Gotham Knights is uncertain of its identity, submerged in mechanical and narrative concepts that rarely mesh into a compelling experience. It boasts the structure of a single-player game, yet its progression systems are straight out of an MMORPG. Many of its missions begin at the game’s hub, but the player is forced to go out into the open-world to complete fetch quests between every story beat. There's plenty of loot and collectibles, yet they can be completely ignored and make little to no difference in gameplay if you go out of your way to get them.
Even when disregarding Gotham Knights’ identity crisis, the game is fundamentally vapid. Combat offers nothing more than spamming the same button to win, even if it looks stylish, and movement is a clunky nightmare. Other issues include performance that frequently falls below 30 frames per second and co-op partners can’t see their own cutscenes within a multiplayer session.
But at its best, exploring Gotham is a glorious sight. Every time I grappled onto a rooftop, I felt the urge to pull out my camera and snap a photo. And although there are only three case files (side villain arcs), they were all tons of fun and easily my favorite part of the game.
Gotham Knights feels like two different games clashing for dominance. There is a fun co-op experience buried here, but it’s overshadowed by an open world burdened by poor content and unnecessary fluff forced between every compelling main mission.
An underbaked narrative
Gotham Knights boasts well-choreographed action sequences, plenty of narrative twists, and built-up villain arcs, yet the story doesn’t hit as hard as it should. How WB Games Montréal presents The Court of Owls is the most lackluster aspect, as the hype that led us to this beloved storyline is largely unfulfilled.
The Court of Owls is meant to be one of Gotham’s greatest enemies. They’re the underground organization no one believes exists, pulling every string in the city to take complete control of it, yet their presentation in this game feels like an afterthought. I wish we had more time to get an understanding of what they’re actually doing to control Gotham. Additionally, one of the game’s twists related to this had very little build-up and was far too predictable.
Development showcasing the terrifying ways this dark organization’s tentacles are wrapped around every part of the city without the player even realizing it is essential. In the comics, The Court of Owls put Batman through harrowing trials that he almost didn’t survive. They’re Gotham’s version of the illuminati. But in Gotham Knights, the way they’re presented feels like a joke. Each goon spews silly one-liners, there’s a notable lack of griminess and blood to everything they do, and their leaders are borderline silly in their mannerisms. This game plays into the cheesiness of Batman a little too much for my tastes, but I imagine that’ll appeal to some.
The Court of Owls should have had a greater impact on each of the playable characters as well. There were decent attempts to have the mysterious organization utilize Barbara’s father against her, but it’s all underbaked, even if some scenes lead to interesting moments. Gotham Knights has an issue where key narrative moments aren’t given enough to simmer before continuing onto the next plot point.
The Court of Owl’s lack of development could be blamed on Gotham Knights’ structure, which involves other major villains. While this definitely took time away from the main antagonist, I don’t mind it too much due to how cool those side-missions can be.
These are explored through Case Files, and while there are only three of them (Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze and Clayface), they're full of exciting boss fights, unique visual setpieces, and the game seems to understand their respective villains, which is more than I can say for the Court of Owls. Clayface in particular was my favorite, as his obsession with the accuracy of filming his deadly encounter against Batman genuinely made me laugh. Mr. Freeze also offers the fantastic visual of Gotham frozen to ice and riddled with hail, and the player's final fight against him is one of the coolest parts of the game.
Minimal depth to every battle
Gotham Knight’s combat is stylish with weighty animations of the player ruthlessly beating on the criminals of Gotham bringing a smile to my face, but it lacks complexity. Excluding special moves, most fights boil down to utilizing a single melee and ranged attack over and over, occasionally dodging when an enemy is about to strike you.
Certain foes can only be defeated by holding down the melee or ranged button, but this doesn’t add complexity as it just forces you to spam a different move when you see that enemy. There is a fluidity meter that will make you deal more damage if you time your strikes at a certain rhythm, but there’s not much else to the combat than that.
Special moves can be satisfying and sometimes add to the rhythm of battle, but it’s not enough to make things exciting. Batgirl can execute a combo that allows her to punch an enemy a dozen times before using a flashy execution against them, while another one has her jump backwards and toss a series of batarangs within a wide arc.
Batgirl also has the ability to summon a drone that will both shoot enemies and heal allies, a great addition that gives her a more supportive role in the group. She can hack cameras, cause electronics to explode, shock enemies, and buff allies with a damage boost.
Unfortunately, her ability to do those last four things can be cumbersome; it requires the player to hold the D-Pad down and then click a separate button while aimed at an object. Buffing allies is near impossible in the middle of a fight, as you need to aim at your co-op partner and hold X for a few seconds, but if you lose sight of them (which is common since they’ll be fighting around an arena), it’ll reset the progress bar. These are so unwieldy that I never used them, even though they're cool.
I love playing games on the hardest difficulty, but this is one of the few times I decided to turn it down, as enemies have two times the health on hard mode. This didn’t enhance the tension; it just made things more exhausting.
Gotham Knights has no jump button. You can vault over certain things, but it’s occasionally difficult to traverse the world if you cannot get above something. This is most frustrating during stealth sections because there are a limited number of obstacles the player can vault over, which caused my co-op partner and I to get abruptly spotted as we attempted to hop over an object, but failed to do so.
There’s also an unwieldy heaviness to the player’s weight and every movement lacks precision. When trying to shift 180 degrees, your character is forced to do a full walking rotation rather than turn their body and move in that direction. The times when my character successfully turns around, there is an entire second of delay for them to shift their body.
This makes it difficult to align yourself when trying to interact with a nearby object; I’ve often found myself close to interactable stuff, but just barely missing its activation range. And when I tried to reposition, the game stopped a little bit ahead of where I wanted because the character needed to finish playing that animation. It’s imprecise and genuinely frustrating.
If you’re playing with a co-op partner, running into each other physically also causes your character to completely stop. If you’re going in opposite directions towards each other, your characters will cancel each other’s movements out and just move forward in an admittedly hilarious, but frustrating manner.
Grappling feels no better; I frequently found myself pointing the camera in a certain direction before the grappling hook targets onto something not remotely close to the screen. And when I’m perched as a result of my grappling hook, it can be difficult to jump in the correct orientation or drop in the spot I intended due to the awkwardness of movement. Thank goodness Gotham Knights doesn’t have proper platforming because it would have made me furious.
In Gotham Knights, you gain power by crafting or earning gear of three equipment types: Suits, melee weapons and ranged weapons. Similar to most loot games, there’s a bare-bones conscious element to how you decide to build yourself out. Every item is assigned a certain power level, and after you finish a night (you cannot acquire crafted items unless you’re back at the hub), you’re usually going to craft the item with the highest power level (or equip it if you already got it as a mission reward). The only time you actually have to think is when mods come into play, but there’s little complexity to that either, as more mod slots are often better even if the power level is a little lower.
You will unlock dozens upon dozens of suits, weapons and mods without even realizing it. All of them perform similarly and you won’t be unlocking new weapon types for your hero, as your movesets remain stagnant throughout the game. At most, they’ll have different elemental damage or an outfit might make you look cooler, but there’s not much else to it.
I completed the game and every case file, but I never cared about loot outside of opening any chests I spotted within a level. Even in the context of materials, there’s a dozen of them and I could not tell you a single one of their names or what they’re used for. You get so much of everything that it might as well not exist. At no point did I have to go out of my way to acquire these materials; I always had enough to make what I wanted.
It’s also weird that gear has an item level assigned to it, but that item level isn’t used to determine challenge levels. When beginning a case file, the only thing that matters is what level you actually are — not the power of your gear. This makes the system feel even more redundant; it could have been removed all together and the difference would’ve been minor.
Gotham at night
Gotham Knight’s greatest appeal is its alluring atmosphere, one that presents its dark and deranged city with an enticing mix of neon colors, dingy alleyways and towering skyscrapers. I was impressed at how different each district is, and even when running around up close, every model and asset looks surprisingly crisp. I'm not shocked this game only runs at 30fps, even though it can be quite infuriating. Some assets look a little blurry, but I only noticed that a few times.
The amount of fog that occupies the city is stunning, as it usually takes on the hue of the lights around it. This normally results in a gorgeous blend of warm and cool tones within the sky, but when a neon sign is glowing red, much of the fog around it is also red. When looking at a sight like that from afar, those colors mesh beautifully against how dark Gotham is otherwise. This can be applied to the lighting in general; the city is mostly black outside of the artificial technology basking it in light, which is one of the greatest appeals of Gotham at night.
When perched upon a rooftop balcony, I was floored by the shading of the clouds in the sky, highlighted by the moon's glorious glow. Buildings often look distinct, and I rarely noticed similar areas when exploring the city. Even when surrounded by multiple skyscrapers, the pattern of their window’s glow adds a lot to the scene to make it look distinct. I’ve found myself taking plenty of pictures like this, as it’s hard to resist snapping a photo when atop the roofs of Gotham.
While I do believe Gotham Knight’s environments look good, I do wish the game took more opportunities to completely shift the landscape and turn it into something fresh. The Mr. Freeze mission where all of Gotham is overwhelmed by ice and hail was one of the earliest things revealed for the game, yet it’s the only time something like that actually happens.
There is another moment that’s somewhat comparable, but it wasn’t as drastic of a shift in visuals as much as it was just a cool scene within the city itself. To avoid spoilers, I won't say what happens.
Awkward quest progression
Gotham Knights is the most fun when you’re tackling a case file, like when players sabotage Dr. Quinzel’s “miracle drug” scam or battle against Mr. Freeze’s goons as he attempts to freeze the city to its core. But getting to those missions requires tons of downtime.
Gotham Knights expects you to run around the city and stop rehashed crimes, even when trying to continue the main story. Most of that involves riding your motorcycle to an area, fighting anyone you see, and moving on. These can get more interesting with challenging bomb defusal crimes or ones that take you to unique scenery indoors, but these objectives quickly got tiring. I’d rather do the next case file right away than have to run around the city stopping crimes first.
There are also side-quests that can be assigned by characters like Lucius or Alfred, but they’re accompanied by a shockingly little amount of dialogue and don’t actually have a compelling core design. They’re passive missions you’ll complete without realizing, allowing you to turn them in when you come back the next night.
As expected of any open-world game, there are plenty of collectibles littered around the city, but it’s hard to get excited hunting for them when controlling the playable character is such a hassle. The Batcycle is a little too slow for my tastes, grappling is janky, and movement has so many inconsistencies that just trying to get to objectives often frustrated me.
There’s not much to do in the open world beyond this. You can fight repeated crimes, but there’s no point outside of the loot. Once you beat the main story and all three case files, that’s the whole game. Most of that isn’t interwoven with the open world itself, which makes it feel tacked on.
Lackluster quality of life
Co-op is one of the defining elements of Gotham Knights, yet players can’t view their own cutscenes within a multiplayer session. I hosted games as Batgirl, and as a result, my co-op partner (who was playing Red Hood) would see me take control of the cutscenes. He was unable to see himself participate in them.
Sometimes a co-op partner can take control of a cutscene by interacting with an NPC before the host does, which meant I couldn’t see Batgirl continue her story during key moments. Gotham Knights absolutely needs to give each co-op partner a separate view of their own cutscenes.
There’s also not much co-op banter in general. I only got to experience a playthrough between Batgirl and Red Hood, but throughout the entire game, I only noticed them exchanging dialogue less than a dozen times within the world. It’s a little shocking considering that this game seems built with multiplayer in mind.
Gotham Knights also runs at 30fps, and there are many moments where the frame rate dips below that. I’ve noticed this especially during multiplayer when both players are on opposite sides of the city or are traveling fast on their bikes, making it nearly unplayable for a short period of time.
Gotham Knights is a joy while hunting side-villains, regardless of the game’s cumbersome movement and shallow combat. I was eager to unravel the sinister plots of some of Batman’s mortal foes, and was thoroughly invested as the tension escalated after every mission in their series. But this is only a small part of a game otherwise bogged down by repetitive open-world content, meaningless looter systems, and a disappointing main story.
Gotham Knights would have been far better with some reprioritizing. If WB Games Montréal doubled or even tripled the number of case files and put less emphasis on everything else, the core of this game would be fun. Instead, Gotham Knights is overstuffed with systems that have no place in a Batman game, and I came out of the experience with mixed feelings.