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Till this day, the best way to grab my attention is to open any conversation with “Batman is dead,” just as Geoff Keighley did on stage during one of his many live events some time ago. Bonus points if you can sneak it into a meeting if you feel as if I am drifting away mentally. In just three words, WB Montreal set the stage for a brand-new game that is a departure from the traditional Arkham series. Does Gotham Knights stand on its own? Let’s take a look and see if the protégés of the world’s greatest detective stand on their own.
First and foremost, Gotham Knights is not an Arkham game by any means whatsoever, and you will see folks make endless comparisons till you become a super villain. While the Arkham games had you playing as the caped crusader, Gotham Knights throws you into the roles of Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, and Red Hood. With their feet to the fire, the team must deal with a Gotham in mourning, chaotic villains, and each other. If you play through Gotham Knights wishing you were Batman the entire time, you’re going to dislike this game immensely, because it isn’t about Batman; it is about this team coming together and acting on their own without guardrails, finally understanding how difficult Batman’s job really is.
Gotham Knights is a game heavy in narrative concepts, and without spoiling too much, I can say that the story is worth sticking around for, at the very least. Watching each of the characters interact with each other is pretty fun, interesting, and feels quite natural. There are a few times where you have these special moments between characters, and it feels just right. Each member brings their unique personality to the table in a narrative and gameplay sense.
There are a lot of aspects that point to Gotham Knights seeming like a Games as a Service (GaaS) title, but it doesn’t feel that way at all, at least not in the current review state. Everything within the game is designed for the sake of quality of life. For instance, if you chose Nightwing at the start of the game, you could easily switch to a different character at the Belfry (the game’s hub area) and keep your character level. You can also play with others, even if you both chose the same character. Additionally, there are no level limits, so you can play with whomever you want with some adjustments to enemy power. If you decide to play with a friend through the story, progress doesn’t fully carry over to your game, but you do have the option to skip through various parts if you already completed them within your friend’s game. Everything Gotham Knights does is for the benefit of the player’s experience.
Combat also feels great at times. Each character has several strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to leverage various tactics to take down your foes. Light and heavy attacks are executed with short and long presses, respectively, which feels a bit weird at first but eventually melds into the experience. You quickly forget how awkward it is guessing when to tap or hold, but when you get into heavy combo strings, you begin to master the precision of executing perfect attacks and building up your momentum meter, allowing you to execute even more impressive and devastating attacks.
Also, going from melee to ranged is super easy, barely an inconvenience. Each character has a melee and ranged weapon, with the ranged weapon allowing you to manually aim with the triggers. Otherwise, pressing Y or triangle fires at whatever enemy is highlighted. It is often never the target I have in mind, which presents the first major qualm I have with Gotham Knights.
Combat cues get a bit muddy as the action gets heavier. Everything, from enemies aiming their guns to enemies delivering attacks that can be countered, uses thin white lines which can be difficult to see at times depending on what is going on around you, so you must stay on your toes. One could say that it makes sense narratively as Batman was a combat expert, but while these heroes are no novices, they are not as keen as Batman.
Gotham Knights also has an itemization system designed to increase your suit’s defensive, melee, and ranged capabilities. As every other loot-based game goes, the bigger the number, the better. Enemies don’t drop loot, but instead have blueprints that you can use to craft your gear, turning you into a more formidable hero. You can make the gear out in the field, but you cannot equip it until you head to the Belfry. To be quaint, I find the gearing system to be rather dull and unimaginative. At times I wonder why they even threw it into the game, but I guess there needs to be something there to help drive player progression that isn’t story related.
While gearing is kind of lame, there is transmog, which allows you to don specific outfits without affecting your stats. Some outfits are outright sets that cannot be manipulated, but other outfits allow you to change the style, color, and accessorize your hero. The Batcycle, your mode of transportation on the ground, can also be adjusted to fit your own personal style. Want a pink outfit with a pink Batcycle and look like Pepto Bismol is out for revenge? You can do that once you unlock the color schemes by completing tasks within Gotham. There is a solid photo mode within Gotham Knights, so you can share your photos of your disco-styled fighter.
Adding to the half-baked ideas that fuel Gotham Knight’s various systems is the gameplay loop. You have free rein of Gotham City, and you can travel to various points freely. Some parts may have slightly more difficult enemies which will be challenging to overcome at first but eventually get more manageable as you progress. Whenever you’ve unlocked a cool component or piece of gear, or simply had enough with Gotham, you can return to the Belfry, and everything you collected gets thrown into the Bat-computer. If you are defeated in Gotham, you lose a portion of your resources, so there is a level of risk and reward at play, which really makes the game more interesting. There are several moments where I just ran around the city, fighting enemies and collecting resources because it was fun to do so. I went three hours ignoring the story elements in favor of playing as Nightwing, something I wanted desperately since the Arkham days.
I am going to apologize ahead of time as we enter the controversial segment of the review: Gotham Knight’s performance. The console version of Gotham Knights is passable from what I have seen, but it really shines (literally) on PC. I have two rigs, one featuring an Intel 12500K with 16GB of DDR4 RAM, 1TB PCIe NVMe SSD, and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060, and the other equipped with an AMD Ryzen 7, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, 2TB PCIe NVMe SSD, and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 Ti. Rig #2 surpasses the recommended specs and delivered natural 4K resolution at 60 fps without a hitch. There were some moments where I experienced minor frame drops, but there wasn’t anything that was inherently game breaking.
The first rig with the RTX 2060 did have its fair share of issues with muddy and jagged edges for buildings off in the distance. I didn’t have much of an issue rendering elements closer to me, though, which made traversal a bit of a pain. Gotham Knights is very GPU reliant with an RTX 2070 acting as the recommended baseline graphics card. I don’t know if NVIDIA’s DLSS drivers are ready for this game, but I sure hope it uses it.
To make matters worse for console players who lament the 30 fps and lack of performance modes, the PC version also has a Field of View (FOV) slider, which is great because I feel like Gotham Knights feels its best when FOV is at 100. Otherwise, the camera angles feel tight in some areas, especially when driving around on the Batcycle. Also, the game doesn’t currently run on the Steam Deck at all as it constantly crashes upon startup. So be warned, handheld gamers out there!
I also want to briefly mention that there are extensive accessibility options that are rather robust. I don’t know exactly how useful some of the options are for many disabled gamers out there, but I hope people are happy with them.
As for audio, it is all fine and nothing to really spend too much time on. The music swells with the action, and I don’t care if you’re not into the alternative version of Ricky Martin, that only lasts for a brief segment that you will get over quickly. Punches and kick sound effects are fine, and nothing really seems inconsistent at all. The voice acting is fine with a solid cast, featuring Christopher Sean, Sloane Morgan Siegel, America Young, and Stephen Oyoung, each playing Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, and Red Hood, respectively.
Gotham Knights has a lot going for it with a solid foundation and structure behind it. While the previews haven’t been the best, displaying slow combat and uninteresting gameplay, I found the final product to be way more enjoyable than I initially thought. If anything, I find Gotham Knights to have charm to it with a solid roster of characters, an interesting storyline, and elements that really immersed me into the mystery of Gotham. With a lot to uncover, Gotham Knights will provide fans and those who don’t care as much about performance with a good time.