When the series of Batman Arkham games from Rocksteady released, gamers found access to a collection of games that allowed for a brilliant experience as to what it would be like to be the caped crusader. Hiding from the shadows, playing the part of a true detective, fighting and brawling your way through a myriad of famous villains.
Yet now Batman is dead and in Gotham Knights you’ll discover that you are not playing as Mr Pointy Ears, but rather his four proteges – Red Hood, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Robin. This one decision on its own has caused some upset among the DC gaming fans, as Gotham Knights has almost become the game that everyone wants to hate.
But let’s take a step back into those shadows once more and take a look at what is under the hood.
I don’t want to go spoiling the story of Gotham Knights, but you need to know that this one starts with an animated scene between Batman and one of his arch enemies, all as they fight to the end. It’s not a secret that the game starts with Bruce Wayne’s demise, nor that it then covers the aftereffects on his bat family. It’s from there that the group head to the Belfry in the middle of Gotham to set up their base of operations, readying themselves to head out at night to investigate, firstly what happened to Batman, and then to take in more. This leads to a nightly patrol taking place, following leads and beating up hoodlums for information. Eventually, the big hitters come into play – Harley Quinn, The Penguin, and Mr. Freeze, as you are faced with the mystery of the Court of Owls. That’s where the real fun begins.
I am a bit of a Batman fan, loving pretty much all of its interactions with comics, films, and games. Gotham Knights appeals in that respect, and I’ve found the main story and the sub-stories on show here well thought out and engaging, especially when you take in the prologue from the beginning. As you wander around Gotham at night the city has its own narratives and secrets you can discover; bits of the history of the city can be discovered on your journey as well as documentation and objects that give you a glimpse into the Batman universe.
There’s a great secret cache that provides audio tapes as Batman takes us from the start of his adventures, but the main thrust of the story is the relationship between the four heroes: Batgirl, Red Hood, Robin, and Nightwing. Each of these is dealing with the loss of Batman in their own way and it’s the power balance between the four of them which plays out. It’s nicely done, even if sometimes the dialogue can be a bit hokey. But other times it’s fun and well-written.
Gotham Knights’ main thrust is in the focus on the action and the game throws you into this a lot. You can choose between each of the four characters to play with and the good news is you can swap around between these characters every time you go out on patrol. We’d guess that you’ll end up picking your favourite for the majority of the time, but each do things slightly differently. Red Hood is the bulkier of the characters, utilising guns as he fights at range. The other three are much more agile and quick in their fighting styles. Batgirl makes the most of her tonfa to hit and jump off surfaces, Robin uses a quarterstaff to great effect, working the stealth angles and Nightwing just seems to bounce around off enemies and victims while the camera tries to catch up. Each of these characters level up as you progress through the game with pleasing skill trees branching to enhance the way you want to play the game. There’s much customisation in that regard.
With each night that you go out on the street, you will find you have a choice. You could just head out and hunt down local crimes to quell, like hoodlums actioning robberies or shakedowns. There are bomb threats, car chases, and all sorts of nefarious deeds. You could also follow the main quest lines, detailed well into sub-categories as they sort through the villains and the deeper story arcs and interior adventures that they bring. There are challenges to complete as well, and secrets to hunt down that might ask you to defeat a certain number of rogues. In fact, there are tons of hidden secrets to find and much lore to discover. It’s an open-world adventure that is set in and around an exciting Gotham.
Moving through the city is decent enough and each of the team can grapple with their hook, moving from building to building so at times you feel like a certain other hero; one with web abilities. This never gets boring as Gotham Knights makes the most of the exciting use of verticality in city exploration. The other option for navigation is via the Batcycle which can get summoned at any opportunity. This journey through the city is functional, but there is a strange illusion of speed that is integrated into bike movement as the edges of the screen blur up, even though you’re not really going that fast at all. Later on, in the game, you can unlock some fast travel points by destroying drones and this makes moving around Gotham a bit easier and less tiresome.
The main missions generally involve you heading into a building or location in a stealthy way (of course, you can go in fists blazing if you wish) and then taking out the goons bit by bit. The combat sections are my favourite of all the elements included in Gotham Knights with the action feeling fluid and exciting, mixing normal, heavy, and special moves that you can put together in some brilliant combinations. The old Batman games have been borrowed from here, especially in terms of grappling to high spots in a level and then taking out the foes one by one, stealthily from the air. There are some great boss battles as well, each with some nice tricks up their sleeves for inventiveness. Taking part in these fights rewards you well too, with incentives in each battle – and special bonuses within – dictated by how you take your foes down.
Another element of Gotham Knights that is noteworthy is the detective mode that plays out through a series of sequences. It’s here where you will come to a crime scene and have to identify a series of clues from the scene. You might be asked a question like “What is the location of the criminals?” as you link clues to the question in order to get the right answer. Other elements include several puzzles in the game that are fun and a nice distraction from the combat, with hidden panels that need opening, doors that need finding and things that need switching on.
Gotham City itself looks great with its neon-noir atmosphere. The city doesn’t feel hugely busy, but it has a decent mix of interiors and exteriors which are fantastic, with a great sense of place and story throughout. The characters and models themselves are brilliantly designed, even though the goons themselves do get a bit familiar after a while. I have been particularly impressed with the small details; the individual shops set up around the city, each of which feel unique, carefully constructed outlets that make the city feel like a real place.
The soundtrack is excellent too – it’s with this in which Gotham Knights feels like a proper Batman film. The voiceover work is good as well, even though at times it can feel like a cartoon rather than a serious movie.
The main draw of Gotham Knights though are the multiplayer elements which have been included. Working as a team is absolutely fine and there are no problems in joining a mate as they roam Gotham – taking down foes together is great fun. With four-player co-op coming soon along with a new game mode, those multiplayer aspects could get even more exciting.
Gotham Knights is the game that everyone wants to hate, but that shouldn’t be the case as there is a lot to love here. It’s a good open-world game that explores a brilliantly realised Gotham City, powered by some fun, fluid combat and a wicked world that is easily explorable. Hanging around the rooftops as you take in the main story, smaller incidents or even as you hunt secret challenges allows Gotham Knights to shine, even if the Batcycle sections don’t feel particularly great.
Yes, Gotham Knights is occasionally cheesy and repetitive, but heading into the Batman universe in this way, playing around with the Bat’s four apprentices can be a real joy.
Gotham Knights is on the Xbox Store