Gotham Knights review: Who needs the Batman? - MrLiambi's blog


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Thursday, 20 October 2022

Gotham Knights review: Who needs the Batman?

When Gotham Knights was first announced it was assumed that it'd be a follow-up to the hugely successful Arkham series. After all, it's based in Gotham and, while the Dark Knight Detective isn't the star himself, a quartet of former sidekicks are.

However, it soon transpired that it wasn't to be an Arkham sequel - it's not even set in the same universe. Instead, we get a game that's closer to the Batman books and general DC universe and that's to its benefit. We're not sure it'd stand too many comparisons with Rocksteady's truly stunning Arkham trilogy, and by giving it a unique, fresh story and cast, it has a bit more space to breath.

That's not to say it doesn't borrow some of the Arkham DNA - it's an open-world action-adventure with free-flowing combat and puzzle elements - but it's not so steeped in it as you may think. Oh, and Batman just so happens to be dead.

Bats in the Belfry

It's certainly a bold decision to release a Batman game without Batman - even more so to kill him as the game first opens. But, that's what you get in Gotham Knights. Bruce Wayne is pushing up the daisies and it's up to the extended Bat family to carry on his legacy.

Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), Tim Drake (Robin), Jason Todd (Red Hood), and Dick Grayson (Nightwing) are brought together by the passing of the caped crusader and must take the baton on his last, greatest mystery. And, the best news is that you get to play as all of them.

It's a decent setup and one that takes you through encounters with some of the most iconic comic book villains, such as the Penguin, Harley Quinn and Mr Freeze, plus a few you might not be as familiar with. It also allows you to hot swap between characters as the story progresses, deciding which of them to take into each campaign mission or on patrol.

This is done through daily (nightly) sessions, with a new main story chapter occurring each evening (initially, at least). On top of that, there are a plethora of side tasks, other character encounters, crimes and random encounters to undertake - this is an open-world game after all. Some are more essential than others, but they all have something to offer. Even the small crimes you can break up drop "clues" that will lead you to bigger side missions, plus crafting elements to improve your costumes and weapons. So, no matter how repetitive they become (and they do), you will still feel compelled to complete as many as you can.

After you have expended everything a night has to offer with one of the heroes, you head back to the Belfry - the secret base of the Knights - take stock in the latest developments and can then switch to another of the gang for the following day's activities. It adds variety to proceedings and works all the better thanks to each of them having distinct character traits and personalities.


Unfortunately, while they talk and act different - even move a little faster or slower, depending on body shape - their melee combat skills aren't quite so diverse. As you progress in the game, you will level up (it's an RPG, of sorts) and gain new, unique abilities, but the basics of combat are the same in each character. This is not unique to Gotham Knights, we've played many a superhero team game where the fundamental skills of each have to be grounded in similar button presses and combos, but you soon realise that while you can switch between the four, you probably will end up sticking with a favourite.

Still, considering the combat system is effective and traversal around Gotham via grappling hook is often great fun, you are unlikely to be too bothered by the prospect.

Fighting is essentially an enhanced version of the combat system in the Arkham games (and Mad Max). You get light attacks on one button, press it harder for a heavy attack, plus block and evade. You even get indicators when an enemy is about to punch your lights out, giving you the opportunity to counter and get in a perfect attack. And, like those aforementioned games, it can descend a touch into button bashing when there are plenty of foes on screen.

The abilities do elevate it a tad, with earned, powerful momentum skills assigned to the directions of the D-pad. Co-op also adds unique team-up moves to pull off. While boss battles occur a-plenty to throw a bit more strategy into the mix.

We'll be honest, there are certain fights that just seem to go on for ages, and there's not quite the flow of an Arkham equivalent, but as you get further in the game it does get more interesting for sure. And, we're pleased to note that the old grappling up to a higher vantage point and waiting for enemies to lose sight of you works wonders once more. You can then also pick off stranglers this way - Batman would be proud.

Detective work

Where Gotham Knights doesn't owe as much to the Arkhams is in its puzzling and secrets. There is some, with each character having AR tech built into their cowl that allows them to see through walls for items to activate or trace blood stains, that sort of thing. You'll also encounter the odd murder scene where you have to scan for relevant evidence, but it's never quite as involving as we'd like.

WB Games Montréal has filled Gotham with collectables though, plus little mini-games to reward your character with bonuses or experience, so there's still plenty to do besides brawling. And then there is the city itself, which is something of an extra character.

Bigger than any of the open-world locations in any "Batman" game so far, Gotham City is a beautifully realised beast that's well worth exploring on its own. At times dark and dingy, others as colourfully lit as a Joel Schumacher Batman movie, it has a great feel to it - not least when you're perched at the top of a high building and looking out across the landscape. The only time you regret its size is when you have to travel from one side to another, but thankfully even that's quite fun.

As we've mentioned, your main form of transport is a grappling hook. You only need to look at the edge or corner of a building and a reticle will appear showing you can hook onto it. This propels you to it quickly. You can pretty much grapple to anything, making it very simple to zip from one part of the city to another.

It can take a while to go from north to south, east to west, so you also start with access to the Bat Bike - which appears when you summon it (from invisibility, presumably). However, that's not much quicker to use as it's one of the more disappointing additions to the game. It's just not fast enough. The developer opted to add manga-style speed lines to the corners of the screen while you ride, in order to give you the illusion you are racing along. However, the reality is you're actually moving at a snail's pace and it's obvious. That being said, any faster and the bike would likely be impossible to manoeuvre, especially in the tighter Gotham streets.

Thankfully, another transport options comes later in the game, courtesy of an old friend, that allows you fast travel between unlocked points. It also comes at the right time, as you'll no doubt have done all the exploring you fancy by then.

Tall tale

So, we've established that Gotham Knights is not perfect. However, they is plenty to enjoy too - not least the story.

As fans of Batman and DC Comics, we can honestly say that the original story and its telling are great. The voice acting for all characters is exemplary, as is the animation. It's almost worth the ticket price on its own. We even let out a little squeak when the Court of Owls finally made an appearance.

This is enhanced by detailed, wonderfully designed graphics, with the game looking splendid in cut scenes and gameplay alike. There is an elephant in the room in the form of 30 frames-per-second play, but we're not entirely sure whether you'll be that bothered bar the initial shock that there's no performance option.

Running the game on two separate Philips OLED TVs - one with VRR, one without - we didn't find the motion to be too jarring. If anything, it reminded us just how spoiled we've become in recent times. We'd barely have noticed if this was a PS4 title. Of course, we'd have liked the choice between the highest resolution and frame rate, but what's there is crisp, rich in detail and absolutely fine in motion (if not spectacular).

You do get more options when it comes to audio, as the game locks to your sound system setup in the PlayStation or Xbox menu. That includes a bombastic surround mix, if that's your fancy. On that score, we certainly can't fault the production values.

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