Superheroes have always been a big part of entertainment media and popular culture, but no more so than the last few decades. Superhero movies have dominated Hollywood, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man, and Batman films soaking up most of the attention. This has also caused a surge of popularity in superhero video games, with some tremendous titles being released in recent history. That said, some superhero games fail to save the day, with the biggest culprit probably being Marvel’s Avengers. Marvel‘s biggest rival, DC Comics, has consistently found success with their games. Especially Batman, who has always had a great time on the medium with the terrific Batman: Arkham games and those super cool Telltale games. DC’s latest mainline video game entry is an ambitious one and could be one of the best, but it could also be one of the worst. It’s been one year since it was released, and it’s time to decide if it is a misunderstood masterpiece or a missed opportunity? Let’s talk about Gotham Knights.
The premise of Gotham Knights is fascinating. Batman has died, and his sidekicks, who have basically established themselves as their own heroes, must now take over the mantle of Gotham City’s protectors as new threats rise. The four main characters who make up the Knights are Dick Grayson (Nightwing), Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), Jason Todd (Red Hood), and Tim Drake (Robin). Each of these characters is playable and has their own unique combat style, abilities, gear, and ways to traverse Gotham. The game also supports a 2-player co-op and a 4-player co-op in the Heroic Assault DLC, which is absolutely worth giving a try with some friends. Sounds great, right? Well, for a lot of parts, yeah, it is. But unfortunately, for this game, not everything is executed as it should have been.
Let’s start with the gameplay. The combat was criticized for being basic and lacking a variety that would have freshened up the focus on grinding. The combat relies on a rhythmic “timed strike” mechanic that is really fun to play with but can get old pretty fast. The idea is that if you press the attack button as your character lands a hit with the right timing, higher damage, and more impressive combos can be achieved. This concept is interesting, but it feels like not enough was done with it. You can also dodge attacks, which is fun, but what feels lacking is that there is no effective counterattack mechanic that can be utilized.
The characters each have unique abilities, known in the game as momentum abilities, and this is perhaps something that saves the combat gameplay. These include abilities focussed brilliantly on the character’s strengths. For example, Batgirl is a tenacious brawler with high-damage, single-target abilities. In contrast, Nightwing has abilities focused on dancing around the battlefield like the acrobat he is. These abilities and the different combo animations for each character make it feel unique to your chosen hero.
Gotham City has been portrayed in many different ways in video games, and the version we get in Gotham Knights is pretty gorgeous. The world is built with impressive attention to detail and is a joy to explore. It may not be the biggest or most fantastic open world, but it certainly does the job. This world is also packed with things to do where every time you leave the Knights hideout, the Belfry, you begin a new patrol, and procedurally generated crimes will appear all over the city, with some you can only uncover by interrogating the baddies that you beat up. There are plenty of collectibles to find and various challenges you can tackle, from racing the Batcycle around town to using the traversal abilities to complete time trials. While the game certainly doesn’t revolutionize open-world design, it is an enjoyable sandbox to run around in, and with the option of playing co-op, it is made even more fun.
The most significant criticism that Gotham Knights gets is in its supremely unfair comparison to the Batman: Arkham games. Gotham Knights is technically a follow-up to the Arkham games but was made by a different developer, WB Games Montréal, and shares nothing of the continuity. Gotham Knights is very different from the Arkham games and is best thought of as a spiritual successor rather than an outright follow-up. Where Arkham Knight concluded Batman’s story after his work was finished, this game follows a similar idea, setting the stage for the Gotham Knights to take over. Batman has cleaned up the streets of Gotham and helped return hope and optimism to its people, and that is the primary thematic choice for Gotham Knights. The streets are cleaner, the weather less violent, and the mood less angsty and brooding. The visual style of Gotham Knights is more vibrant and exciting, and this feels like an excellent choice for the more upbeat and light-hearted characters. Yes, Gotham Knights is nowhere near as good as the Arkham games, but this does not mean it is a bad game.
Gotham Knights is an entirely different game from when it was released. Waves of updates have been released for the game, fixing many issues that plagued it at launch. Rendering and asset clipping issues were addressed, like Red Hood’s zero gravity hoodie drawstrings, along with many other problems that marred the gameplay. The frame rate is still locked at 30fps, but frame rate drops are a much rarer occurrence. Technically, the game is far superior to what it was at launch, and it’s frustrating considering the idea that this was an unfinished game that was forced to be released by a publisher expecting to meet a stringent release window. This is an issue that has plagued so many games recently.
The biggest frustration that still exists in the game is the completely random nature of the gear and modchip systems. Gear in the form of a suit, melee, and ranged weapon can be found in the open world when defeating enemies, along with blueprints that can be used to craft new gear items. Also found in the same way are modchips, which are items that can be equipped to the various gear pieces to improve their stats ever so slightly. The biggest problem with these systems is that you cannot control what gear pieces or modchips you will find or their respective stats. It is a total lottery to find the gear that you would like to use for your selected hero, and as soon as you find something you like, the next time you go out on patrol, you will find new pieces of gear that render your current loadout totally obsolete. This makes the game an endless cycle of shuffling through gear that you don’t want or sticking to gear you do and struggling to keep up with the enemy difficulty spikes.
It may not be a technical marvel, but this game delivers where it counts. The characterization of its four lead characters is the highlight of the game. Each Knight has a personality and a rich backstory leaning on DC comic canon, and the voice acting is very well delivered, making each actor feel like the perfect choice. Each character has a set of side stories specific to them that develop their personal narrative away from the main game as they deal with the death of their collective father figure, Batman. These moments are some of the most memorable. The story is competently delivered, albeit a little cliché and predictable at times, but there are tons of fun action sequences and an ending that feels earned and satisfying. The meaningful changes to the gameplay through updates have certainly turned this game around from being a below-average slog to a pretty solid superhero action game.
So, is Gotham Knights a misunderstood masterpiece? Well, yes and no, really. It is a game that had the potential to be something terrific, but silly design choices and a very clearly rushed finished project spoiled any chance for this game to rise from the shadows of the Arkham games, unfair comparison or not. Gotham Knights is actually more frustrating than anything else when considering the potential that this title had. Undeniably and painfully so, this game is a huge missed opportunity.
It is still an enjoyable game, and elements of it are some of the best that the superhero genre has to offer. I would still highly recommend playing Gotham Knights, as it is a terrific game hidden behind some minor frustrations that are not as prevalent anymore. It has finally made the jump onto the console subscription services of Xbox’s Game Pass and PlayStation Plus’ Game Catalog so, having said that, there has never been a better time to step into The Knight.
What do you think of Gotham Knights? Are you going to give it a try? And do you think it is a great game that just felt a bit misunderstood? Let us know below and on our socials.
As for me, The Knight calls… and I must answer.
*Whooshing Cape Sounds*