Gotham Knights Review: A Different Kind of Batman Game

Gotham Knights takes up the mantle of the Batman series and ably carves out an identity of its own, rather than recreating that of its predecessors.

The hero of old is gone and in steps someone new with big shoes to fill. The plot of Gotham Knights could just as easily be about its developer, WB Montreal, and their tall task of creating a Batman game in the shadow of the acclaimed Arkham series. The result is a game that is clearly inspired by what came before, but, like the heroes you play as, it carves out its own identity on the path to becoming a worthy spiritual successor. 

At first glance, Gotham Knights is a straightforward, third-person action game. You assume the role of Batman's four proteges, taking up the mantle after your mentor's death. As Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, and Red Hood, you attempt to piece together Batman's final investigation with the limited clues left behind.

Most of Gotham Knights takes place in the streets and on the rooftops of Gotham City. You can choose and change which protagonist you play and beat up bad guys with an assortment of light or heavy attacks, dodges, and gadgets. There are occasional enclosed missions, similar to a dungeon mechanic, but a majority of your playtime will be spent cleaning up Gotham at night. 

It's natural to compare Gotham Knights to the Arkham series directly. The games have essentially the same art style, and the flow of combat ending with a slow-motion flourish on the last enemy is a direct copy. I fell into that comparison trap in my first few hours with Gotham Knights, especially when considering the fewer options for melee combat and stealth. If you expect a 1:1 update to the Arkham series, then expect disappointment — that's not what Gotham Knights is. 

Instead — and this became increasingly clear the further I ventured into the game — Gotham Knights is an action RPG, and a damn good action RPG. Stats matter, as does weapon and suit crafting, mods, and creating builds to accentuate playstyles. There is a cumulative power level across your equipment, which, alongside some very slick designs, provides a strong incentive to update costumes and weapons continually. 

While the characters are all largely different flavors of the same experience in the early going, the abilities that each of the four protagonists unlock as they progress are strongly divergent. Robin becomes a stealth specialist, with the ability to take out more enemies with subterfuge. Red Hood, meanwhile, becomes a long and short-range powerhouse, damaging from a distance with his guns while performing literally explosive grapple moves up close.

There's a distinct way to play each of the heroes. By the end of the main story, I was selecting characters based on the type of mission I expected, trying to make smart decisions to take advantage of what each of them does best.

The experience with movement skills is similar. In the early going, you can use your grappling hook to move across rooftops or the Batcycle for fast ground movement. The lack of a gliding, like in the Arkham games, or the slower speed of the motorcycle relative to the Arkham Knight Batmobile, means that getting around Gotham is fun but sometimes tedious over long stretches.

That changes drastically if you complete the Knighthood challenge for each character. These optional objectives unlock a unique traversal ability. Nightwing has a jet-propelled glider that allows him to ascend indefinitely, while Robin can effectively just teleport. They are literal game changers that significantly improve the fun of getting around the city.

And that's a recurring theme in Gotham Knights. Generally, I had pretty tepid feelings towards playing early on, as it looked like I was stuck in a stripped-down version of the previous Batman games. As more abilities and tools became available, my enjoyment increased significantly, and the fact that it takes so long for these strengths to come through is unfortunate. This is a game that continually gets better the deeper into it you venture, and sticking it out to the end is well worthwhile.

Co-op is extremely impressive, too. There's random matchmaking, or you can join up with a friend. Gotham Knights normalizes levels between players, so even though there was a massive discrepancy between my end-game Robin and a friend's Red Hood (he had only completed the first few missions), we were able to enjoy participating in activities together. Co-op also proved to be an extremely effective way quickly level up. 

One of the more interesting aspects is that there's no real tether between players in Gotham Knights co-op; my crime-fighting partner and I could go to opposite ends of the entire city (full north and full south on the map) and pursue our own adventures; fast-travel doesn't take your whole party from one area to another, for example, letting you stop crimes together all over the city at the same, just not the same place.

Closed-off areas, like certain missions and the Belfry, required us to be in the same place, but otherwise, we had total freedom, and things were smooth from a technical standpoint. Any collectibles we found only counted for our individual pursuits, but the fact that they counted at all was incredibly welcome. Any experience, materials, mods, or blueprints stay with you after leaving co-op. 

But just because you can explore away from teammates doesn't mean that you will necessarily want to spend all of your time apart. Stealthily clearing out enemies with coordinated maneuvers is thrilling. Standing side by side with another hero and fighting off an entire mob is extremely enjoyable, and the Gotham Knights themselves banter with each other in a nice, immersive touch that's true to the characters. 

The story is surprisingly good, as well, with an overarching plot that goes a few interesting (if predictable) directions before finishing extremely strong. Smaller side stories are sprinkled throughout, and the gallery of villains is as colorful and interesting as ever. It's a very solid Batman story. 

The best parts are the smaller character moments between missions. The four heroes have very distinct personalities with their own traumas and hang-ups, and each processes their grief in different ways. It's surprisingly compassionate and heartfelt, and watching the characters lean on one another for support is refreshingly humanizing.

Gotham Knights Review — The Bottom Line

Pros

  • An engrossing and humanizing story.
  • Strong co-op.
  • Characters with increasingly unique playstyles.
  • Surprisingly deep RPG mechanics. 

Cons

  • Presentation elicits direct and unfortunate comparisons to the Arkham series.
  • The best parts are generally held until late in the game. 
  • Some systems and mechanics could be explained better.

Gotham Knights is a surprising game. On the surface, it looks like a lesser knockoff of the Batman games that came before, but underneath that rough exterior is a well-crafted action RPG with outstanding co-op, engaging characters, and a story worth taking time to enjoy.

It's a shame that many of the things that make it excellent are hidden in the back half of the game, but players willing to give it a shot and let it stand on its own merits — rather than in the shadow of its predecessors — will be well rewarded for their time.

[Note: WB Montreal provided the copy of Gotham Knights used for this review.]

Our Rating
8
Gotham Knights takes up the mantle of the Batman series and ably carves out an identity of its own, rather than recreating that of its predecessors.
Reviewed On: PlayStation 5

Contributor

Justin is a married father of two, has too many pets, and is a life-long gamer. When he's not in the virtual world he specializes in live event production, designing events for corporate clients such as Microsoft and Nintendo.

Published Oct. 20th 2022

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