The comparisons between Gotham Knights and the Arkham games have been almost constant pretty much since the day the game was announced. It is, after all, an open world game set in Gotham City, and it’s made by the folks who developed Batman: Arkham Origins– so it’s not hard to see why those comparisons exist. Very quickly after it kicks off though, Gotham Knights makes it abundantly clear that it’s very much doing its own thing. Not only is it set in its own separate universe, the way the game plays and is structured is also very different. And what’s the end result? Well, it never touches the heights of the Arkham games, but Gotham Knights has plenty going for it. It’s not outstanding, and in many ways it feels like it’s crossing items off of the “how to make a modern AAA open world game” list, but though it might not be spectacular, there’s still a very good game here.
Within the first few minutes of the game’s beginning, Batman dies- and yes, he really does die. We see it happen on-screen, we see his body, and there’s a funeral. And with the death of the Caped Crusader, Gotham City is on the brink of chaos. Criminals, gangs, and supervillains are getting braver and more brazen in their activities, and even the GCPD hasn’t been much of a help in recent times, since the death of Commissioner James Gordon (yes, he’s also dead). To carry forward their mentor’s legacy and protect the city in his wake, Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, and Robin – the titular Knights – step forward and begin investigating the final case Batman was working on- which leads them right to the doorstep of the Court of Owls, a shadowy, all-powerful organization that has been ruling Gotham and sowing corruption from behind-the-scenes for centuries.
"It never touches the heights of the Arkham games, but Gotham Knights has plenty going for it. It’s not outstanding, and in many ways it feels like it’s crossing items off of the “how to make a modern AAA open world game” list, but though it might not be spectacular, there’s still a very good game here."
Gotham Knights’ story is easily one of its biggest strengths, and the Court of Owls is hugely responsible for that. Though the Court is a fairly new addition to the Batman universe and hasn’t broken into mainstream popularity just yet, it’s become a fan-favourite in the decade or so it’s been around- and it’s not surprising at all that yet another story that makes the villainous group its centerpiece has turned out to be such a strong one. Plenty of other well-known villains from the Batman rogues gallery make an appearance as well, including the likes of the Penguin, Harley Quinn, the League of Shadows, and more, which only adds to the narrative’s strengths. For fans of this universe, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had on that front.
Where the heroes are concerned, though the cast of characters is obviously missing the inherent charisma of the Dark Knight himself, those who’ve taken up his mantle are solid protagonists in their own right. The younger heroes lend a relatively lighter tone to the more personal side of the story than the brooding Bruce Wayne, and while that may or may not be to your liking, the four protagonists themselves are easy to root for. It’s fascinating to see them all dealing with their mentor’s death in their own way, and though “superheroes coming together in the face of a crisis” isn’t exactly a new premise, it’s executed well here. Again, though, the occasionally lighter tone (especially in some specific sequences) might not be what some Batman fans want to see.
When it comes to its central gameplay mechanics and how it plays, Gotham Knights ends up feeling like a much more by-the-numbers experience. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun – because it is – but there’s a lot going on here that has become increasingly prevalent in modern AAA open world games, almost like they’re all following slightly modified versions of the same recipe. You gain XP, level up, and spend ability points in multiple skill trees; you craft and acquire equipment and gear to ensure that your character has the best loadout; the open world is littered with collectibles, side quests, and dynamically occurring crimes. There’s no shortage of players who can’t get enough of that stuff- more often than not, I’m one of them, so I can’t tell you that I didn’t have a lot of fun with all of that admittedly generic content. But Gotham Knights’ implementation of those systems and mechanics in a bid to become an open world RPG doesn’t feel very ambitious, and the game ends up losing a little bit of its identity as a result. That said, the game does deserve credit for the variety of suits that are available for each hero, and how excellent they all look. And yes, there’s transmog.
"Gotham Knights’ story is easily one of its biggest strengths, and the Court of Owls is hugely responsible for that."
When it comes to the combat, there’s a lot of positive things to say about the game (and a few that aren’t so positive). On a superficial level, Gotham Knights has a brawler-style combat system that feels reminiscent of the Arkham games, in that you flit from enemy to enemy to land hits while dodging incoming attacks. Beyond that surface level though, the game does plenty to set itself apart. Successfully landing attacks and dodging blows fills up your Momentum bar, which in turn allows you to use special abilities. Meanwhile, ranged weapons are also a major part of the combat, while things such as elemental damage and status effects also frequently come into play.
For the most part, combat is a lot of fun in Gotham Knights. It doesn’t feel as good as the Arkham games – it can be a little floaty at times, and movement isn’t as quick and snappy – but there’s still a very satisfying rhythm to attacking, dodging, and managing crowds, especially as you take on larger groups and come up against different enemy types that present unique threats and challenges. Gotham Knights’ insistence on trying to be an RPG hurts it a little bit here as well though- most enemies are damage sponges, which means fights often drag on. More importantly, it feels like your attacks often don’t do a lot of damage, which shouldn’t be the case in a superhero game. Like other areas of the game, combat is enjoyable at its core- but it doesn’t quite have the oomph that I was hoping it would. These issues also effected the general quality of boss fights in my eyes, which are surely functional, but don’t feel as special or uniquely memorable as they perhaps should have.
Traversal is also a bit of a mixed bag. You can’t not have fun riding the Batcycle, for instance- but I wish it went much faster than it does. Similarly, when you’re playing as Batgirl, gliding through Gotham City can feel great- but again, comparisons with the Arkham games are inevitable, and it doesn’t quick feel as amazing as it did in those games.
Visually, meanwhile, Gotham Knights is an impressive game. Gotham looks dark, damp, and grimy, exactly the way it should, and with each district having its own unique architectural style derived from the city’s history, there’s plenty of wondrous sights to behold as well. It helps, of course, that the game pulls a lot of weight on the technical front, from an impressive level of detail to meticulously crafted character models and more. It’s disappointing that gameplay is locked to 30 FPS – not even having the option for 60 FPS, especially when you’re not playing co-op, seems like a bizarre omission – but at least performance is mostly steady.
"For the most part, combat is a lot of fun in Gotham Knights. It doesn’t feel as good as the Arkham games – it can be a little floaty at times, and movement isn’t as quick and snappy – but there’s still a very satisfying rhythm to attacking, dodging, and managing crowds, especially as you take on larger groups and come up against different enemy types that present unique threats and challenges."
Gotham Knights won’t blow you away, that much is for sure. Perhaps it’s the unfortunate for the game that it can’t possibly avoid comparisons to the Arkham series, because though it’s very much trying to do its own thing, there are still comparisons to be made, and most of them aren’t exactly in Gotham Knights’ favour. At the same time, the fact that it wants to be a modern open world RPG means there are issues with the gameplay as well. But for anyone who enjoys a good open world game, or anyone who enjoys a good Batman story, this is an easy recommendation. There’s a lot of fun to be had in Gotham Knights, even if a lot of it is the kind of fun you can have in dozens of other games out there.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Engaging story; Great cast of villains and characters; Combat is largely a lot of fun at its core; Open world is filled with plenty to do; Gotham City is diverse and well-built; Looks great.
Batman fans might not like the relatively lighter tone; Generic implementation of open world RPG mechanics; Combat can feel a little floaty at times; Damage sponge enemies; Traversal can be a mixed bag; No performance mode.