When I was asked to play and review the new Gotham Knights game on PC, I jumped at the chance, mainly because I loved the previous Batman games, Arkham Asylum and Arkham Knight. I was also very excited to try Gotham Knights on my Steam Deck, as well as on my Legion Gaming PC. There has been a great deal of hype around this new game for many months, but has it turned out to be the new Batman (-less) game that we all hoped for?
The intro to the game is very long and introduces a frenzied battle between Batman and Ra’s al Ghul. I found this to be really enjoyable, with some great voice acting and effects thrown in. As we all know by now, Batman eventually loses and dies after he blows up the Batcave. The game’s four heroes eventually find his body in the rubble, and so the game begins. It is evident early on when playing the game that this entry into the genre really wants to distance itself from the Arkham series and to introduce four new characters (Batgirl, Robin, Nightwing and Red Hood) into the game world that we have all grown fond of over the years.
And I’m really sad to report that everything within this addition to the Batman universe is far inferior to the Arkham series that we all loved to play. The transition to an open-world RPG containing skill trees and crafting makes all of the characters weak in comparison to the strengths of Batman.
Because there are four main characters now to choose from, their moves and skill trees vary between each other, meaning that a move that Robin could do cannot be done by any of the other characters, and building up their skills left some characters very weak, especially when comparing them to how Batman played in the Arkham series.
I get that Warner Games Montreal wanted the game to be like this as it incorporates 4-way multiplayer. But for those who aren’t interested in that side of the game, they are left with characters that take absolute ages to grow in strength and skills.
The free-flow combat that we all loved in the Arkham series returns and so do many of the same villains that appeared in those previous games. Gotham Knights clearly wants to be its own freestanding game, but for me it just didn’t work.
For the first few hours of playing Gotham Knights, it did actually remind me of how good the Arkham-style stealth and combat was. Every fight I got into featured some great punching and kicking action, and it never felt like a slog to defeat enemies. It’s almost mesmerising when putting together a string of moves to pummel half a dozen bad guys and timing your button presses just right.
But over time I started to realise that Gotham Knights’ fighting and action scenes weren’t as fluid as I had previously thought. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s just not as enjoyable a brawl as I had hoped it would be, and most of that is due to the online co-op. For me it just doesn’t work, and I really wish game developers would move away from making co-op the main part of any game.
Early on in the game, Batgirl, Robin, Nightwing and Red Hood are basically a poor man’s adaptation of Batman, with limited skills and moves. There is very little background to the story regarding the characters left behind after Batman’s death. I sensed some tension within the team, but this was rarely explored, instead the game revolved around the death of Batman and the conspiracies surrounding what his mission was. At no point was I that interested in any of the characters, which impacted on the flow of the story and me wanting to build my characters into the next big time superheroes.
Throughout the game you can swap between characters within the central Belfry location; this includes levelling up abilities, and levelling points can be carried over, allowing each character to be given armor and weapons to assist in the next chapter of the game. All can develop their own strengths through the skill tree: Robin is able to run around silently, Batgirl can disable cameras and turrets, Nightwing can heal allies, and Red Hood is like a tank and is great at crowd control.
To be honest, I found that it didn’t really matter what character I chose since it didn’t have much of an impact on how I advanced through the game. Again, this impacted on how much I cared about the other characters as I just stayed with Red Hood for most of the time I played the game. Even with the boss fights, I didn’t get the urge to change characters because they would be more suited to a certain boss fight.
Talking about boss fights, they just aren’t as enjoyable as they were with the Arkham games. Battles mainly consisted of how high your stats were and your reflexes. You are punished if you fail to time your dodges and your positioning was not correct. It is clear that the developer intended the game to be played through co-op since it’s a right slog playing on your own and having to use up all of your resources, which was a right pain and spoiled my enjoyment somewhat.
A thing I did enjoy within Gotham Knights’ open-world was when traversing between rooftops, I came across special targets, and when I interrogated them, they gave me information as clue points dropped on the streets showing premeditated crimes. These offered better XP and crafting materials to use the next night you explore Gotham City. If you fail to complete the objectives, you don’t get a second chance, so it really gives you something to work for.
Another thing that I was really disappointed with was just how lacking Gotham City was of NPCs. At times the streets were empty and had little moving traffic. This really spoiled the illusion of being in a huge city, and for an open-world game, this is not something you would expect.
Gotham Knights really strained my PCs, and I can totally understand why the game is capped at 30fps on next generation consoles. I ran the game on my Legion laptop with a 3080 Ti and an Intel i9 2900K, and I still struggled to maintain a solid 60fps at 1080p. It just wasn’t a smooth experience for me, which again, I was really surprised and disappointed with.
For those of you wanting to play this game on a Steam Deck, you can forget about it for now. I could not even get the game to start, no matter what Proton setting I used. Whether this will change at all, I have no idea, but I doubt if we will get support for this game even at 30fps.
Gotham Knights just isn’t the game that we all expected or hoped for. There are better games out there that do what Gotham Knights does and do it so much better. The Arkham series had an RPG talent tree similar to this, but it also had a very satisfying stealth and combat system that far exceeded that in Gotham Knights. It’s an empty playground with little atmosphere, and whilst it was graphically okay in places, it does not come anywhere near the Arkham series.
This game should have died along with Batman…sorry, but gamers want and expect more from their games in 2022.
Quick update: Since writing the review, Valve have released a Proton Hot-fix for the SteamDeck. The game now runs on the SteamDeck at around 30fps with setting set to low/medium. I’ve only played it for a short time, but the fact it now even runs on the SteamDeck is a huge achievement for this amazing handheld, which just keeps giving.
Developer: WB Games Montréal, QLOC
Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox Series S/X, PlayStation 5, PC
Release Date: 21st October 2022
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Gotham Knights was provided by the publisher.