Gotham Knights: In an unprecedented move, Gotham Knights kill Batman. This installment in the popular Arkham series has the Bat Family (Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, and Robin) looking into Batman’s death. The game’s potential is there, but it’s not nearly polished enough to be an exciting Bat adventure.
A 2012-looking video game developed by Warner Bros. Games Montreal was released in 2022.
The fact that some of the best comic book video games of all time are part of the Arkham series only adds insult to injury. Arkham Knights may not live up to the expectations of fans of the original trilogy.
The Four Averages
In Gotham Knights, you can take control of any of Batman’s sidekicks as they investigate their mentor’s final case to discover what caused his untimely demise. On their way, they’ll encounter some of Batman’s most famous villains like Penguin, Harley Quinn, and Mr. Freeze. In addition to solving the main case, players can take on side missions that have them fighting crime like armored car robberies, kidnappings, and anything else that would happen in Gotham City at night.
The game’s headquarters are located in Wayne Tower’s Belfry. The team spends the day gathering information to determine which leads to pursue next. They go out on patrol at night to make sure everything is okay. Here is where you get to select your playable protagonist.
It’s not always clear in gameplay that each character has their special skills. Robin is more adept at using his staff and defensive gadgets, while Nightwing is more acrobatic and the Red Hood is a brute with large, powerful attacks. Despite this, the majority of the time you’ll use the same combination of regular and power attacks while dodging enemies’ blows, regardless of the character you choose.
Batman’s attacks in the Arkham series were shown to be powerful and graceful; however, this sense is missing from Gotham Knights. A more accurate analogy would be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat ’em up, which is neither satisfying nor tactical.
One of the hallmarks of the Arkham games was stealth, and there are even more instances in Gotham Knights where remaining undetected is the best strategy. Unfortunately, it’s not executed nearly as well as actual combat. Most of the stealth kills involve ambushing from above or sneaking up from behind an opponent, but there’s a narrow window where these kills appear to be technically flawed.
My character’s ranged attack and stealth takedown share the same button, so there were times when I silently eliminated an enemy from behind while there were other times when I accidentally alerted nearby foes with the former.
The Bat Family’s lack of personality is one of their many flaws. Nightwing, aka Dick Grayson, is the de facto leader of the gang, but he doesn’t act like one. I also found it annoying to constantly fret that crime would escalate unless Batman was on patrol. To avoid that from happening, the comics have given Dick a cowl to wear.
At the same time, Barbara Gordon/Batgirl is heartbroken over the deaths of Batman and Commissioner Gordon, her father. Tim Drake, the current Robin, is an awkward newcomer to the team whose narrative role primarily consists of looking up details on clues.
Jason Todd, alias Red Hood, stands out as an anomaly; he had a significant role in the 2015 Batman video game Arkham Knight. The Lazarus Pit, a regenerative pool used by Batman villain Ra’s al Ghul, is used to bring Jason back to life after he is killed by the Joker in the Gotham Knights canon.
Because of this, there are always awkward silences when the rest of the Bat Family brings up the fact that Jason was once dead. The problem is that he’s mainly just a hothead who wants to bash every bad guy in the city, so that doesn’t get him very far.
It’s hard to remember any member of the Bat Family. Their banter is flat and lifeless, with no natural rhythms or genuine humor. To my surprise, I found a surprising amount of energy in the menu-accessible email threads. They make each other laugh in earnest, and I wish I could watch the interaction instead of reading about it.
The Bat Family’s shining feature is the cooperative gameplay it offers. The thrill of teaming up with other players is just right. While it is exciting to do a slow walk into a room full of bad guys and take them down, it is even more exciting to sneak around and silently dispose of everyone. The enjoyable aspect of puzzle-solving is augmented by the social aspect of working together to find solutions. Playing Gotham Knights is most enjoyable when you have a group of close companions.
Life In The Big, Dull City
Although Gotham plays a significant role in the Batman mythos, the depiction of the city in this game falls short of expectations. The city in Gotham Knights looks and feels eerily empty for a fictional version of New York. There aren’t many people around, and the few random citizens you do meet lack energy.
Similarly, the buildings in this city are unremarkable, except for the obvious skyscrapers and a few noteworthy locales integral to the plot.
It’s boring to get around the city. The Batcycle and the Grapple Gun are Batman’s primary means of rapid transportation. You can traverse the city and climb its buildings with the former, but it lacks sophistication. When a grapple spot is close by, a reticle will appear; however, the camera must be aimed precisely at the spot for the reticle to appear. The camera may be aimed in one direction, but the Grapple Gun may choose a completely different one, forcing you to back out of the motion and start over.
Unfortunately, there is no cool physics to be found in the Batcycle. Every character rides it the same way, and it moves like a tank when turning. It helps get around faster and more directly than the Grapple Gun, but it’s not much fun. This vehicle suffers from similar movement issues to on-foot characters — they can get “stuck” on certain objects. It’s frustrating that these heroes are supposedly highly trained vigilantes, but a corner of a table makes them stop dead in their tracks.
Later, short side missions unlock an option to fast travel to certain parts of the city: I recommend you do these to reduce the boredom and frustration of getting around.
Despite this, the usual array of collectibles, interesting photo points, and other ways to spend your time in the city pop up while on patrol. While there are incentives in the form of rewards, unlockable content, character gear, and so on, these activities ultimately feel more like time-wasters than entertaining diversions.
The overall risky decisions that Gotham Knights makes are poorly carried out, however. The game doesn’t look or play well, and it doesn’t do justice to the characters meant to fill Batman’s shoes.
Instead of going to extremes by ditching Batman and replacing him with four other heroes, WB Games Montreal should have re-established the franchise for the next-gen consoles and then switched gears with a follow-up. There’s simply far too much going on in this game that doesn’t come off as a 2022 AAA title.
Gotham Knights come on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S for $70.