speed” overlays appear to give the impression that you’re actually going fast.

  • Roaming with the bat bike
  • Using the Grapnel gun in Gotham Knights

Several gameplay mechanics seem unfinished

The most striking thing about the game is that there are several systems in the game that seem unfinished. The leveling system, crafting and equipment appear for the most part incomplete as systems or simply poorly designed. Starting with leveling, most abilities that are locked behind ability points offer little in the way of improvements. The abilities that are actually worth unlocking cost several ability points and force you to go through several levels without unlocking anything, right from the beginning of the game. The distribution of abilities is incorrect and the options are limited, yet at least levels are shared between characters. At each level though each character gets one ability point to spend.

Crafting and the arsenal go hand in hand. There are various resources scattered around the city, of which you soon acquire huge amounts without even knowing which one is good for what, or even the name of each material. Then, you can use the materials gathered in the workbench to create new uniforms or new weapons, without it being clear exactly how you unlocked the ability to craft each item: it remains unclear whether it’s tied to the levels or perhaps to the Nights you complete. Either way, no matter how many upgrades you do, you always spend far fewer resources than you collect so you always end up with huge reserves. Meanwhile, upgrades from weapon to weapon or suit to suit are very limited, so that alone eliminates the need to spend the resources you collect often.

Teamwork make the dream work

Some of the best moments I had in Gotham Knights were definitely during a co-op session with randoms where the matchmaking put me in the same world. You see, the nature of Gotham Knights is always online unless you manually turn it off. Due to the fact that this review is being done using a pre-release copy and the writing is being done pre-release, it was difficult to test out the co-op features with friends (I have friends, honestly).

The people who played with me were very chill and always helped me to complete random encounters or missions I had already started. Communication is either through voice chat, which is automatically activated, emotes or even instinctively. Usually, we just followed each other and just hoped that one of us knew what to do. The experience was really seamless and there was no difference from solo play and co-op. Opposite in fact, as having the heroes together on the same mission leads to a lot of interactions between them, something you can’t find in solo play. You can disconnect from the online part at any time of course if you don’t feel social, or you can just avoid other players.

Gotham Knights: Final thoughts

Gotham Knights turned out to be the complete opposite of my expectations. Surprisingly, the story is the strongest asset of this title, with the visual presentation following suit, while the gameplay suffers from repetitive encounters and the implementation of systems that fail to contribute anything meaningful to the experience. Despite its flaws, Gotham Knights doesn’t fail to be an enjoyable experience and the strong diversity between characters, combined with the well-implemented co-op platform, make it worth a shot.

It’s possible that the constant comparison with Arkham Knight that I make in this review is a bit unfair for this particular title, as it’s clear that the two titles may look the same but in reality they couldn’t be more different. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this is the most recent similar experience for the intended audience of Gotham Knights, so the comparisons are logical and fair to make. And if there’s a stepping stone to follow when it comes to Batman games, it’s definitely the Arkham series. The conclusion for Gotham Knights remains the same: imperfect, but entertaining.

Batvengers assemble

We would like to thank CDMedia Greece for providing the review copy we used.

George Makridis

Posts published: 111

Editor in Chief. Studying Communication & Media. Listening to Hip-Hop. Watching advanced humor sitcoms and dumb superhero flicks. Has way too many games in his library and not that much time to actually play them.