Gotham Knights Review: Flawed but Compelling Superheroics

Gotham Knights is a fun but flawed video game, one that tries too hard at times to emulate its Batman: Arkham series predecessors and often struggles at core game mechanics but still offers a compelling storyline and characterization that Batman fans will enjoy. The new open-world action game by WB Games Montréal (the maker of the middling Batman: Arkham Origins game) stars the four protégés of Batman – Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, and Robin – who work together to solve their mentor's final case after the death of Batman. Like Arkham City, Gotham Knights features an open-world map filled with a mix of random crimes to stop, collectibles to find, and storylines to follow. 

The biggest strength of Gotham Knights is the way in which it tackles the four protagonists of the game. Each of the four characters have distinct personalities that largely line up with the comics, and there are plenty of nods to their shared and individual history in the game.The little touches like Barbara Gordon receiving an email from her roommate Alysia Yeoh, or Dick Grayson sipping coffee from a Bludhaven coffee mug make the characters feel like extensions of their comic book counterparts rather than new versions who happen to share a name with a character from the comics. I also appreciated how Gotham Knights approached each character's grief and trauma a bit differently. All four characters come with a lot of baggage – Nightwing is struggling to become a leader, Robin is grieving the loss of his father figure, Batgirl is dealing with the loss of her father AND trying to keep her found family together, and Red Hood is still grappling with his death and subsequent resurrection. Gotham Knights leans into those dynamics in touching vignettes and cut scenes that show off each character's unique personality and organically grows the core story of the game.

(Photo: Warner Bros. Games)

Without digging too deeply into the story, I was surprised at how relatively focused Gotham Knights was compared to the Arkham series. One of my biggest frustrations with the Arkham series was how it desperately tried to cram every Batman villain into every game, tossing many of them as mere one-off missions or side-quests. In Gotham Knights, each established character from Batman's deep history has a role in the game, especially if they are a villain. The Case Files system (which focuses on one character and gives more focused side-missions to explore) seems like an easy way to add future content to Gotham Knights and makes the villains seem like credible threats rather than easy to resolve issues. 

The combat system in Gotham Knights is a decidedly mixed bag. Each of the four playable characters in Gotham Knights has a different combat style and different abilities, although they share a control scheme for ease of play. The core combat system can be frustrating at times – there is not a way to lock onto a target, and the camera often fixates on the nearest enemy instead of whatever objective you're supposed to be reaching. This can make combat feel clunky and frustrating at times, especially when facing foes who can only be fazed by specific attacks.

Special abilities are largely activated through the Momentum System, a mechanic in which successful dodges and attacks add Momentum over time that unlocks certain special abilities that can be activated in combat. Players gain more Momentum Abilities by completing side missions in the game either by defeating certain kinds of foes or by stopping certain kinds of crime. It's an interesting system, although the manner in which special abilities are unlocked makes combat feel very repetitive and limiting until a significant portion through the game. 

Another major flaw in combat is that Gotham Knights often pits players against groups of enemies, structured similarly to how the Arkham games often approached enemy NPCs. However, while Batman could use stealth techniques to negate the multi-person advantage (and indeed, many of the levels in those Arkham games were structured specifically with stealth in mind), many of the levels in Gotham Knights are frustratingly simple, leaving players with few options other than to take on a full gang of criminals. Sure, the characters have the ability to sneak and silently take out a criminal, but the levels frequently lack ways to draw a criminal away from the pack or find other ways to pick off an enemy. There are also missions that are clearly meant with multiplayer play in mind, which are just a frustrating mess when trying to tackle via single player. 

(Photo: WB Games)

The open world of Gotham Knights is also oddly empty at times and is used more as a staging ground for different missions than as a compelling place to explore. There are plenty of things to do within Gotham Knights (especially when players hit the 10-15-hour mark), but the missions are mostly limited to stopping a crime in progress, finding some kind of collectible, or scanning a specific landmark within Gotham. There are a few puzzle-based missions that I did enjoy (which often involved disabling a security system or hitting a specific number of beacons to unlock a cache of goods), but the missions get a bit repetitive over time. There's only so many drones to scan or Batarangs to find before you just get bored with that side quest. The open world ultimately is neither a perk nor a detriment to Gotham Knights, it simply exists. 

The randomized equipment system is another interesting but poorly implemented part of Gotham Knights. Players collect a plethora of randomized equipment and weaponry throughout the game both as random drops or as rewards for completing certain quests. These help boost a character's power and often add either resistances to certain types of damage or a secondary buff of some kind. While it's a nice way to customize a character, I ultimately felt it was a bit convoluted and unnecessary given that you don't really have much context for what equipment is superior nor is there much control over how you get a specific item. I would have much preferred a skill tree similar to how players unlock new abilities for their characters which would have given me a bit more control over my character's loadout instead of adding a Destiny 2 grinding element to the game. 

While much ado was made about the lack of 60 FPS, I honestly didn't have too many problems with the visuals most of the time. The graphics weren't choppy and there were only a few times that I noticed the surroundings loading slow. The cut scenes were....fine – the cinematics weren't as high quality as something like Horizon: Forbidden West, but they didn't look awful either. The stiff and awkward voice acting was more distracting than the graphics.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Gotham Knights for what it was – a basic superhero game that provides players with plenty to do. It will not live up to the standard of the height of the Batman: Arkham series, but it's still a fun game, especially if you want to just tune out and beat up some nameless thugs. There is plenty of room for improvement in Gotham Knights, but this game provides a solid enough foundation for future installments, and I enjoyed a game that looked at the wider Batman family rather than focusing on just one character. 

Rating: 3 out of 5

Gotham Knights is set to release on October 21st on Xbox Series X and Series S, PlayStation 5 and Microsoft Windows. The game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on a PlayStation 5.