Gotham Knights - A Cloudy Knight
Fans of the Batman Arkham titles, you’ve waited a long, long time for some love. When Rocksteady last touched on with the franchise in 2016 with Batman Arkham VR, and the previous real, full-scale game, 2015’s Batman: Arkham Knight, hopes were high for the future. Rumours swirled about Rocksteady moving on from the franchise, something that proved to be true, with the team now working on the upcoming Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League, but in their stead, the rumour on the street was that Batman: Arkham Origins developer WB Montreal was going to step into their place to continue the adventures of the Dark Knight himself. Nine long years have passed since the moment WB Montreal launched Arkham Origins, and the studio has seen its fair share of challenged development over that time. Perhaps it is that tortured development period that has resulted in Gotham Knights, a game that promises big things, things that can become key pillars when you’ve got nine years to work on a game, but ultimately amounts to something less than what we’ve seen of the Batman franchise in the last 15 years.
Gotham Knights comes out of the blocks strong. A phenomenal opening cutscene demonstrates something to players that had been a central focus of the marketing up to that point – Batman, Bruce Wayne’s vigilante alter-ego is dead. In the void left behind by the greatest hero the world has, it’s Batman’s underlings, Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), Jason Todd (Red Hood), Tim Drake (Robin), and Dick Grayson (Nightwing), who need to step to the plate, and protect Gotham in the face of threats greater than almost any Batman has previously faced. Teamwork is the key, an element expressed in both the gameplay, and the narrative, with co-op action being one of the game’s many tentpoles, but also something expressed through the narrative regularly. As the squad comes together, and the situation gets dire, its the strengthening bond between the team that serves as the glue that holds this game together amidst adversity brought upon by iconic Batman villains, The Court of Owls, The League of Assassin’s, Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze, Clayface. Then there were some other villains present in Gotham Knights that hit just like a comic book – POW, dull, repetitive gameplay, POW, awful puzzles, POW, unnecessary level gates and loot systems, things that were all far less pleasing than the Gotham Knights’ scripted villains. These three consecutive hits suck out the fun that could, and should have been core to the Gotham Knights experience.
The gameplay core of Gotham Knights is solid enough. The rich foundations were laid by Rocksteady and WB Montreal previously, and so the combat and exploration is pretty engaging at a base level, but none of the playable leads feels smartly built upon from there. Players must complete Knighthood quests for their respective heroes to have an incredible epiphany that capes are a great idea for quick traversal, while the combat rarely evolves beyond one button combat – it’s a bit of a letdown. Loot systems are present, giving players the chance to upgrade their characters with new gear, but these actually feel more like an unnecessary barrier between the player and the pure joy of combat found in the Arkham games.Leveling your characters isn’t fun, and the level gates thrown up for some core missions will force players out into Gotham to complete what are sometimes (Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze, and Clayface quest arcs excluded) some incredibly mundane, tedious task simply to build the XP, to level up, so as you don’t get your face caved in by a basic level goon in your next main mission. The first four to five primary cases you can largely push through with little fuss, but upon completing the completing those, and beginning the next chapter, the level requirements spike, and the difficulty with it, forcing you to engage with the games’ weakest elements.
Gotham Knights, unlike the Arkham games can be played in co-op, and while it seems obvious that the feature was an afterthought, highlighted in cutscenes where only the host player can be present for the scenes themselves, it’s the act of playing with a friend that really makes Gotham Knights’ Gotham shine brightest. Smashing down a band of goons for little reward is far more fun when you’re back to back with another superhero tag-teaming in a pain infliction contest. This all works when you remain in the same area, however the game starts to fall apart if the gap between your both widens. Gotham Knights’ co-op experience is untethered for the most part, allowing the two online players to venture off in other directions, but should you do so, and the gap gets too wide, the game’s performance, which is already running at a sub-par 30FPS (and it still often doesn’t hit even when playing alone), really labours. It is in moments like these that you see the nine years of development hell, as systems that were clearly designed for previous generation platforms really show their age in 2022 at the game’s launch.
Clocking in at around 20 hours in length, Gotham Knight’s primary narrative, along with the few other key side quest pillars is pretty reasonable. The game certainly should have been shorter, with the loot/leveling systems removed then cutting the bloat from the game that is now present. Gotham Knight’s isn’t the beautiful starry night game we’d hoped it would be, it’s a bit more cloudy than that, but it does try to make some key changes to the formula, some that work, but others that fall flat hard. What doesn’t fall flat is the game’s presentation in a range of different areas. The sounds of the city always intrigue, from gun shots in the distance, pricking the ears of a superhero looking to help others, to the hum of the city life, with residents going about their day. The cutscenes are delivered extremely well, from the opening with Batman to the numerous others throughout the game, from the Belfry exchanges between themselves and Alfred, to other cutscenes with the games’ key antagonists, the voice acting is great, as is the visual quality. Sadly in gameplay though, Gotham Knights, despite it being seven years since the last Arkham title, and built on the same foundations, actually manages to look worse than 2015’s Arkham Knight.
In spite of all of its faults, and there are plenty, there’s a joy that can be found from flying, riding, and zip-lining around the streets of Gotham, there’s a thrill and moments of foreboding that comes with the Court Of Owls and the mystery that envelopes them. At times Gotham Knights shines as brightly as Sirius, the brightest star in our sky, but then moments later, the game gets shrouded in clouds as the clouds (WB Montreal design decisions) do their very best to obscure the game’s best elements. The game had the potential to be so much more than even what the Arkham games were, being built on their DNA but then built upon further with new co-op systems, and loot, but each of these feel so ham-fisted that they instead make the product worse for their inclusion.
Gotham Knights was reviewed on PS5 with a code kindly supplied by distributor Plaion ANZ.