Gotham Knights review – No Batman, no problem

Gotham Knights screenshot showing Robin in combatWarner Bros

Gotham Knights proves that WB Games Montréal can escape the shadow of the Bat. Though it may have some glaring flaws, this is an essential experience for any DC Comics fan.

When Arkham Knight initiated a curtain call for Rocksteady’s beloved franchise, a Batman-sized void was left in the hearts of players everywhere. In 2020, WB Games Montréal, developers of the (sadly) overlooked Arkham Origins, revealed what’s next in Batman games — but there was something missing.

Disconnected from Rocksteady’s universe and with no playable Batman – the daggers were already raised against Gotham Knights from the get-go. Could they emerge from the murky depths of the Batcave victorious?

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The answer is a resounding yes. Like any new franchise, there are teething problems, but Gotham Knights is an electrifying love letter to all things Batman.

Note: Before we continue, consider a spoiler warning in place for anyone that’s heading into the game without any information — it’s nothing you haven’t seen in trailers, but we’d hate to be the ones to ruin the opening if you hadn’t.

Gotham Knights: Key details

  • Developer: WB Games Montréal
  • Price: $69.99 USD / £64.99 GBP / $109.95 AUD
  • Release Date: October 21, 2022
  • Platforms: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S|X and PC

Gotham Knights gameplay trailer

The Bat is dead, what now?

Gotham Knights marks a departure from Batman games of late, as the focus pivots to the Bat Family. The stakes hit you like a ton of Batarangs immediately as the game’s opening cutscene unfolds. Bursting with urgency and palpable dread, Batman meets his demise during a guttural battle against Ra’s al Ghul.

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It’s a white-knuckle sequence that effectively establishes just how doomed Gotham City has become. With Bruce Wayne laid to rest, his once-protected city is ripe for the taking. Now, Batgirl, Robin, Nightwing, and Red Hood have to uncover a mystery far deadlier than they ever imagined. Gotham Knights draw its story inspiration from a plethora of excellent Batman stories. The most obvious pulls are from Scott Snyder’s excellent Court of Owls arc and Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated, but there are nods throughout to Batman lore from every decade.

Gotham Knights Nightwing combatWarner Bros
Nightwing is agile and lethal.

Narratively it isn’t completely unpredictable but manages to nail its core goal: bringing respect to the Bat Family. Batman’s sidekicks are often unfairly maligned outside of the realm of comic book fans. Yet, WB Games Montréal ensure that players know they’re more than worthy of Batman’s mantle. Although, the cringe-worthy dialog at times could cast doubt on that. Thankfully, the gripping narrative is often enough to partially overlook Gotham Knights’ flaws.

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The world is packed with easter eggs for avid fans and newcomers to discover. Refreshingly, Gotham Knights places the backstory for our heroes aside, as optional side quests. They’ve all seen their fair share of horrors over the years. Details like Batgirl’s back-brace or emails from the Titans paint the world beyond our imagination, and while Jason Todd as Red Hood simply will not stop talking about his origin story in the opening hours, it’s nice that WB sets a scene but doesn’t handhold through the entirety of it.

nightwing in gotham knights open worldWarner Bros
Batman’s demise is well handled, with each character dealing with it differently.

Those early few missions can be rough, too, with a fair amount of exposition doled out to set the stakes and the scene, but the story surprised us a lot more than finding out who the Arkham Knight was back in 2015.

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Like all great Batman stories, Gotham Knights is a revolving door of rogues. Each major villain in Gotham is out to claim their piece of the city. Rather than interweave them as brief battles throughout the main story, the major villains are given their own respective mission chains. It’s a welcome change of pace that reinforces that we’re playing as the world’s greatest detectives. But you can’t save Gotham with just solid investigative work – sometimes you’ll need to bring the beatdown.

Bat-street’s back, alright

Red Hood Gotham KnightsWarner Bros
Red Hood is fun to play as, but he’s not particularly good company in the opening hours.

The DNA of the Arkham franchise is evident in Montréal’s ethos. You’ll feel a sense of familiarity initially, as movement and combat echo what players have come to expect. Make no mistake, however, as the rhythm of Gotham Knights is a different beast from its spiritual predecessors. This time, the nuanced combat requires your patience. You can certainly mash punch over and over, though it won’t get you very far. Each of the ‘Gotham Knights’ packs a melee and ranged attack, and those have their own heavy attack variant.

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Timing is crucial to chain together a flurry of hits. Figuring out the tempo of a battle is enthralling too. Whether you’re fighting impossibly fast Talons or Mr. Freeze’s teched-out henchmen – make sure you keep your wits about you. It can be frustrating removing the muscle memory of the Arkham franchise, that’s for sure. When you’ve nailed its intricacies, Gotham Knights gives Akrham’s Free-Flow a fair run for its money. Relying less on canned animations and enemies waiting in line for a punch and more on studying patterns and using each character’s abilities.

Gotham Knights BatcycleWarner Bros
Vehicles don’t feel particularly fast or nimble, sadly.

Naturally, we were cautious as to whether our heroes would feel different from each other, but we’re pleased to report that each feels subtly different despite offering a more universal control scheme than that found in Marvel’s Avengers. In fact, we were incredibly impressed by the mission structure that meant no character feels like a right or wrong choice, backed up by personalized voice lines from each.

Robin is a lightweight stealth beast, while Nightwing’s acrobatics dazzle in every swing of his Escrima sticks. Batgirl, of course, is the most Batman-adjacent character, and Red Hood is a bulky brawler with a granite chin. Players will quickly find their favorite among the lineup. Each hero is also equipped with ‘Momentum’ abilities, which can be activated after pulling off perfect dodges and pummelling your foes.

nightwing in gotham knights endingWarner Bros
The streets of Gotham have more citizens than the Arkham games combined.

Unleashing a razor-sharp wave of Batarangs or steamrolling enemies with Robin’s staff never fails to induce a sense of awe. To enhance their potential, customization plays a vital part in getting an advantage over your formidable enemies. The more you level up, the tougher your enemies become, too. Customization sees the creation of suits that contain unique buffs and qualities. Scaling them up requires the usage of Modchips, which will grant an extra increase to your power/defense level. Salvage is needed to craft new weapon variants and suits.

The devs could have easily made Salvage a laborious chore, but completing premeditated crimes, random events and more keeps your stockpile topped up. Players who like the grind of XP and exotic items will find plenty to do here. At the end of your patrol, you’ll need to kick back and hang up the cape. Returning to the game’s hub, the Belfry, always retained an air of excitement. What suit would I craft this time? What colorway and buffs would I apply? Though Gotham Knight’s customization options could be expanded on, it was exciting to build out powerful outfits.

Brave new world

Whereas Arkham Knight’s open world often felt hollow, this Gotham City breathes through its impeccable world design. Each district blends together the art-deco/nouveau mystique seen in Joel Schumacher and Matt Reeves’ movies respectively. Blinding neon lights illuminate the constant barrages of rain splatter against cobblestone roads or towering highrises.

Gotham City with Red Hood watching onWarner Bros
Gotham looks great, but there are sizeable performance issues.

You’ll find pedestrians, at least those who are brave enough, wandering in the dead of night. It may not be as bustling as Insomniac’s Spider-Man, but prowling along the rooftops evokes that pure “Batman” feeling. The devastation of Batman’s absence is felt heavily. Citizens of Gotham vocalize their lack of confidence in our heroes. Familiar foes yearn for the thrill of Batman’s chase.

To get around the streets of Gotham, players can use their Batcycle or unlock signature traversal methods through the Knighthood questline. The Batcycle’s speed can seem inauthentic as a weird vignette tries to sell the illusion of pace. In spite of this, Gotham City’s design is delightfully suited to sharp turns and exploring its many alternative pathways. Iconic locations for the Batman pantheon get their time to shine too, but for the sake of spoilers, we’ll remain hush about it.

Every night you’ll embark on a new patrol, which is a chance to uncover new crimes and complete a myriad of sidequests. Some quests – like Bat-Cycle races – can be chalked up to busy work, in a similar vein to Spider-Man’s Combat Challenges. Nevertheless, crimes like action-packed bank heists or foiling corrupt cops enrich the importance of fulfilling Batman’s legacy.

Not just a friend. A partner.

Robin fighting some enemies in Gotham KnightsWarner Bros
Robin is the youngest of the four characters.

No matter which hero you prefer, you’ll be able to take them through the entire game at will. There are no forced sequences for certain characters. The focus here is freedom and more importantly, collaboration. Gotham Knights is a complete co-op experience, with each and every aspect of the game made available to you and your chosen ally.

This is where WB Games Montréal has truly struck gold. With just shy of 30 hours put into the game’s main story by the end, a large section of it was played as a duo. It truly is a bonafide blast cruising around the glistening streets of Gotham together. In fact, I often felt bad for continuing the story without my cohort, as it was just so fun to pursue it together.

Gotham Knights co-op Red Hood and BatgirlWarner Bros
Co-op is great fun, although can cause some performance hitches.

If you were hoping to team up with a full squad, then you’ll have to wait a little longer. A 4-player co-op experience, Heroic Assault, is touted to arrive on November 29. Players can traverse the whole city at will and they don’t have to stick together either.

Want to foil a deadly hostage situation downtown while your partner interrogates goons elsewhere? Not a problem. You can even rattle through your partner’s quests too, earning a sizeable amount of XP in the process. However, it isn’t exactly pitch-perfect. Strange choices such as forcing the primary player to open/press specific doors and switches damage gameplay flow. Pings would be a godsend here, as players jumping into your session won’t be able to see what quests you’ve got ready to solve.

Performance issues are the bane of the game

an image of Batgirl in Gotham KnightsWarner Bros
The game’s performance can creak like the Belfry’s old tech.

A huge point of contention for the game will undoubtedly lie in the lack of a 60FPS option. Gotham Knights runs at a capped 4K 30FPS setting, with the ability to toggle HDR. And boy, it can struggle to maintain that 30FPS at times. Single-player adventures fare better, with the rare slowdown as you blaze through dense areas on your Batcycle. Unfortunately, co-op sessions can succumb to brutal frame drops in enemy-laden arenas.

Accompanying the game’s performance issues are some particularly clunky UI choices. Patrolling the city is a clean adventure, as ongoing mission chains and quests are restrained to avoid clutter. It’s a shame this approach isn’t applied to the game’s various menus. Gear and abilities are hidden behind multiple tabs. Navigating the abilities tree is strangely difficult and is an instance where a cursor would be perfect.

The Verdict – 8/10

A lot has been riding on Gotham Knights’ shoulders but the wait has paid off dividends. Performance issues aside, its gripping story and gorgeous open-world enforce it as a confident successor to the Arkham franchise. Gotham Knights is a robust co-op adventure that embraces the Dark Knight’s world wholeheartedly.

Reviewed on PlayStation 5.