Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), Xbox Series X, PC
Release Date: October 21, 2022
Gotham Knights is not a Batman: Arkham game. The developers at WB Games Montreal have stressed that since before the game launched, and you’ll almost certainly come to the same conclusion yourself after just a few hours of play. The shadow of the Bat looms large over Gotham Knights.
Comparisons to Rocksteady's popular Arkham trilogy are inevitable — not least because WB Montreal developed the underrated prequel, Batman: Arkham Origins, as well. If you solely want to know if Gotham Knights is as good as the Batman Arkham games I can save you some time, the answer is no.
However, when judged on its own merits, there’s much to like about Gotham Knights. Its four playable heroes all feel distinct enough that picking a "main" character is a tough choice. And while the game's mission design is routine, the rewards are worthwhile. This may also be the most well-realized digital depiction of Gotham City ever created.
Lackluster writing and serious performance issues hold the game back, but this romp with the extended Bat-family is more enjoyable than you might expect. Read on for our full Gotham Knights review.
Gotham Knights review: Gameplay
Gotham Knights is a third-person co-op action game, in which you play as one of four heroes: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Robin (Tim Drake) or Red Hood (Jason Todd). You can pick a hero at the very start and stick with them for the entire campaign, or you can swap among the foursome as you go.
Don’t mistake each hero for a simple cosmetic swap. The playable protagonists share basic moves — light attack, heavy attack, grappling, etc. — but each one feels unique. Nightwing’s acrobatic upbringing makes him the most agile knight, whereas Robin’s small stature makes him a stealth expert. Batgirl brings tech expertise, and Red Hood’s dual (non-lethal) pistols allow him to be highly effective at range.
The Batman: Arkham games pioneered a free-flowing melee combat system that action games still ape to this day. Gotham Knights shares some of that DNA, but emerging from large-scale confrontations unscathed demands careful use of your abilities rather than merely spamming the counter button.
As you deal damage, you’ll build up your momentum bar. Once this bar is full, you can activate various character-specific abilities. These range from Red Hood firing off a volley of powerful shots, to Nightwing jumping on a criminal's head like a mustachioed Italian plumber. Some early abilities feel a little underpowered, but the later elemental ones are highly satisfying to unleash.
Stealth is also an option, but it’s not a playstyle I’d recommend. The initial tools at your disposal are basic, and performing silent takedowns takes a little too long. Enemy placement doesn’t usually facilitate a sneaky approach, either. In most situations, it’s simply more efficient to jump headfirst into fights, not to mention more enjoyable.
When you're not beating down mobsters and supervillain henchmen, you can explore Gotham City via the Bat-cycle or rooftop parkour. It's usually best to make your way through the city on foot, especially since each character's traversal ability is initially locked. For example, Batgirl cannot glide between rooftops until you unlock the ability, and that takes several hours. This serves only to make early-game navigation a chore.
Gotham Knights review: Missions and upgrades
Gotham Knight employs a rather ingenious day-and-night cycle. During the day, you regroup at your home base, the Belfry. Here you can switch characters, complete training exercises, speak with your allies, and craft or customize equipment. At night, you venture into the city to complete missions, prevent crimes and hunt for collectibles.
The nuances of this structure don't get an adequate explanation during the game's guided introduction. Thankfully, I was eventually able to decipher the overcrowded UI and clunky Batcomputer menus. It’s also vital to learn that Gotham Knights doesn’t expect you to complete every randomly generated “opportunistic” crime. Once I stopped trying to do everything on my mini-map, I enjoyed the game much more.
The main missions are engaging, at least. These take you to iconic DC comic locations, including the Iceberg Lounge and S.T.A.R. Labs. They also feature plenty of familiar faces — some friendly, and some less so. The optional villain-focused side missions are well worth your time, and let you square off with the likes of Harley Quinn, Clayface and Mr. Freeze.
Upgrading your character is a huge part of Gotham Knights and it's here that the game really hooked me. You can customize just about every aspect of your knight, and upgrade everything from your super suit to your weapons. There’s also a sizable skill tree, swappable momentum abilities and mod slots for your gear. It’s a lot to take in, but such a wealth of upgrades allow you to mold each character to your preferred playstyle. Plus, even the most mundane side content starts to feel at least somewhat compelling when you know there's a worthwhile reward.
Character leveling applies to all heroes. This cross-progression is welcome, but it does have limitations. In theory, it lets you switch characters whenever you wish without being underleveled. But you’ll still probably find yourself picking a favorite protagonist. This is because weapons, equipment and overall “power level” are unique to each hero.
For example, after a lengthy session playing as Red Hood, he was around power level 230. I returned to the Belfry, intending to swap characters, but I found my Robin was at a power level of just 46. The prospect of switching became a whole lot less appealing when I knew I’d be resetting a lot of the progress I’d just made.
Gotham Knights review: Story
Gotham Knights' story picks up in the wake of Batman's death. The demise of the Dark Knight has led to a power vacuum in Gotham, and criminals have become emboldened. With the city on the verge of chaos, the game’s titular quartet must rise up and prove themselves as the heroes that Gotham needs.
It’s a fitting comic book yarn, and the larger Bat-family taking the spotlight is a pleasant change of pace from most Batman games. The Court of Owls are the game's central villains, which is another refreshing change. The last thing we needed was another Batman story focused on the Clown Prince of Crime. But don’t worry: If you’re eager to tussle with Batman’s eclectic rogues' gallery, there are plenty of old favorites sprinkled into the mix.
The core setup is solid, and the premise undoubtedly has potential. But the writing is more DC New 52 than the Golden Age of Comics. The CW’s suite of DC TV shows would be a close parallel, and that is not a favorable comparison. The cutscenes involving the angst-ridden Red Hood are particularly eye-roll-inducing.
Gotham Knights: Visuals and performance
Gotham Knight is a visually striking game. Its version of Gotham City makes for a marvelous backdrop. The flashing neon lights stand out dramatically against the atmospheric fog that blankets the skyline. And it’s the first time in gaming that Gotham has ever felt like a real place, where ordinary people might actually live.
The hero design is also exceptional. All four heroes have a wealth of unlockable suits, and if you find a favorite, you can upgrade it without switching your cosmetic appearance. Character animations are also generally up to a high standard. The slick way that Nightwing leaps around enemies and front-flips off rooftops makes it difficult to switch to another hero.
Unfortunately, Gotham Knights falters when it comes to performance. For starters, there is no option to choose between a performance and fidelity mode. And framerate fanatics will be unimpressed at the 30 frames per second target. Even worse: The game often struggles to meet this low bar. An inconsistent framerate isn’t acceptable in any game, but for an action-heavy title like Gotham Knights, it's a real blemish.
Gotham Knights review: Verdict
Gotham Knights comes up short in several important areas. The story has compelling components, but wastes them with cookie-cutter character arcs and hammy writing. Plus, the performance on consoles needs serious improvement. However, don’t be surprised if Gotham Knight still manages to hook you despite its numerous flaws.
Its four playable characters each feel distinctive, and the consistently rewarding upgrade system offers real build variety. There’s no denying its gameplay foundation isn’t as revolutionary as the Batman: Arkham series but Gotham Knights carves out its own identity — even if it's not a unique one.