Gotham Knights begins with a long, action-packed sequence that sees Batman fighting the head of the League of Assassins Ra's al Ghul. It’s highly cinematic, and through dialogue and fisticuff exchanges, you immediately understand that these two characters exist at opposing points of every spectrum imaginable.
It’s a physical, emotional, and violent confrontation that explosively ends with the death of Batman. As an introduction, it’s ballsy because there’s no real doubt about the outcome - the Dark Knight is no more, and the crime-plagued city of Gotham can’t function with the usual setup of cops, lawyers, and judges. The absence of the World’s Greatest Detective leaves quite the crimefighting void.
Good thing that Batman has a Batfamily, and in an intelligent bit of superhero head honcho-ing, he made sure not to put all his Bat-eggs into a single Bat.. sket. If Robin’s feet don’t quite fill the hypothetical Batshoes then perhaps Nightwing’s will. Or Batgirl’s, or even Red Hood - a buff brutish superhero that wears a full red mask and not a hood. Better yet, why not have them team up with Alfred and work together to keep the Gotham peace. Solve whatever Unsolved Mysteries
were left unsolved, and see what ol’ Cobblepot, Harley Quinn, and Mr. Freeze are up to. No good, no doubt.
As a setup for a co-op-filled crime-fighting adventure into the rain, neon, steam, and smoke-filled streets of Gotham at night - it’s pretty easy to be swept up in the premise of Gotham Knights. Take your pick of the four aforementioned proteges listed above, team up with another player, and take-down syndicates and streetcorner thugs using combat inspired by the popular Batman Arkham series of games.
As an introduction, it’s ballsy because there’s no real doubt about the outcome - the Dark Knight is no more, and the crime-plagued city of Gotham can’t really function with the usual setup of cops, lawyers, and judges.
Structurally, Gotham Knights is sound - with no more Batcave, the Belfry serves as the operations hub to visit before and after each night venturing into the open-world Gotham. Here you’ll meet familiar faces or take on main missions and various side missions that evolve, progress, and change over time.
It’s a shame then, that Gotham Knights is aggressively mediocre and outright bad in just about every way imaginable. From the clunky, slow, and button-mash combat that feels more like a Ninja Turtles arcade game (and a bad one at that) than an extension of the Arkham series, to the grapple-filled traversal that is imprecise and unpredictable. Being able to glide or even fast-travel to different districts doesn’t unlock for several hours and requires completing repetitive tasks so that you can move about in a way that isn’t annoying-grapple-only or on a slow-as-hell but cool-looking cycle.
Switching heroes means you must re-grind several hours of repetitive combat just so traversal isn’t terrible. Stealth, which was a big part of the Arkham series, is equally clunky - takedowns sometimes work as intended but encounters and locations aren’t created with multiple ways to engage. Kind of like how stealth in Marvel’s Spider-Man felt passable but nowhere near as good as Arkham, Gotham Knights' stealth isn’t even in the same league as ‘passable’.
The best way to describe the experience of playing Gotham Knights is wading through a series of systems and mechanics with real no justification or reason to exist. Action RPG mechanics (not to be confused with actual role-playing) mean that as Nightwing you’ll earn experience from completing missions and beating up criminals, and then use points earned to flesh out a skill tree. The skill tree here simply gates abilities as you would expect to find them in a game like this, with the diversity merely letting you choose between a small boost in Critical Damage or an extra second of something. Yawn.
Likewise going from Level 10 to Level 12 after a night out on the town will then allow you to craft and equip a new suit or weapon. Enemies and chests don’t drop actual gear, because that wouldn’t make sense, so instead, you start collecting thousands of random crafting materials with weird icons numbering in the dozens. It’s so antithetical to the idea of opening up a chest to find something cool as to be insulting. The one tangible thing you can collect, item mods, you don’t even get a description of, just a flashy icon. Apart from certain elemental modifiers that alter attacks and abilities, crafting is exactly that… supremely shallow.
The best way to describe the experience of playing Gotham Knights is wading through a series of systems and mechanics with real no justification or reason to exist.
Itemisation in Gotham Knights is born from the school of Gear Score and Power Levels, which means you can now use this weapon with a numerical rating of 130 - which is better than the one you have equipped that is only rated at 110. This isn’t a knock on this style of action RPG but instead said to highlight how bland and meaningless it all feels as a part of Gotham Knights. A game that isn’t a live service title like Destiny, but instead a two-player story-driven superhero game that forces you to change all gear after every chapter break because the number threshold has decreed it be so.
And as long as you keep doing so, the actual combat doesn’t change because enemies scale and evolve in step with your gear. It’s cosmetic. It doesn’t help that the poor UI and lack of proper comparison tools make the whole process of swapping gear a chore.
The open world of Gotham doesn’t fare much better, criminals you dispatch spit out glowing magnifying glass icons when they don’t-die (the Batfamily doesn’t kill either), and these literal magnifying glass icons you collect are clues. Yeah, clues come to life in Gotham Knights. And so you take these clues back to the Belfry at the end of each night and use the Batcomputer to blend the clues you’ve collected to create a list of premeditated crime juice to populate Gotham with for the next night out on the job. In other words, new icons.
You might think that crimes come in various flavours, on account of the different icons outlining that this one involves saving a hostage whilst this one is about stopping a robbery, but they all involve taking out groups and waves of gang members and criminals. With zero in the way of emergent or dynamic storytelling. Even the mysterious Court of Owls, an in-the-shadows organisation that has controlled Gotham for years in complete secrecy, devolves into another crime icon out doing no good in the open-world Gotham. So, much like the crafting icons, you don’t need to pay attention to what’s happening outside of the one or two stealth-mission variants. It’s soulless and empty, much like the streets of the open-world Gotham you explore.
You might think that crimes come in various flavours, on account of the different icons outlining that this one involves saving a hostage whilst this one is about stopping a robbery, but they all involve taking out groups and waves of gang members and criminals. With zero in the way of emergent or dynamic storytelling.
And here’s the thing, even with ray-traced reflections, some impressive particle effects, lighting, and small-scale environment detail, Gotham Knights is mostly visually bland. The Gotham you explore is several magnitudes less impressive than the one seen in 2015’s Arkham Knight - static, lifeless, and big for no other reason than to spread out the icon checklist you’ll need to work through. Worst of all it suffers from a poor frame rate with equally poor frame pacing on all platforms. We’re talking the Nintendo 64 era of 20-25 frames-per-second when you’re out in the world, and not even a locked 30 fps when you’re in an instanced mission. Granted, the N64 comparison was born from the fact that the cars in Gotham Knights are these huge rectangle boxes that look like early versions of 3D graphics.
There was a lot of chatter about the lack of a 60 fps mode on consoles before the game’s release, and really, the issue here isn’t the fact that it targets 30 frames-per-second. It’s that it can’t even manage that, and the poor performance only exacerbates the clunkiness of the combat. Even on a PC, running on an RTX 4090, it can barely keep up.
Even if it ran beautifully, Gotham Knights still feels pretty much unsalvageable. There’s a lot of game to be found in Gotham Knights, a lot of by-the-numbers repetition, and many meaningless tasks that make you think the project began as a live service game like Marvel’s Avengers. And simply shifted focus to become a co-op thing sometime during development. But then again, that’s adding justification to mechanics and progression systems in a game that doesn’t care to explain why you need to craft new gear all the time. There’s no “endgame” or persistent world to support the repetition either.
The good news is that there’s quite a bit of story to dig into, and you do get to go head-to-head with several notable villains. But you’ll need to overcome a lot more than the death of Batman to see it through.