Release Date : October 21, 2022
Developers : WB Games Montréal
Publisher : Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms : PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC
After a seven-year absence, the Dark Knight’s fans can finally set foot in Gotham City once again. WB Games Montreal (Batman Arkham Origins) is back with a game with a very different DNA than Batman Arkham: Gotham Knights.
The Batman Arkham series, launched by Rocksteady, has marked a whole generation of consoles with its exciting adventures, its excellent direction, and its gameplay that intelligently mixes intense infiltration and brutal combat. With Gotham Knights, Warner Bros. Montreal is abandoning the franchise in the hope of making other underused iconic characters shine. No Batman, no Joker. Now it’s the turn of Batman students to take over, for better or worse.
Batman is gone, long live his disciples. Without Batman, Gotham City is in chaos. Crime syndicates, supervillains, and the Court of Owls are having a field day putting the world’s worst metropolis to the sword. It’s up to Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Red Hood (Jason Todd), and Robin (Tim Drake) to step in and save Gotham from the evil within. Structured around several narrative arcs that collide to weave the fate of the team, Gotham Knights offers a single story for four different visions. An adventure that relies heavily on the original material to empower itself at certain moments hoping to create a surprise. It will not be.
The scenario could be summed up in ten short lines as nothing happens. No huge surprises, whether you have seen the famous leak or not, but a phoned-in story that lasts about ten hours. However, Gotham Knights know how to keep the show going during the cinematic sequences with their polished staging. There are some really good moments, but it lacks more in-depth character development, both for the collective and the individual characters.
In the end, contrary to what our first take on the game suggested, the little gang will only have a few easily missed interactions in their base, but the title never takes the time to really deepen their feelings or their relationships. This was the opportunity for Warner Bros Montreal to make this foursome, unknown to the general public and much appreciated by comic book fans, shine, and to put forward their philosophies and their conflicts with Batman. In the end, they will remain in the shadow of their mentor.
Although there is a lot to be said about this, it is far from the finesse and narrative power of Batman Arkham. The stakes, cut into files, are often swept aside with a wave of the hand, giving the sensation of taking part in expeditious missions, which is sometimes the case. Some of them are really good, but the good ideas are often tarnished by the way they are set up. The final assault is probably the most significant, being a bland straight line where platforming and enemies follow each other without any logic. All this ends on a caricatured end, which leaves a taste of unfinished business. Like the rest of the game.
WHEN BATMAN ARKHAM MEETS MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN
In general, Gotham Knights tries to distinguish itself from the Arkham series, with which it has no link, while getting closer to it to satisfy the fans of the original series. The title intends to offer its own vision of the city, bigger and more vibrant than ever, but with a less stunning realization. You only have to perch on top of a building with a grappling hook or walk through the streets to be convinced. The lighting effects are nice, the ray tracing works wonders.
Gotham spreads under our feet, brighter and more alive than ever. It has a real atmosphere, it’s clean and even a bit too much. The crashing rain gives way to drizzle, the torn night to washed-out brown tones. The city loses its harshness, its grime, its dirt, and its criminal traces that trickle down from every corner as in the original material. It’s almost as disconcertingly clear as its inhabitants, who don’t react when a crime occurs two meters away from them.
Grappling hooks, Batcycles, and unique skills specific to each of the vigilantes, there is no shortage of ways to move around. However, moving around Gotham is not as exciting as it used to be, and depending on the character you choose, you will quickly get tired of going from building to building. Robin and his teleportation can turn into agony, while Batgirl, the most enjoyable of the lot, will offer real flying sensations. Still, you have to finish the challenges that unlock these special abilities quickly before you get bored.
The beginnings are more difficult with only the grappling hook to move in the air, without any fluidity of movement. On the ground, the motorcycle will replace the Batmobile and despite some generous effects such as a mask and a close-up camera that helps to mitigate the impression of being on a Bat-Scooter, it offers no sensation of speed. Once the excitement of the discovery is over, you’ll quickly unlock the fast travel points to avoid an additional chore.
Gotham Knights follow the open-world formula of the Arkham series by giving access to the main missions, but also to a handful of side missions that will increase the life span while introducing some emblematic antagonists. The game can be enjoyed as you wish, but you shouldn’t expect a lot of side content as qualitative as its elder brother. In its open-world structure, the title is closer to Marvel’s Spider-Man playable entirely in cooperation. Apart from the main quest, there is nothing really exciting to do.
The only difference is that Gotham Knights will constantly break its rhythm by making us go back and forth to the Tower after each mission. All the time and for everything, it’s exhausting. Alone or with two players in cooperation, it is possible to go around Gotham to save the widow and the orphan and stop a lot of repetitive crimes with precious experience points to boost the vigilantes’ performance via their skill trees. Don’t expect a lot of side missions leading to cult supervillains, they can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
A ONE-WAY COOPERATION
If we could have guessed that it would be difficult to follow the excellent Arkham, it’s even more frustrating when we know that the same team worked on Origins, an honest game that provided fan service like its big brothers. But Gotham Knights doesn’t have all that. It doesn’t even take advantage of its heap of collectibles to slip in a couple of winks to the DC universe, even though it is full of possibilities. Here, you’ll just have to find a pair of graffiti, monument plaques, or batarangs hidden in the four corners of the city, like in any other open world.
So yes, we do unlock a few pages of files to fill our codex and we’ll have the right to a few lines mentioning heroes or past events related to the comic book universe, but it’s meager and not very memorable. The Bat-verse is under-exploited and the game settles for the ultra-strict minimum by featuring only a handful of characters and a deluge of objects to scan in the scenery to place one or two low-cost easter eggs.
Fortunately, the few headliners present raise the level and benefit from a rather successful character design. Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze, and Clayface, just to name a few, will be antagonists as charismatic as they are pleasant to fight. Nevertheless, we will have the right to missions with a jagged quality and above all with a structure cut with an axe, when they are not simply linear. It’s worth noting that even though it’s not a service game, it has all the trappings of one. Gotham Knights is entirely playable in cooperation, with only two players.
A limited choice to serve the narrative, according to the studio, but which is hard to understand. At no time do the two chosen vigilantes appear together during the cinematics and interact with each other to offer new scenes and dialogues. Even worse, the guest will not even see his own character during the cutscenes but instead the host’s. On the one hand, when the title lets you play the same character, we understand that there was no such will.
The game wants to be cooperative, but it doesn’t go all the way. There is no double elimination, only one coordinated attack that you will quickly forget, nothing that really pushes you to interact together. Instead, the guest serves more as a sidekick than a real one. Progression is shared and the host is king. Opening a door, launching a cutscene, sneaking into a corner… so many useless things that only the master of the game will be able to launch with a countdown, or even a completely dated transition like in Outriders. It’s even more frustrating because it happens every two minutes, even indoors. Gotham Knights still has the stigma of this in single-player, where you also have to deal with these same mini-loads by pressing a button, and it’s unbearable in the long run.
AND THE 30 FPS ON PS5 ?
Shortly before its launch, Gotham Knights was at the heart of a controversy. The game is blocked at 30 fps on Xbox Series and PS5. We actually played it on console and it’s finally a lot of noise for nothing. The title is stable, the fights are fluid and only a few drops were noticed in cooperation only and before the deployment of the day one patch. Since then, it’s been running smoothly.
BAM! POW! KAPOW! WHAMM
In many ways, the title seems to want to go in several directions without assuming any of them. The most obvious example is Gotham Knights, which takes the action-RPG route with all the mechanics that go with it. Levels, skill trees, lootable equipment, customization, and all that. Except that the game gives the impression that they are only there to look pretty. The crafting has neither a head nor a tail. You are given a power level that is useless since the enemies don’t have any.
The difficulty of the missions is based on the character’s level, while the character’s level is only used to unlock skill points and offer a stat multiplier. Clearly, it’s hard to find your way around this heap of stats that don’t even know what to do. As a result, you foolishly loot, you craft the best possible stuff and you don’t even bother to look for optimization. On the other hand, we can only praise the work done on the aesthetic side of the equipment.
Gotham Knights offer about fifteen costumes for each hero. All of them are very nice and well-designed, but they can be moderately customized. This means that you can change the gloves, mask, and boots from a predefined selection of three variations, and choose the outfit’s colors from unlockable palettes. This feature is clearly designed for old fans and has a nice effect, but could have been more advanced.
Gotham Knights also play the in-between card in its fights. It takes from Arkham its animations, its stylish choreographies, very classy finish moves, and even heroic postures that force even more respect. If there is a good rendering of the impacts, we will quickly complain about the obvious lack of deep mechanics, no matter which hero we choose. The combos can be counted on the fingers of one hand and we hammer our keys like furies. Apart from dodging, we’ll have the right to one button for hand-to-hand attacks, one to throw projectiles, and one to do a grab and that’s it. No well-placed counters, stylish combos, or anything else.
We are on a minimum service that will quickly run out of steam, especially since we will fight so many times. On the other hand, the Arkham gadgets that could be used in combat are replaced here by so-called momentum skills assigned to key shortcuts like in Marvel’s Spider-Man. They will be unlocked during the adventure with a few challenges. It is mainly here that the heroes reveal their unique assets since each character, will have its own kit. Batgirl, for example, will specialize in single-target attacks and hacking, Robin in stealth and elemental attacks, Red Hood in ranged attacks and a bit of magic, while Nightwing will be a bit of an athletic jack-of-all-trades.
All of them bring their own personal touch and a different enough feeling to make you want to try them. We’ll soon settle on the hero that best suits our gameplay style, but Red Hood seemed a little less enjoyable to play, a matter of taste above all. The game shines the most when it breaks away from the Arkham series, as Gotham Knights bring its own flavor to a few points. Yet, on many occasions, it shows that it doesn’t want to break away from it and that’s probably what makes it so frustrating.
The adventures of the foursome, for example, include some investigative passages without them being really well done. The game focuses on brutal action without alternating with the kind of cunning infiltration we like. The Knight’s students obviously didn’t finish their training and prefer to run into the crowd rather than putting fear into their enemies and playing with their nerves.
UNDER THE SHADOW OF THE DARK KNIGHT
Main quests, secondary files or side activities, it doesn’t matter, 90% of the situations will be settled with fists. The studio does provide us with several different objectives (zone defense, witness rescue, bombs to defuse, etc…) but in the end, they only serve as a cover because the gameplay is never used to give the players something to do. So most of the time, you arrive in the area, quickly check the threat with a multi-function scanner, eliminate the few people who don’t keep up with you, and shove your knuckles down the throat of all the others. After a certain phase of the story, the fights become a bit more technical but not more interesting. Enemies dodge all your attacks, and split in the shadows to better attack by surprise. The idea is cute, but it gets boring in the long run since it’s the only thing you can do.
Even if you would like to play as quietly as possible, the game doesn’t really allow you to. Enemies are often in groups staring at each other and the level design usually offers only a few harmless perches (similar to the gargoyles from the Arkham series), accompanied by two or three scenery elements placed here and there with which it will be possible to interact (hacking, or with batarang for example) to do some damage in the opponent’s ranks or to try to divert the attention. This is essential in single-player, since the thugs are often placed in pairs, waiting quietly for two players to come and discreetly break their ribs. Unfortunately, this second option will not always be easy to do, as the AI is not that good.
Enemies are dumb as hell and half-blind. Although not visible, we can clearly see that our opponents have an ultra-restricted field of vision which will allow us to do all sorts of crazy things like knocking out one of their buddies right in front of them, passing in front of them at a distance of 5 meters without them being able to identify us or eliminating a person they are chatting with without arousing suspicion. More globally, it’s the whole of Gotham that seems to have problems, since pedestrians are almost all suicidal and don’t hesitate to cut off your bike or sit quietly in front of an army of mobsters in the middle of a robbery, when it’s not the police who prefer to harass citizens 50 meters away from a serious crime
What Gotham Knights lacks is a good balance between the different situations, and some tricks to spice things up. The boss fights are a breath of fresh air, because they are too much of the same. Here too, the title has the feeling of an abandoned service game with closed arenas, super-villains who act as VP bags, and who serve us a whole bunch of attacks set up with AOEs marked on the ground. It’s exhilarating, and damn well staged and the different effects that pop up everywhere are particularly nice. But again, they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. With a few good ideas that are under-exploited, a main storyline that takes about ten hours to complete, and redundant side content that requires another fifteen hours, Gotham Knights leaves us with a taste of unfinished business.
Gotham Knights is one of those games with a lot of potentials that is wasted by a bunch of questionable game design choices. Not unpleasant to play, fun most of the time, pleasing to the eye, real identity, but broken by its pace and lack of diversity, the title leaves us hungry. A Forgettable story, single-player tarnished by the stigma of multiplayer, cooperation that doesn’t go all the way… Warner Bros Montreal had good ideas that never come to life. Without being fundamentally bad, Gotham Knights leave us with the lingering sensation of an abandoned service game that could have been promising if it had been properly assumed. An honest game, nice to play in cooperation but it will remain in the shadow of Batman Arkham.