Gotham Knights is not a good game, despite what some corners of the internet claim. But it’s not a bad game, either. It’s not good enough to love, yet it’s not bad enough to stop playing. The most tragic and infuriating part of this game is not that it isn’t good, but that choices intentionally made by the development team hold Gotham Knights back from being great. I have long defended WB Games Montréal’s ability to make a Batman game because Batman: Arkham Origins was unfairly maligned. They also developed the Red Hood, Harley Quinn, Batgirl, and Scarecrow DLC packs for Batman: Arkham Knight. Unfortunately, I can’t defend Gotham Knights with the same passion. Let’s look at what WB Games Montréal did right, what they missed the mark on, and what decisions felt like a Batarang directly to the eye.
Please beware that there are story spoilers in the article below – if you plan on playing Gotham Knights, read at your own risk.
Gotham Knights starts with a bang – literally. Batman and Ra’s al Ghul are locked in combat in the Batcave, tearing the place apart. Batman is clearly losing and takes drastic measures to stop his foe, blowing up the Batcave and killing both men. Nightwing, Red Hood, Batgirl, and Robin gather to mourn their fallen mentor and determine how to proceed without the Dark Knight. They settle on solving Batman’s final case, as they assume he had to have been on to something big. This setup is a great one, as the stakes are clearly laid out. Something big is going down in Gotham, and Batman isn’t around to stop it. Neither is Jim Gordon, who died a few years prior to the events of the game. Commissioner Kane is anti-vigilante, so most interactions with the GCPD will be violent.
The vigilantes are immediately sent to investigate a strange murder – Dr. Kirk Langstrom, someone Bat-fans immediately recognize as Man-Bat. He was clearly researching things that would turn him into Man-Bat in other media, but he’s dead. So why add this part? Here, we find the first of many missteps to come. We are teased with a cool and scary character, then he’s ripped away in an instant. Don’t worry though, Man-Bat will show up later courtesy of the League of Assassins. Not Dr. Langstrom, but multiple Man-Bats that are just generic enemies to punch. This will be a running theme – Gotham Knights gives you something very cool and then lets it fizzle out into nothingness.
The early story shows off one of the main highlights of Gotham Knights – the interactions between members of the Bat-Family. Nightwing, Red Hood, Batgirl, and Robin all clearly have a shared and deep history. They have connections and problems with each other, and it’s clear from the opening moments of the game. The voice acting in the Bat-Family is superb, and Alfred lends both emotional weight and calming stability with every line. Batman, however, has the worst “Batman” voice of all time. It sounds like his actor was speaking with a mouthful of pebbles into voice-changing software. Bruce Wayne is nearly perfect sounding, but Batman is painful. Other DC Comics characters make their debut through emails, including Superman, Wonder Woman, Roy Harper, and others. These emails show a deep shared history as well. It’s a nice touch to show that these characters are part of a larger universe.
Through investigations and stopping crimes around the city, the Bat-Family runs into familiar foes like Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze, Penguin, and Clayface. With help from Penguin and Talia al Ghul (recently “excommunicated” from the League of Assassins), the Bat-Family uncovers the Court of Owls – a dangerous secret cabal that’s been controlling Gotham City since its inception. The Court of Owls is relatively new to Batman lore, only being introduced in 2012, but is a strong and intimidating presence. Thankfully, the introduction of the Court doesn’t disappoint, with the player tracking down clues and hunting through old structures until you come across a secret meeting place.
You learn that the Court of Owls is using a synthetic formula like the Lazarus Pit to create Talons, a mindless foot soldier that carries out the Court’s orders in secret. The Court is looking for a way to create stronger Talons that retain more cognitive processes and that is what caught the eye of the League of Assassins (hence Ra’s al Ghul and then his daughter Talia returning to Gotham). In an utterly unsurprising twist, Talia was using the Bat-Family to coax the Court of Owls out of hiding (with the help of non-Court-loyal-GCPD officers) so the League of Assassins could kill them all. This twist turns Gotham City into a warzone, with the League’s soldiers bathing the city in the blood of those loyal to the Court.
Sadly, it’s at this point, about 3/4 of the way through the game, that the story goes from great to horrible. You are forced to run around and mindlessly beat up enemies (including Man-Bats created by the League to be “super soldiers”) to stop the violence and keep the League of Assassins from destroying the city. You ultimately find a Lazarus pit directly under the Batcave. Shocker, right? In an even less surprising twist, Talia reveals a body in the Lazarus Pit – Bruce Wayne. He is brainwashed and under the control of Talia, and you must beat him up to “talk sense” into him. I’m not kidding, after you stun him there’s a button prompt to “reason” with Bruce. After successfully beating up a recently deceased man, you’re able to talk Bruce back into the real world. There is almost no emotional weight to this scene at all. As quickly as the scene begins, Bruce heroically steps in front of Talia’s sword and is stabbed through the chest. He has a moment to talk to your character, and speaks like he’s been watching all four characters save the city after he died. Yet it’s painfully clear that he’s only become aware of himself after your one character beats the snot out of him.
The Court of Owls shows up to find the Pit they’ve been looking for. Naturally, Bruce sacrifices himself by blowing up the Bat-Wing in a drawn-out, embarrassingly over-acted, and unearned scene of fake emotional gravity. It would have been better to escape the cave with Bruce alive and have him sacrifice himself later when he learns the Lazarus Pit is affecting his mind. He could reconnect with the entire team before dying again, giving legitimate emotional stakes. Instead, he talks about how proud he is of everyone, not knowing that any of the other members of the Bat-Family are even still around. Returning to the base of operations has the group mourning all over again but being glad they got to say goodbye and see Bruce again. Except only one of the five characters (I’m including Alfred here) actually got to see Bruce. The way the scenes were written still baffles me. Gotham Knights sadly started strong and ended with a pathetic whimper.
The mechanics of Gotham Knights pair awesome ideas with horrible execution. For every great idea, the game takes two steps back with how the ideas are presented and carried out.
Throughout the game, you have mission chains, case files, and other side objectives. In order to progress, you need to stop or research crimes and collect clues. Researching crimes and collecting evidence makes you feel like you are solving a crime. However, the “crimes” you stop are generic – thugs beating up a cop, thugs beating up a person, thugs in a shootout with cops, etc. The murder scene investigations are not unique – it’s always just a dead body with a couple things to hover over and “discover” before you just select one piece of evidence to “solve” the crime. The “clues” you collect are essentially just red experience points that pop out of enemies when you defeat them. On a positive note, these clues and solved crimes lead to larger arena-type fights and crimes. These larger crimes and areas are always sent to one of a very small number of locations and never involves anything more than “beat up these guys” or “beat up the waves of enemies.” I cleared out the same “Owl’s Nest” six times (I cleared eight in the entire game) and cleared the exact same dock for multiple “criminals in hiding” and Montoya missions. There was no variety.
Gotham Knights presents the side missions involving popular villains in a unique way – they are structured as “case files” that need to be investigated. There are only three case files in the game, though – Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze, and Clayface. They do not take long to complete. Each file features varied locations that fit the villain they are structured around, but all the case file missions boil down to “go to the next room and beat people up.” The boss fights are visually impressive– Harley’s fight is in a big hospital area, Mr. Freeze is in a giant ice mech on the frozen river, and Clayface in the sewers with clay statues depicting his fights with Batman in the background like a movie set. Unfortunately, in each case the boss fight is literally just hitting the boss over and over until the health bar runs out – no strategy, no special quirks, nothing.
The boss fights bring to mind the single most unforgivable sin that Gotham Knights commits – the combat. There is no counter system. It’s not something to unlock as a perk or learn over time – it’s literally nonexistent. Your only way to avoid damage is to dodge attacks. There is a noticeable input delay in hitting dodge and your character responding, so enemy attacks often land even while you are mid-dodge. You are almost guaranteed to be hit in combat unless you sneak up and take care of nearly every enemy with a silent takedown. Nightwing has a special “chain dodge” that can end in a devastating attack to surrounding enemies and it is nearly impossible to pull off even at the lowest difficulty setting – you are always getting hit mid-dodge. Combat is entirely too slow. Deliberate strikes and attacks are fine in theory, but each character is actively slow and weak. Hits have little to no power behind them, and you rarely feel like you can overpower even the lowest-level thugs. The game has a noticeable delay in time between strikes for all characters, meaning if you try to chain multiple hits you will almost certainly be interrupted by an enemy strike. This makes combos practically useless. Each time you hit the attack button, your character will perform one hit at random, each with inconsistent timing. This inconsistent timing of hits means it’s nearly impossible to pull off the “perfect” hits you will need to defeat enemies. The only way to play the game and not destroy your controller is to set the combat difficulty to “Very Easy” to even out the playing field. Messing up combat in a Batman game is unacceptable.
The Belfry (also known as the Clock Tower in Gotham Knights) is an awesome base of operations for training, interactions, and crafting/equipping new equipment. It is clearly a location that is lived in, with each character giving it their own personal touch. It doesn’t evolve much over the course of the game outside of adding a couple trophies from the side missions. You must end the night’s patrol to re-enter the Belfry, so you need to re-discover premeditated crimes when you go back out. When you go back out, it’s the next day. Put this together with needing to re-enter the Belfry to finish the Knighthood objective for each hero (unlocking the new traversal techniques) and you have at least 4 full in-game days before all your heroes can use their special abilities. Also, why does the game count the number of days if it doesn’t mean anything? There was no difference in completing a mission on Night 20 or Night 45, so why track that sort of thing?
You must return to the Belfry to switch between characters, which is an annoyance. If all the characters are out on patrol every night, there’s no reason to keep the player from swapping between characters when out on patrol. Being able to do any mission with any character is cool, but the game doesn’t remember who completed what mission. No matter who you switch to, the new character (and everyone around them) acts like it is the new character who participated in the mission, whether it was them or not. It’s an odd writing choice, as it could have been avoided entirely by either requiring certain heroes perform certain missions, or simply having the game remember who did what. At this point in game development, would that have been too much to ask for?
Each member of the Bat-Family has unique skill trees for each character to fill unique roles. Sadly, every character can fill any role (stealth, tank, brawler, ranged) even though the skill trees imply otherwise. This versatility is nice for someone who wants to switch up characters, but makes the skill trees utterly useless. Each character has a unique traversal ability (Robin uses the JLA Watchtower to teleport short distances, Batgirl uses suit gliding like Batman, Nightwing has a slow rocket-powered glider that lets you fly as far as you want, and Red Hood can use a soul-energy-powered Mystical Leap to jump across thin air) that are visually impressive but unfortunately don’t help you move too much faster than just grappling. These abilities fun to look at and fit with the character’s style, but they are locked behind the trivially simple and tedious Knighthood challenges. The game’s traversal outside of the unique abilities is also quite poor, making it annoying to travel through Gotham. The Bat-Cycle is a very poor substitute for the Bat-Mobile. Most environments just have you stop dead in your tracks when you hit them. Grappling is unpredictable, as you will often change grapple targets without knowing it. There is no mantling system, meaning you will almost always just stick to a ledge when grappling and then wait before pulling yourself up.
Visually, Gotham Knights has its ups and downs. Gotham, for the first time, has actual citizens milling around and having conversations. In previous games featuring the city (Origins and Knight), there was an excuse for there being no citizens. In Origins, it was Christmas Eve and bitter cold, so all the Gothamites were indoors. In Arkham Knight, the city was evacuated due to a terrorist threat by Scarecrow. Here, Gotham is lived in, but somehow feels emptier and more devoid of life. I’m not sure how, but a city that was almost entirely evacuated due to a terror threat felt more lived-in than Gotham Knights. Each character has a huge variety in costumes and color choices. Transmogs allow you to alter appearance on the fly, though you can’t make tweaks to transmogs like you can the “base” version of each suit. Unlocking new suit transmogs and colors is tedious and unclear, but the styles are unique and cool. Unfortunately, the suit physics are awful – Batgirl and Robin’s capes move with a mind of their own and Red Hood’s sweatshirt drawstrings act like dowsing rods. Occasionally they’ll stick straight out and completely ruin a scene. I actively avoided any suit in which Red Hood had a hoodie on.
Gotham Knights should have been great. The game launched with game-breaking frame rate issues. I played on day one and had to stop playing for a couple weeks while almost daily updates sought to fix the issue. It’s improved, but the consistent frame rate is still embarrassingly low for a PS5/Series X/S title.
The end credits and the prison fight early in the Harley Quinn mission feature perhaps the worst cover of Livin’ La Vida Loca to ever be recorded. It is a terrible song and it is entirely out of place in a Batman game. The people who thought this would be a good idea to include in the game should not be allowed to make video games ever again. I am filled with unnecessary rage over this stupid song’s inclusion. It is a career-killing song and they deserve it. The awful remake of Livin’ La Vida Loca song ultimately serves as a metaphor for the entirety of Gotham Knights. The idea of having a high-energy song play during a prison riot orchestrated by Harley Quinn is a good idea. The chaos would go perfectly with a good song. The song the developers actively chose was cringeworthy and horrible. It’s impossible to describe how bad this song is. Listen for yourself:
The developers were so pleased with themselves that they added the full track to the end credits. It’s a shocking display of pride in garbage decision-making. Maybe I’m out of touch – the comments section on the YouTube video for this song are surprisingly positive.
I don’t know who I would recommend this game to. I don’t know if I can recommend this game to anyone at all. Better action RPGs exist. Better Batman games exist. This isn’t the worst game I ever played, but it’s not a good game. I suppose Batman fans that aren’t huge fans of the original Arkham series can find enjoyment. Fans of the Arkham series need to stay away. I am a huge fan of the Arkham games, so ultimately Gotham Knights is little more than a game of wasted potential to me.
For more videogame rants, check out Brett’s thoughts on the state of Halo.