Facing off against Scarecrow in Batman: Arkham Asylum remains one of my favourite gaming memories ever. Rocksteady breathed new life into the superhero genre unlike any other back in 2009. Now 13 years on, its sister studio, WB Games Montréal, has somehow managed to walk back all of that progress for Gotham Knights.
Setting Batman aside in support of raising up his supporting cast – Batgirl, Robin, Nightwing and Red Hood – was a decision that excited me from the beginning. It still does. Gotham Knights is just not the game to prove that these beloved DC characters can stand on their own two feet. If it's not the lacklustre combat that takes longer than it has any right to defeat the most low level of enemies, it's the pedestrian speed at which it takes to get across Gotham, or simply the fact that on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, the game only runs at a mere 30 frames per second.
For the most part, it isn't broken either. In a way, this is worse, because unlike something like Saints Row where you can point to the bugs and say "well, maybe if that wasn't there" it might have some redeeming aspects, Gotham Knights' issues stem from a fundamental game-design level. This essentially sums up to one damning conclusion – it's not fun.
Gotham Knights review: price and release date
- What is it? An action RPG where Batgirl, Robin, Nightwing and Red Hood must try to restore justice to Gotham in the wake of Batman's death
- Release date? October 21, 2022
- What platforms can I play it on? PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC
- Price? $69.99 / £59.99 / AU$69.99
Gotham Knights review: What is it?
Batman is dead... like really dead. Jim Gordon too. Gotham's criminals have begun to take over in the aftermath. Now the remaining Bat-Family of Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), Tim Drake (Robin), Dick Grayson (Nightwing) and Jason Todd (Red Hood), alongside Alfred handling comms, need to restore justice to the city. Set in its own universe away from the Arkham games, it's up to the vigilantes to solve Bruce's last case and find out how this all connects to a mysterious secret society known as the Court of Owls.
In the wake of the Batcave being destroyed, the Belfry acts as a base of operation where the group piece together clues and make preparations during the day. Then on a night, one (or two via online co-op) of the superheroes set off into Gotham to continue their investigations, stop criminal acts and collect an abundance of meaningless collectibles. I appreciate the day/night cycle, as it makes more sense than the events of the Arkham titles taking place over the course of one night.
Character moments are one of the few saving graces in Gotham Knights. Short cutscenes like Tim learning how to play chess from Alfred, or Barbara trying to remember her father's face now that he's passed, do a decent job of giving us a window into their world. Jason, who is still mentally recovering from the effects of being brought back to life from a Lazarus Pit, especially offers a different perspective. I just wish these factors were applied during the story instead of one-off arcs.
With only a single team member able to take on a level from a story perspective, this doesn't give any of them room to grow. It also makes for a number of scenes that straight-up don't match. For instance, I completed a mission as Robin where he left beaten and bruised, only for Nightwing to be the one who is being patched up by Alfred in the next scene. It's laughable. Several small things like this happened throughout with characters referencing the group as if they were one person. It's all very disjointed.
Really, this should be a Batgirl game. It's long overdue and a shame that Warner Bros still won't commit to one since there's a major lack of female-led protagonists in the industry. I tried to treat Gotham Knights as such but there's a clear disconnect. It's a game designed for all four characters yet doesn't culminate in any way. Not once does the team all come together – not even in the ending, simply focusing on one character. So, what's the point?
Without giving away too many spoilers, the story did at least keep me somewhat interested. I wouldn't say I walked away satisfied but there was an attempt to do something different from what we've seen in prior games. The biggest letdown is the Court of Owls, which effectively ends up playing second fiddle, something fans will no doubt be disappointed to learn. Arguably, the three Villain Case File side-missions of Harley Quinn, Mr Freeze and Clayface fall closer to expectations. Basically, the narrative is the least of Gotham Knight's problems.
Gotham Knights review: how does it play?
The Batman Arkham series is renowned for its masterful Freeflow Combat system. So why is Gotham Knights' fighting so rigid and lacking fluidity? This is the same studio that made Batman: Arkham Origins. It's near-impossible to fight multiple enemies at once without getting hit by another. I had to focus on one enemy at a time until eventually everyone was defeated. All you do is hit the attack button (Square on PS) continuously or hold it to off-balance bigger brutes, occasionally throwing in a Batarang or grab that might knock a sliver more damage off. It was extremely tiring and monotonous.
Aside from hand-to-hand, there is predator combat where you hide in the darkness before silently taking down enemies. Likewise, this has been downgraded, lacking variety outside of the standard takedowns and is often pointless. Gotham Knights constantly pushes the scenario towards its god-awful hand-to-hand combat system, for what reason I do not know. The real crux of this is the levelling. I could be 10 levels above what was recommended and still would have to inch down an enemy's health meter, no matter what move I used.
Each vigilante has their own skillset. Nightwing relies on building up momentum to use special movies, Robin is better suited to stealth and uses tech as decoys, while Batgirl is an expert hacker and Red Hood has two pistols at his disposal. On the face of it, these all sound great. In reality, each plays far too similar with little flare given to make any element exciting.
Gotham Knights features the largest Gotham ever put into a video game. It's also the most lifeless. As the city is void of any interesting random encounters or potential clashes with Batman's rogue gallery, outside of the three aforementioned that are handed to you on a silver platter, little incentive is given to explore. What you can expect are collectathons, more meaningless combat, time trials and the odd puzzle. Throughout you will be forced to find, fight and interrogate criminals for information about their boss. It's a cool idea but the combat and amount of times it's employed kills the whole thing.
Flying around Gotham should feel fun, free and invigorating. That's not the case here with traversal limited to a comically long grapple hook and Batcycle that makes the Batmobile in Arkham Knight seem like a space shuttle. It's all so slow, making city travel a chore rather than a joy. As Batgirl, I didn't unlock gliding until I was 12 hours in. It's bizarre as this is a Batgirl that is already established with a cape already attached to her suit and yet, no gliding from the start. Even then, it's still sluggish like everything else so I begrudgingly relied on fast travel.
Okay, let's address the elephant in the room: the good news is that Gotham Knights is available with 4K visuals, however, it's locked at 30fps on console – and it shows! There's no performance mode either, so you're stuck with it. PC players will be glad to hear that the higher frame rate option is available to them, though the required specs are quite high.
Having reviewed the game on PlayStation 5, I have to say 30fps was a major detriment to my experience with WB Games Montreal explaining that the decision was made in favour of a "fully untethered co-op experience". That's unfortunately not good enough for today's standards (not to mention the PS4 and Xbox One versions being cancelled in favour of next-gen technology). Truth be told, I think scrapping the co-op element in favour of 60fps would have been the smarter move.
Speaking of which, yes, there is online co-op (crossplay excluded) and no, it is not good. Well, that's not true. It works. It just doesn't justify its existence. Apart from being able to explore all of Gotham separately (which defeats the point) as well as whittle away an enemy's health bar at a faster rate, no specific benefits like team moves or co-op puzzles are offered. No DualSense features, either. Don't worry though, an Emote Wheel and Photo Mode have been added. Yay?
Gotham Knights review: How does it look and sound?
Gotham Knights is a fine-looking game, if not a bit bland as the charm of a lived-in city filled with supervillains doesn't come across whatsoever. It's the minimum you would expect from a next-gen release. It's also worth noting that Arkham Knight is graphically much more appealing (trust me, I checked) and that was released eight years ago.
I will give some credit to the character models and how rain is utilised during cutscenes, reminding me of Gotham in The Batman. Furthermore, the use of ice during the Mr Freeze side mission pops quite visually. At 30fps, it's hard to really appreciate the surroundings to their full extent.
Amidst all these negatives, I must say suit customisation is pretty great. Being able to craft my preferred cowl, symbol, gloves, boots and colour really helped me build the look of my Bat Family. The Knightwatch costumes are dynamite too!
Additionally, the voice performances do well with the material given. America Young as Batgirl is a standout, creating a formidable presence that would make Jim Gordon proud. While Kari Wahlgren's take on Harley Quinn is limited, her distinctive accent which sounds like a mix of Margot Robbie and Tara Strong creates some of the best scenes in the game.
Gotham Knights review: how long to beat?
Gotham Knights took me approximately 28 hours to roll credits on. This included a good chunk of the side content, such as completing all Villain Case Files and unlocking all of the fast travel stations. Doing all of this, I still felt severely underpowered in the final boss fight at level 27. The recommendation for the encounter was between 25 to 28, for reference.
A new Game Plus mode is available upon story completion for anyone that wants to replay or reach 100% completion. I personally will not be returning for the Platinum trophy, rather putting that time towards therapy.
Gotham Knights is a lacklustre entry into the Batman mythos that feels like a major step back from what has come before. Whether it's the monotonous combat, subpar 30fps on console, lack of co-op incentives and strain it puts on the single-player experience or the fact that Gotham is dull and slow to explore, nothing justifies its existence. While its story might offer the occasional glimpse of something that could have been, it gives me no great pleasure in saying that Gotham Knights is my biggest disappointment of the year.
Instead of playing Gotham Knights, I'd recommend the overlooked but brilliant Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy from Eidos-Montréal. As my personal game of the year for 2021, the wacky sci-fi adventure puts you in the shoes of Peter Quill / Star-Lord as the ragtag group must save the universe. It's weird, wonderful and somehow underperformed sales-wise, so let's fix that.
Batman: Return to Arkham – which includes remastered versions of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City – is also the obvious answer for anyone looking for a better experience focused on the Dark Knight. It's dirt cheap at Amazon now too.