Grab your cape, your gadgets, and your Bruce Wayne level of money, and gear up for our review of Gotham Knights.
It’s been over seven years since the release of Arkham Knight, the final game in Rocksteady’s Batman series of games. The Arkham franchise was beloved, and critically acclaimed, with Arkham City being toted as one of the best superhero games of all time. Unsurprisngly, anything following on from this incredible series would likely have a hard time competing.
Nonetheless, the team behind Arkham Origins (the only non-Rocksteady Arkham game) is releasing a new Batman game… without Batman. Gotham Knights follows four of the Caped Crusader’s sidekicks on a mission to protect Gotham, as well as find out the mystery behind the centuries-old Court of Owls that controls Gotham from the background. But the Court isn’t the only villain coming up after Batman has disappeared.
Straight after Batman’s death, Red Hood, Batgirl, Robin, and Nightwing all take the Caped Crusader’s place as protectors of Gotham. While the story features plenty of villains, mostly well-known such as Harley Quinn and Mr. Freeze, the main antagonistic threat is that of the Court of Owls. The Court is a centuries-old establishment, made up of Gotham’s elite, who work in the background to make changes to the city, unafraid of bending the rules, killing those in their way, and just being an evil cult-like group.
Using the Court of Owls as your main threat for a seemingly one-off video game is a bold idea. It’s one of the most popular Batman arcs in comics, but their story is quite a build-up. Gotham Knights doesn’t nail the Court of Owls like the New 52 arc managed to pull off, but it is slightly more unique than that of a normal superhero game. It’s a shame, however, that most encounters with the Court become that standard villain affair, with goons attacking our chosen sidekick and being beaten to a pulp. I would’ve loved to see more strings being pulled around Gotham, but they do make for an interesting story.
The other main focus is the Gotham Knights becoming their own, learning to be a family that protects Gotham for years to come. While the message is clear that family is important throughout the dialogue and cutscenes during the 20-hour-ish runtime of the main campaign, there’s a severe lack of much relationship building unless you play in co-op. Most of the time, you’ll experience the story as whoever you decide to play in each cutscene, with the other characters occasionally appearing for a chat. It’s not bad, per se, I just wish there was more emphasis on these four differing personalities coming together.
Gotham Knights’ reveals and gameplay demos have had some fans worried about the gameplay. Turning away from the well-made Arkham combat and making it more skill-based and based on simple evades and combos could deter some fans away from the game. I’m happy to say that it does end up clicking and becoming more fun, but only after spending quite a few hours into the experience.
At medium difficulty, the game was still a breeze, but the issue was that every goon and miniboss felt way too spongy, requiring plenty of hits to take down each enemy. It feels less like you’re a Batman-trained sidekick and more like a squirrel biting at the leg of a heavily-armored grunt. After switching it to easy, I found the experience much more enjoyable, where three or four hits would take down normal goons. The difficulty of the game felt the same, but without fights that felt like three minutes too long.
There’s also a loot system in Gotham Knights, which can be boiled down to “it’s there”. While it gives you a needed power level to face tougher threats, it doesn’t impact the overall experience. Gear you find can replace your existing armor, melee weapon, or ranged weapon, and can also protect or cause certain elemental effects. I’m sure at the hardest difficulty that these elements would come more into play, but they didn’t do much other than look flashy.
I must admit, when Gotham Knights’ combat does click, it feels smooth. There’s nothing quite like destroying a group of enemies with such ease and swiftness that you feel like a badass. However, stealth isn’t as well developed as combat, feeling underbaked and like it plans for you to experience the game in complete co-op. There are bonus goals during missions that reward you with XP if you can complete them, and some feel impossible without coordinating with another person. It’s nothing major, just something worth noting.
The problem is, all of these gear-based systems and stats feel like a complete mix-match of live-service and standard single-player games. Nothing in the menus feels very connected or cohesive. I wish they would’ve stuck to their guns on whichever path so that the end product could have felt better. Gotham Knights was in development for over five years, and it feels like the team decided to go numerous ways during that time. I wouldn’t be surprised if the game was originally a live service before they backpedaled when Marvel’s Avengers was released.
Gotham City is exactly how you’d expect it in Gotham Knights. Crime-ridden, dark, and dirty. While it’s not a beautiful city by any means, Gotham feels very dense and does fit the vibe that any Batman fan would hope for. But traversing Gotham is just plain boring, and not at all fun.
You’ve got your Batcycle, grapple, and each character’s unique traversal ability to explore Gotham with, but they all feel sluggish and stiff. Arguably, the Mystical Leap for Red Hood was the most fun I had with movement around the open world, but even that felt more like a chore than it should have. This is made worse by the fact that, despite Arkham Knight being seven years older, it had a similar traversal system done better.
What I do enjoy about the open world, however, is the fact that crimes and being a protector of Gotham works fairly well. Each night, you’ll find crimes happening across the city, marked as a white triangle. If you interrogate criminals at these scenes, you’ll find harder crimes, called pre-meditated crimes, appearing the next night. It makes you feel like you’re one step ahead of Gotham’s criminals, appearing in the darkness and stopping their illegal activities.
When it comes down to the visuals in Gotham Knights, it’s very, extremely mediocre. I can’t say it’s bad, because there are some moments where it does look graphically incredible, like the rain pouring on Nightwing’s mask in a cutscene or watching over the city from a tower. However, at street level, Gotham looks brown and dusty, without the depth of looking beautiful in a weird way.
Character models are nothing to be excited about, looking like something from late PS3 or early PS4 games. I must admit that the Gotham Knights do look better when they’re in their signature costumes, but outside of that, they look pretty bad.
Now I must admit, I didn’t use ray tracing in Gotham Knights during my playthrough, mainly due to performance issues (which I’ll cover in a moment), but the visuals of the game leave a lot to be desired. I understand that the main focus was the co-op and the gameplay, which is perfectly fair, but Gotham doesn’t look good enough to worry about saving. It’s very simple in its design. Towers fill one region with plastered-on lights, whereas smaller urban areas are surrounded by homes. There’s no real excitement in this take of Gotham, nothing that truly stands out, and it leaves a lot to be desired.
If anything is going to drop our score of Gotham Knights, it is the performance. While my colleague had it worse, with frequent crashes any time he returned to the Belfry and some other issues, I had frequent crashes when patrolling Gotham or massive framerate drops and stuttering too. Despite running a 3060Ti, above the recommended specs for the game, I was met with plenty of issues that soured my experience.
The recommended specs suggest I’d be able to play the game, with high-quality graphics at 60 FPS and 1080p. However, I had to lower my graphics or the framerate lock to bring down the number of issues I kept facing. During moments where a few enemies and effects occurred on screen, my framerate saw drops of frames, with average framerates being 30-40 during fights. It felt a lot smoother when traversing the city via grapple, but the Batcycle caused equal issues when entering new areas.
Gotham Knights is far from perfectly optimized on PC. Even meeting the requirements and recommendations of the developers sees a fair few issues, and I doubt those meeting the minimum specs will have a good time at all when playing this. To compare it, I had a 1650S playing Cyberpunk 2077 at 60 FPS on medium settings and still had a smoother time with that game at launch.
I can’t lie and say I didn’t enjoy Gotham Knights, at least when I wasn’t suffering performance issues. The combat, once I played enough, felt very enjoyable and smooth, but never quite met the highs of Arkham’s gameplay. The story was also decent enough, with Batman fans like myself potentially enjoying it more than those who don’t have the same connection. But the terrible optimization, alongside a mismatch of gameplay systems and a very sluggish traversal of Gotham City, make Gotham Knights an experience only worth playing after updates and some deep discounts.