Gotham Knights review: beautiful world undermined by slow combat

Gotham Knights review: beautiful world undermined by slow combat

Despite this, he towers over the lives of his protégés. He chose only those he trusted, those who could withstand the darkness he dealt with and, even posthumously, represents. It is these protégés, the so-called bat family – Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl and Red Hood – that are central to WB Games Montréal’s Gotham Knights. All are haunted by the death of their mentor and father figure. Throughout this third-person open-world adventure, players switch between one of the four before a mission, battling old enemies—and one new one—from the Dark Knight. While the game does a lot right, there’s also a lot that holds it back from realizing its full heroic potential.

After setting up a base of operations in the famous Belfry Tower with Alfred, the Bat-Family must continue their work of monitoring everyone’s favorite troubled city, Gotham. Although Bruce Wayne is dead to the public, only a few realize that this means Batman as well. And when villains begin to figure it out, old enemies pour in again, as if the Dark Knight was a blockade keeping such villainy out. It was interesting to see Batman’s enemies discover his death: Harley Quinn’s face conveyed genuine sadness for a few seconds, Clayface’s disbelief, and so on.

From their daytime base of operations, the Bat Family prepares for a night of patrolling. You can research and craft new suits and weapons, engage in trivia and cute cutscenes with your bat family, and discover more about the person behind the mask in this beautifully realized ancient clock tower. Sunlight streaming through dust, video games waiting to be played, a small gym waiting covered in sweat behind a detective board that grows as you progress with each case.

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A screenshot of Gotham City in Gotham Knights.

Image: WB Games

While on patrol, all of Gotham is open to explore. Crimes are committed constantly while others can be prevented by collecting clues from defeated enemies – this evidence can only be collected when returning to the clock tower. Our heroes also don’t auto-heal: while you have some recovery points while on patrol (and enemies sometimes lose health), you’re forced to return if you run out. I quite enjoyed this as it made me feel like I was really on patrol as a powerful yet deadly hero.

While many crimes are procedural and repetitive, these are merely side activities. However, sometimes you will be required, for the main plot, to help stop a bank robbery or prevent a prisoner escape (all of which repeat around the city) in the open world.

The game is split between the main case folder – Batman’s final but incomplete case – and two or three others about bigger villains, like Harley Quinn. You can switch between these at any time. While many of these occur in the open world itself, others are set in their own closed stages. In fact, what I loved about this world and this Gotham was how many interiors I could navigate – all beautifully detailed with gorgeous lighting and sound design. From Iceberg Lounge to Arkham Asylum, luxury hotels to Blackgate Penitentiary: all fully realized and designed. In contrast, I found the open world to be quite monotonous, unable to really tell which district I was in from sight alone. However, I appreciated seeing residents on the streets, making snarky remarks about vigilantes. And once you’re on the ground, you see some differences between, for example, rich and poor areas, commercial and more residential areas.

There is little doubt about the influence of the Arkham series

Gotham Knights is set in its own universe, completely separate from Rocksteady’s Arkham series. However, there is little doubt about the influence of Rocksteady’s series Knights‘ combat mechanics: a single hero surrounded by multiple goons who use abilities and movement mechanics to deal and avoid damage. Furthermore, grappling and sliding abilities also look and feel like those in Arkham series. Fighting and traversing are the two things you’ll want to do the most in the game.

It’s a shame, then, that due to the game’s terrible framerate, the matches were often a chore to play.

I was unpleasantly surprised to find that the game ran at 30 frames on the Xbox Series X, and even then it felt like less. Proper performance reviews will no doubt provide the hard numbers, but the game felt like a pain to play – especially during matches. Every stroke felt like it was being forced through mud. Precision and reaction were always off due to the poor response time between pressing a button and a hero performing an action.

Besides, it’s a shame ArkhamTelegraphy was not used here. Instead, i Knights, vague white halos emerge from the enemy’s hands and feet that, in the haze of a battle, are hard to make out; when you are about to be shot, a very thin white line from a gun’s barrel to your body will “warn” you. But you also have no off-screen telegraph messages, which means you’ll be punched or kicked by enemies off screen. Maybe this encourages you to constantly encounter enemies, but I found this ridiculous: our highly trained heroes can at least sense movement behind them.

The excellent writing and performances deserved better fight

It’s so disappointing that the combat feels this way because the animations are truly amazing when they occur. This game is a visual stunner. And the excellent writing and performances deserved better fight.

After all, combat is central to the game. And sometimes you need precision for certain game mechanics, like stealth. But due to the weak frame rate, du want aim wrong or mistime a beat. The game also doesn’t do a very good job with stealth mechanics, as there are few tools to use. You simply have to learn to take down enemies silently and escape with a grapple: there are almost no decoys or ways to hide bodies like in other stealth games (including, I’m sorry to repeat, Arkham – but even Marvel’s Spider-Man had great stealth mechanics. Spider Man?!).

A screenshot of a fight sequence in Gotham Knights.

Image: WB Games

But the game also makes one a lot right: as I said, the visuals and sound are amazing. What stands out is the writing and the performances, as all members of the Bat-family navigate their grief and difficulties fighting crime, dealing with their pasts together. There are entire cutscenes dedicated solely to each member dealing with their emotions, and a family member who knows them best helping them come out on the other side. It is healthy and loving. It doesn’t advance the plot at all and is skippable, but it was always welcome. I felt real love for these characters and their world from the game’s writers.

Also, there is unique dialogue for each scenario depending on who you play. So if you chose the Red Hood to fight Harley, there are unique cutscenes that specifically mock him for his past. During fights, she calls him “Dead Hood”; as Nightwing conveyed a character’s knowledge of Dick Grayson’s real identity. Even small cutscenes with smaller characters result in different dialogue. I can’t believe how long it must have taken to register all of this. This is not only dialogue, but also cutscenes: for example, cutscenes from battle scenes play differently depending on who your chosen hero is, since each hero uses different types of weapons.

Characters level up by earning XP by fighting and completing quests, but everyone levels up at the same time. Finding a better weapon for one means finding a better weapon for all. The fight is mixing Arkham fight with build-up abilities, as seen in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Suits and weapons can be found or crafted, and all look incredible. They can also be changed when you return to the Belfry.

Synchronizing character levels encourages you to switch between heroes depending on what mission you want to do: for example, Robin is best at stealth, Batgirl at hacking, Nightwing at sass, and Red Hood at range. I really enjoyed tying specific heroes to specific stories or enemies, as it felt like a character arc. For example, I made Nightwing the central character to deal with the Court of Owls, and he gets badly hurt. While being patched up by Alfred, he points to a poster of the Flying Graysons, his dead parents, and talks about how they inspire him to rise up and defend Gotham. If I hadn’t chosen Nightwing, I would never have seen this.

What anchors this game is the characters and the writing – and as I say, this is handled incredibly. It’s a testament to both the writers and performers that I felt connected to these heroes and found comfort in their building of trust and friendship with each other.

What anchors this game are the characters and the writing

The main story and story starts off strong, and the Court of Owls makes for fantastically creepy villains. Our heroes are forced to engage in the world of the super rich as outsiders (despite being wards of Bruce Wayne, since Bruce shied away from such people). There is some subversion since the final boss was somewhat predictable, but still very welcome. It’s rare that I enjoy a final boss fight, but like all good fights, the game spent a lot of time building up to it; it’s not just about throwing punches, but confronting inner emotional conflicts as well.

I don’t know what to do with what’s in front of me. On the one hand, great writing, beautiful images, and enjoyable performances sold the world to me. I could spend hours with these heroes and in this world. But considering that so much of that time would be spent on combat, which is severely undermined by terrible frame rates, I’m not entirely keen on doing that either. It feels like wanting to eat a delicious meal served in a garbage can.

I enjoyed my time with these heroes, villains and this beautiful world. But I’m hesitant to go back to or recommend it given the choppy framerate and slow combat. If you can overlook these issues, you’ll find an enjoyable open-world action game with moments of levity and sanity. Even though Batman himself may be dead, it felt great to play in the spandex and capes of his proteges.

Gotham Knights launches on October 21st for PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC.

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