Gotham Knights: An Absolute Gem With Only A Few Knicks & Scratches

I wasn’t expecting a great deal from Gotham Knights, what with how quickly everyone on the planet had decided it was the worst thing in gaming ever. I bought it because I’m a long time Batman fan and I enjoyed the Arkham series.

Perhaps the initial cynicism about the game opened me up to having a more positive impression. But considering it took me 28 hours to complete the game, along with a large chunk of its side content, I doubt that my negative assumptions would last that long without being either confirmed or denied.

Not an Arkham game

Gotham Knights is a new game in the DC universe made by Warner Bros Games Montréal starting off with the death of Bruce Wayne, aka Batman. It is not, however, a new game in the Arkham series of games which ended with the death of Batman. This is an odd choice that was obviously going to confuse people, but it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the game was originally intended to be a follow-up. But then changed to a standalone game due to the fact that the Arkham series killed off a large portion of Batman’s rogue gallery and also set very specific lore that they would have to work within.

The story begins with a fight between Batman and one of his longest enemies Ra’s al Ghul that results in the death of both of them. This leads to a message being sent out to the Bat Family warning them of his demise and what needs to happen next. Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl and Jason Todd (Red Hood) are given the task of continuing Batman’s legacy, protecting Gotham and closing one of Batman’s oldest cases, investigating the Court of Owls.

Co-op gets in the way of the experience

The main reason there are four main characters in this game is to allow for a multiplayer system to be in place. I didn’t play any of this game in multiplayer, but I did feel its effects on the gameplay and story of Gotham Knights. While I’m sure a lot of people had fun playing this game with friends, I really think the decision to add multiplayer to this game was ultimately a bad one.

Image Credit: WB Games Montréal

Any character who isn’t currently in your party is assumed to be either out on patrol somewhere else in the city of Gotham or at the hub area the Belfry doing clerical work, I guess. Eventually it starts to feel like only your character is doing anything of real significance, such as taking on the most dangerous villains and factions in Gotham City’s history.

This also means we’re denied one of the most interesting parts of the last Arkham Game Arkham Knight, where Batman would occasionally team up with members of the Bat Family in order to complete missions that needed a little extra bat power. This involved two-man parries, someone else spouting puns and witty one liners and just making the world of the Arkham games feel that much larger.

If multiplayer had been left out of this game, it could have opened the game up for missions like that or the other characters being more involved in the story in a way that felt impactful and exciting. Instead, we get these really weird moments in cutscenes where characters are extremely upset about what’s going on but seemingly unwilling to do anything about it.

But if I’m being honest, the multiplayer and its consequences is the only major design choice about this game that I actively disliked and even with it being in the game, I still loved the story and the characters so there’s nowhere to go but up.

Dodge > counter

Moving on to the most controversial part of this game compared to the Arkham franchise and other games made by WB Games such as the Shadow of Mordor series. The combat! Obviously when you’re playing a game about being a caped crusader you want to feel like a badass. You want to feel like you’re going to take on twenty bad guys and come out unscathed. The way this was achieved in Arkham, Shadow and Assassins Creed is with probably, looking back, one of the laziest and most boring systems ever brought to videogames. The parry/counter system.

For those of you unaware, the counter system is very simple. At the moment an enemy is about to hit you a button prompt appears over their head, or just some kind of generic symbol/marker. You press the corresponding button and your character stops everything they’re doing and pulls off an elaborate animation that instantly kills or incapacitates the enemy.

Do you know what’s really dull in videogames about being a badass fighter? Having no control. While I did enjoy my time with the Arkham games, the fighting in the game boiled down to pressing Y at the right time and occasionally pressing a different combo because a goon had a shield. Admittedly Shadow of War was probably a step in the right direction because countering did next to no damage in that game and was only meant to keep the combat feeling fluid.

Image Credit: WB Games Montréal

In Gotham Knights the parry is swapped out for the dodge. You can pull off a perfect dodge which is exactly like pulling off a parry. Right as the enemy is about to hit you press the correct button but instead of just one shotting the enemy you dodge out of the way. You then have the OPTION to do a perfect attack usually knocking the enemy over in some way and allows you to get in a hefty combo and drain their health. Or you can even go and beat on the guy across the ally with a machine gun now that you have that opening. This system feels so much more rewarding and also more dynamic than just pressing a button and winning.

Beyond that the combat is extremely satisfying. When you have the game, you have your simple light and heavy attack and a ranged attack. All of which have their own unique way of fitting into a standard light combo. Three hits then a heavy or five and a ranged, it’s all there for you to choose. Mix in the dodging and you’ve got yourself a very fluid system. Adding to that the momentum abilities you unlock as you level up or complete certain challenges and the combat in this game starts to feel deeper and more meaningful than Arkham ever did. Does that mean I hate Arkham? No, I just think Gotham Knights’ combat is far beyond better.

However! This system does come with a unique and strange problem. Most WB Games and other games with similar systems have taught us to always be pointing the analogue stick in the direction of the enemy we want to be hitting. However, doing that all the time in this game can mess up who your character attacks and also the activation of momentum abilities. Realistically you could get through an entire fight in GK without touching the analogue stick. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it is possible. What works best is aiming with the analogue stick and as soon as your combo starts, let go and only use it again when you need to. Like I said, it’s a strange one and definitely takes some getting used to but once you’ve done it, you’re off to races with feeling like a total super dude.

Image Credit: WB Games Montréal

Traversing the world

Another part of Arkham that people really enjoyed was gliding around the city in the second and third games. While you don’t start with your movement abilities right away because they want to encourage you to use the Batcycle, it doesn’t take long, and they feel just as fluid and elegant as Arkham. Plus, each character has their own way of getting around Gotham, so you feel like a different hero. You aren’t Batman, you’re a Gotham Knight.

On top of that I mentioned the Batcycle which is your vehicle of choice for this game, and it feels great to use. The controls are easy to use and it’s amazingly fun to open every drive with a wheelie in order to get to max speed quicker. The only complaint I’d have about the cycle is it didn’t feel fast. There’s a screen effect to make it look like you’re going super-fast but it just kind of fell flat for me. Otherwise, it’s a great system and there’s even time challenges you can do to unlock customisation for the bike itself.

The final piece of the faster travel puzzle is fast travel. Which you unlock within your first hour or two of gameplay but in order to unlock new fast travel locations you have to scan some drones in the skies of Gotham in order to reprogram them. This is so the Bat Drone can safely drop you off there. It sounds tedious but you only have to do it for about ten spots across Gotham and you never have to worry about it again. In fact, I enjoyed travelling the cities so much that I didn’t even bother with them until I got bored of Lucius Fox reminding me to do them.

So that’s the big thing, isn’t it? How does Gotham feel to get around? In a word, smooth. Admittedly the game map is a little on the small side, but it’s also densely packed with random crimes and collectibles to keep you busy on your nightly patrols. Yes, Manhattan in Spider Man was vast but how much of that was needed for the game to feel great and how much of that was just “Look how big this city is.”

The other complaint I’ve seen about Gotham is it feels a little empty. Which isn’t incorrect but it also didn’t bother me. Yes, Gotham seems to have the traffic density of a small English village but it’s mainly like that, so you don’t spend most of your driving time smashing into taxis. The other complaint in that regard is a lot of the civilian models repeat a fair amount but let me ask you, why does that matter? As a long, long time Batman fan I can tell you that Gotham isn’t about saving the day and stopping for a selfie with the guy who just got shot twelve times. It’s about finishing as many crimes as possible in a night and disappearing halfway through someone thanking you. Yes, it would be cool if there were more civilian models, but it really, really does not matter for the gameplay or even the immersion in my opinion.

The story

The story of GK itself is nothing short of fantastic. It’s well written and does an amazing job to pay homage to the source material even going so far as to use lore directly established by the original Court of Owls ark of Batman written by Scott Snyder. It’s very clear that this game was written by people that like Batman and the lore around him. The story will see your character going from a relative rookie of super herodom all the way to full on Knighthood. There is a realistic character progression that depicts someone who’s got a responsibility to the city of Gotham but has also just lost a real father figure in their life. It would have been nice to watch this progression happen in the characters you aren’t playing but we can’t have it all sadly.

Image Credit: WB Games Montréal

The Arkham games gave us interactions with a large portion of Batman’s villainous varieties but a great deal of them had very little screen time and not much thought put into their writing to make them feel like the comic book characters brought to life. Instead, Gotham Knights has a small handful of villains that have long storylines that you can progress alongside the main story and climax in very unique boss fights and genuine character moments that feel earned.

Just as a quick example of my point, a lot of the characters in Arkham City felt like sequel bait. Two of the most important characters in Batman’s history are Hush and Azrael. I won’t go into details as to why but both characters have very bare bones quests that climax in them walking off camera while Batman does nothing. Then in Arkham Knight Hush is beaten in a sodding cutscene and Azrael helps you fight a mission or two? Sounds riveting right?

Crafting and bugs

Another system that was absent from the Arkham games is crafting and gear management, but I left it for so late in the article because it has little impact on the game itself. Yes, you need to upgrade your gear, yes you have mods you can make and combine to improve that gear. But you could pretty easily get away with just crafting what’s at the top of your list and leaving it at that. The game gives you plenty of materials that you don’t need to worry about what you craft until late-game legendary recipes become a thing. It’s cool to see your outfit change and be able to customise the visuals a bit but it’s not like it’s this deep system that’s going to change how you see crafting in videogames.

Image Credit: WB Games Montréal

In terms of bugs, I want to preface by saying I played on PC and had relatively few issues whereas I’ve heard console players are heaving a lot more problems. I only experienced two bugs in my 28-hour playthrough and had 3 crashes all towards the end of the game. The bugs were that if you’ve been playing the game for 16 hours or so some of the objectives for the side activities don’t appear which means you don’t know what your bonus objectives are, and you don’t get the GPS guidance when on the Batcycle. The other was that if you’re stood too close a wall, some of your button inputs won’t be recognised. Beyond that it was a bug free existence for me.

Closing thoughts

My only big complaint left is that the last faction you unlock to fight feels incredibly tanky and can get a little tiresome and irritating to fight. Especially when some of them are only summoned into boss fights to refresh your health packs. They instead become a huge annoyance when you’re trying to knock them out quickly while taking little damage and also dodge a boss’s massive attacks.

However! Overall, I had an absolute blast with Gotham Knights, and I am looking forward to my New Game Plus playthrough too. What I would say in regard to this game’s £50 price tag is that if you’re a huge Batman fan, this game is absolutely worth the price. If you’re not and really loved how Arkham did things, then maybe wait for it to drop to £40 or maybe as a treat for yourself when you’re flush?

Image Credit: WB Games Montréal

Conclusion

Gotham Knights is a wonderful game that makes real strides to let you feel like a superhero and also has some really touching moments in the story about loss and feelings of inadequacy. For me, it’s probably the best DC Universe game to come out in a long time.

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