Batman is dead. Long live the Bat family.
WB Games Montréal’s Gotham Knights has an enticing premise for comic book fans. Batman is dead, and it’s the Bat family that has to keep Gotham City safe now. Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), Tim Drake (Robin), Jason Todd (Red Hood) and Dick Grayson (Nightwing) have to take everything Batman taught them and put it all to test without their iconic mentor.
The game had all the makings of being the game of the year. Its predecessor, the Batman: Arkham series, was successful and gained the admiration of gamers worldwide on the back of an incredible gameplay experience and a really good storyline. Gotham Knights was expected to be the same, but with four playable characters instead of just one.
That legacy, however, seems to have overwhelmed the developers, leading to a game that is altogether underwhelming. It almost feels like the creators of the game were overconfident about its success and put minimal effort into its key aspects, starting with the story.
On paper, Gotham Knights has a good idea behind it. Other than the central plot of Batman’s death (which is where the game begins), there are sub-plots for three other villains, and side-arcs to introduce the player to each character and their own personal struggles. The problem is that none of these are really explored well. The story is short with only eight chapters, and took me just 48 hours and six minutes to complete all major case files.
Much like DC’s movies nowadays, you barely get to know the characters. In fact, non-comic book fans may actually be lost as to why Barbara Gordon suddenly says she doesn’t remember her father’s face, or why Tim Drake seems just a little lost without Batman. What’s worse is the fact that even though the game is trying to establish the four bat kids as Batman’s replacement, you rarely get a pivotal cutscene with all four of them in it.
This is made worse by the fact that Gotham Knights doesn’t get combat right. It’s absolutely baffling why WB Games Montréal would drop the counter system, which made the player really feel like Batman, for this one. For some reason, Gotham Knights drops that near-perfect fighting mechanic for one that is a shadow of it.
On the flipside, Gotham Knights gives each character their own style. Batgirl is a hacker who is also “tough as nails”, while Robin is a stealth expert. Red Hood, on the other hand, is a hulking brute, who is good at both ranged and melee combat. You get the drift. They all also have their own special abilities, called “momentum abilities”, which can be used to good effect in battles.
But with the basic counter system missing, it all just becomes button mashing. It’s very easy to get hit, and the heroes can even feel too weak at times. I quickly settled with Barbara Gordon’s beatdown ability in order to end fights fast, or Robin’s stealth moves when I just didn’t feel like mashing the X button on the Xbox Series S controller anymore.
The lackluster fighting mechanic is actually Gotham Knights’ biggest weakness. The game has a grind element to it, where you zip around Gotham City stopping crimes to level up your heroes.
Grinds are not uncommon in role playing games (RPGs), but in Gotham Knights it’s just too repetitive. Most crimes are the same, even if the criminals look slightly different. New enemies emerge over time, but not quickly enough to not bore the player.
The game’s gear system is also somewhat flawed. While there’s plenty of gear to mix and match and build the hero to your liking, and plenty of costume styles to boot, the whole system is quite inflexible in the sense that you will have to grind even more to craft the kind of gear you want to carry. At the end, I just went with the best I had, and depended on my momentum abilities to win my battles.
It almost feels like the developers are planning some sort of paid lootboxes in the future, which will help players get around the grind. Adding microtransactions though may be the final nail in the Gotham Knights coffin.
It’s not all bad though
For everything that is boring and bad about Gotham Knights, the game does tend to grow on you in some ways. While many have reported bugs in the game, I got two updates since launch, and have had to deal with only one crash during the 48 hours I’ve spent on this game.
Gotham Knights is also great from a graphics point of view. Gotham City has to be dull and dark, but it still looks and feels great.
It also has a whole host of Batman characters, ranging from detective Montoya to the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Harley Quinn, Clayface and more. In fact, while the central plot may be predictable at times, it’s not exactly drab either. It’s somewhere between the plot of a movie like Black Adam and the excellent Batman: Dark Knight. Given that this is a game and not a motion picture, that’s not half bad, and despite the lackluster gameplay I spent 48 hours playing it because I still wanted to see where the story goes.
It’s just not good enough for me to want to play through it again. Where 2015’s Batman: Arkham Knight remains an active part of my library, and I still play it from time to time, Gotham Knights is a game that’s worth playing only once.