Need to know
what is that Bat-family stealth action game in open world Gotham.
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Release date: October 21st
Developer: WB Games Montreal
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Reviewed on: RTX 3080 Ti, i9 12900K, 32GB RAM
Link: Official website (opens in a new tab)
Gotham Knights has an excruciatingly long intro where Batman dies. He brawls with Ra’s al Ghul for what feels like 20 minutes and is eventually crushed by the debris of a crumbling batcave. The heroes of the game find his body in the trash, holding his mask in one hand. Batman’s death is the setup for a game that wants to distance itself from the Arkham series and present four bat-protectors as worthy replacements. But Gotham Knights were not ready to let go of the Dark Knight.
No matter how much Batman dies in Gotham Knights, this game cannot escape his legacy as the best video game superhero. It mimics the Freeflow combat that defined the Arkham series and features many of the same villains that were already in the Rocksteady games. Gotham Knights tries so hard to convince you that it’s different and that Batman is really, definitely dead, but all of its new characters end up pulling from the same old script.
Gotham Knights fooled me for a few hours though. At first it reminded me how delicious the Arkham-style third-person stealth and combat can be. Every punch and kick has weight and rhythm—it’s almost a staccato. It’s the rare action game, outside of Musou bashing like Dynasty Warriors, where a group of enemies isn’t a chore; it’s a chance to flex your devices and patience to sneak through a puzzle of patrols. As you learn the visual narratives and button press to associate with them, battles rise from messy scraps to Hong Kong ballets.
Then I went back and tried both Arkham Origins and Arkham Asylum and realized the trick Gotham Knights was playing on me. Gotham Knights benefits from the years-long gap between it and the Arkham series, because if you haven’t spent any time on those games recently, you may have forgotten how terrible Arkham Asylum’s combat was and how consistent it remained until Arkham Knight. . It was already intact, but Gotham Knights clumsily try to tear it apart.
It’s frustratingly inferior to those year old games despite its attempts to mirror the Arkham combat. Like so many games that cross over into open world RPGs with skill trees and levels and missions and crafting, it takes the ingenuity and strengths of being Batman and scatters them across a large map to get you hours and hours of gameplay. And it divides them between individual heroes. Robin’s skill tree has the Batman where you can rope an enemy from a point of view, but the ability to place elemental-based mines is in another tree. And Batgirl can’t do that move at all. Instead of building an all-powerful arsenal of tools and attacks, each character was just a fraction of the Batman I know.
As a recreation of what made the other games great, it’s a failure. Gotham Knights’ attempt to translate Arkham into an online co-op game fragments a great design into jagged pieces for the cheap dopamine hit of incremental progression.
Early on, Batgirl, Robin, Nightwing, and Red Hood are effectively Batman lite, but in four different sizes. Because they’re interchangeable, they all have the same goal – to follow the conspiracy that Batman was chasing before he died – and the same basic skills needed to get the job done.
Their conversations are punctuation between the open world segments and setup for your next mission. There are a few scenes that deal with the obvious tension in the group, but the game is most interesting in having an excuse for four playable characters. Jason Todd, or Red Hood, died and was resurrected, and yet no one wants to talk about how this radically changed his relationship with the rest of the crew and his motivation to fight crime in the same way. The characters can’t stray from Batman’s mission or values, which dulls Gotham Knights’ one major chance to differentiate itself from the Arkham games.
You can swap between Batpeeps in the central Belfry location; level and skill points transfer, and each character gets adequate armor and weapons to equip. They develop their own strengths through their skill trees: Robin can run around without making noise, Batgirl can disable security cameras and turrets, Nightwing can damage and heal allies, and Red Hood can tank hits and crowd control enemies.
This can slightly change your approach to stealth and combat scenarios, but the downsides to being the least optimal character aren’t huge. I spent most of my time as Batgirl because of her quick combo attacks and because her suits looked cool, and I encountered zero roadblocks in the open world or in the game’s cordoned villain missions—which see the return of characters like Mr. . Freeze. , Harley Quinn, and Clayface.
In two-player co-op I could start to see where their particular traits mesh. I fought Harley Quinn – an aggressive, advanced boss – as Robin with an ally Red Hood who was repeatedly caught in fatal head attacks. I built my Momentum meter to deploy a decoy that kept the boss distracted while I helped Red Hood up from a downed state or gave him room to recover. But outside of tough encounters like this, there’s little need to build strategies around abilities. You just cooperatively beat enemies until a notification pops up with an XP reward.
The boss fights in Gotham Knights don’t stand out like they do in the Arkham games, mostly choosing battles of stats and reflexes. Bosses have large health bars, super strong combos, and AoE attacks that are designed to simply punish your dodge time and position compared to normal enemies. As a solo player, they are marathons that drain you of resources, forcing you to balance gaining Momentum and spending it on your own high-damage abilities to achieve. In co-op, they resemble simple MMO bosses that require whoever has their focus to work on evasion while the other takes damage.
Gotham Knights doesn’t fully commit to archetypes like tank, support and DPS though. And as a result, each of the characters plays like a watered down version of Arkham Batman. None of them have really dramatic strengths or weaknesses. Until you dig into the final parts of the talent trees, craft unique gear, and equip them with stat-enhancing armor mods, the four heroes can’t match how perfect Batman was as a video game protagonist. He is a walking swiss army knife of gadgets and combat techniques, all of which are at your disposal. But Gotham Knights killed him, split his body into four parts and forces you to play as one severed limb at a time.
Been there, done that
Gotham Knights’ smartest idea is to take a burst of open-world action and break it up into nighttime adventures, started once you check in at the Clock Tower. As you grapple between rooftops, you encounter special targets who, when interrogated, will give you information – hilariously delivered as clues dropped on the ground like Diablo loot – leading to premeditated crimes that will appear with better XP and crafting material rewards the next night you will explore the city. Most missions have side objectives such as finishing without being detected or killing enemies with varied weapons, but premeditated crimes have more enemies and even more difficult objectives. If you fail or discard the area, you cannot do them again.
These crimes were the steepest and most satisfying challenges the open world of Gotham Knights gave me, and the multitude of rewards felt worthwhile. Only the premeditated crimes made me consider how to apply the specials of the Bat Fame as the encounter required. As Batgirl I could scan an area, disable a turret or enemy sniper and log in for a silent knockout. When I inevitably messed up and got detected, these missions got crazy as I tried to manage multiple enemies throwing firebombs and projectiles at me.
But by the time I finished my fourth bank robbery and gang, the suspension of disbelief was gone. Gotham city has a a lot of crime—much more than is realistic for what is supposed to be a real city where people live, even if it is a notorious hellhole. You’d at least think the criminals would learn to commit less ambitious crimes than the ones that involve 20 of their friends and a stolen laser cutter to open a vault every other day. There’s no systematic or procedural progression to adapt Gotham’s absurd ecosystem of crime to your actions, so stopping these heists and kidnappings quickly loses all meaning.
It’s a half-assed system, and yet sadly the only thing in the game that aims higher than all the Arkham games before it.
Swing and miss
Even in a mostly barren open world, Gotham Knights strained my computer’s resources while cleaning up all the crimes and collectibles. I ran the game at 4K (with DLSS enabled) on a 3080 Ti and an Intel i9 2900K and the open world dropped my fps into the 60s and would drop lower when I was fighting near fires or other busy effects. Locking my fps to 60 made it more consistent, but not enough to completely smooth out performance.
Indoor areas ran much better, but considering that most of the game has you sifting through the city, it was a pain to have to manage frame drops without falling off a perch and drawing the attention of a whole group of enemies. I also experienced a handful of crashes when entering story missions and the Clock Tower, but they mostly cleared up after updating to the latest Nvidia drivers and restarting my computer. Other PC Gamer staff reported frame rate issues at 1080p as well. None of my issues made the game unplayable, but it is a concern for players with less hardware, and made an early part of the game difficult to play while I adjusted settings.
Everything in Gotham Knights is done better in another game; some with Batman and some without. The Arkham games had RPG-like talent trees and progression, but these were layered on top of already satisfying stealth and combat systems. Gotham Knights begins and ends with brawls that feel like fighting in mud, even compared to the developer’s own Arkham Origins. And its large scale version of Gotham is full of duplicate crimes and almost no reason to keep it safe in the first place. It’s a mostly empty playground for its four heroes to farm XP for the next mission.
Gotham Knights tried to distance itself from Batman by killing him, but instead it just split him into four pale dummies far out in a rampant open world. It is just as well that he is dead; not even Batman could fix this mess.