Gotham Knights, Review
Gotham Knights, oh, how the mighty have fallen. WB Games in conjunction with the geniuses at Rocksteady Games crafted the best super hero games ever made. The Batman Arkham games revolutionised 3rd person brawlers and they all still hold up today. However, with Rocksteady moving onto a new I.P and WB Montreal now taking up the “Batman Universe” games, we have as a result received Gotham Knights.
And Oh…how the mighty have fallen.
That’s a big Bat Statement, Bruce!
Hyperbole aside, you get my drift. Gotham Knights is not a great game. Granted, WB Montreal have been at great pains to state, this is a totally separate series from the Arkham titles. But I call bullshit on that, as ostensibly Gotham Knights is an Arkham copy, just a really, really bad one. Compared to Arkham, it lacks the fine tuning, mission design and graphical quality. Frankly, this 2022 game is streets behind the game series that so clearly inspired it.
I feel I’m being pretty brutal, so I will throw the game a bone… before I get into ripping apart the meat. Batman is dead.
Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing and Red Hood are now in charge of keeping Gotham safe. This story is actually delivered very well. I enjoyed the voice work and the animation in the cutscenes was solid. If anything, the jarring difference between the quality of the excellent cutscenes and then the terrible gameplay and design, just agitates me even more. As shallow as this sounds, I now pine for what could have been!
The Arkham games were 3rd person melee combat master-piece. However with Gotham Knights, for some reason, WB Montreal decided to totally move away from the amazing combat system! Everything about Gotham Knights combat feels bland and unsatisfying. Arkham, and even the other WB game in this vein, Shadow of Mordor, had a rhythm, a skill level or even a puzzle aspect. Its combat design taught, and later demanded, patience and mastery.
Gotham Knights feels vastly simplified, floaty, unrefined and in the greatest of video cliches… very “button mashy”.
But this goes to what many pundits in the space have guessed was the true design philosophy behind Gotham Knights. Many suspect that Gotham Knights was supposed to be a sort of MMO, akin to the Marvels Avengers of a couple of years ago. However, when the gaming public recoiled massively from both the MMO aspects and the “mashy” gameplay in Avengers, WB Montreal were likely forced to make a rushed pivot.
This suspected pivot notwithstanding, the brittle bones of the MMO under the surface are there to be seen still. We could be wrong though. But if there was no pivot, I think that is an even greater indictment on WB Montreal. As the core Gotham Knights design from the get-go, was more terrible than I could have imagined to have ended up like this.
During missions around Gotham, a constant stream of ‘materials’ drop from enemies and chests, in massive quantities. You will quickly have resources in the thousands! These are used to craft and upgrade weapons and armour. Identical to any MMO launched in the last 10 years. However, it seems there was no economic scaling or balancing done. I very quickly had thousands and thousands of resources and nothing to spend them on. This situation just smacks of a freemiuim model, where ingame currency and resources are built into the games systems at every step. But these systems must have been scrapped and now the player is just given anything and everything all at once, thus saving the trouble of any actual tuning by the dev team.
Armour and Gear drops with arbitrary numbers and stats. These push up even more arbitrary levels and numbers, once again similar to any MMO. And this would be fine…if I was playing a MMO that was tuned and balanced. But this is a single player (or 2 player Co-Op) narrative based, DC superhero game. And these levels and stats in the game systems seem to have no meaningful effect on anything except how spongy enemies are. The overall experience is shallow and grindy.
Batman’s movement in the Arkham games, particularly Arkham City was a highlight. Grappling over buildings and gliding to objectives was excellent. There is still a grappling hook in Gotham Knights, all be it super clunky to use. But the gliding or each characters variation of the locomotion is locked behind a grindy “knighthood quest”. This involves stopping crimes in Gotham, interigrating a criminal at each crime, to then go and stop the next crime. This has to be done 20 times on EACH of the four characters. CRAZY! All are essentially the same repetitive activity, with the identical process. Just to unlock gliding. Somthing I suspect these Bat-Kids learnt from old Batman, first day on the job!
The game is FULL of this type of open world canon fodder missions. Just like….yep, you guessed it, most modern MMOs. As I alluded to earlier, the combat has been grossly paired down when compared to Arkham. There are various moves and skills available, but combat boils down to a dodge, a heavy and a light attack. And this never changes. It is simple, forgettable and mindless. Just like Marvel Avengers… I managed 7 or 8 hours and could not bare to play any more. The combat, terrible character movement, floaty controls and repetitive enemies was numbing!
To the Bat Expectations Robin!
Now, the cutscenes do look and sound great. There is a cool ‘Bat-Story’ under the hood. But everything else looks and sounds poor, especially considering the power on offer in the PS5 and Series X. Gotham Knights can only run at 30fps, there is no smooth 60fps mode which is crazy for a 2022 game. There is literally nothing on display to push the most humble of GPUs, let alone my grunty PS5. Gotham city is basically void of life. Basically, Gotham Knights looks tangibly worse than Arkham City which came out over 10 years ago. Even the U.I and menus are clunky, garish and just plain ‘old’ looking. Honestly, it feels like a PS2 title in menu design. Momentum and speed on the ‘Bat-Bike’ are relayed with anime-esque speedlines, akin to games from 20 years ago. The whole package seems like it was put together with gaffer tape and bat-glue!
What I’m getting at, is that this title seems half-assed. Sure, its an approachable action brawler, but that seems to have come at the cost of any innovation and quality. I suspect a large pivot has occurred during development and a MMO-esque game, has been shoehorned into a shallow single-player release. Just to get something out the door.
Case Closed Commissioner.
There is no love here. No design philosophy to give a rewarding experience for gamers. Worst of all, no respect for the broader I.P. and the industry leading advancements made under the same WB Games banner in the Arkham series.
No matter what anyone says, Gotham Knights was always going to be compared to the Batman Arkham games, suffice to say, it falls very short.
So, give this one a miss.