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Gotham Knights

Gotham Knights

Batman is dead and Gotham City gangsters are celebrating. They shouldn't have, because four young proteges are ready to finish what old Bruce Wayne started.

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After solving a tricky murder mystery in the role of Red Hood, I found out where some really nasty enemies are hiding. I waltz out of the building, elegantly whip out the grappling hook and shoot it over a rooftop to glide away, jumping down to my motorcycle and making Gotham City's bustling streets unsafe for mischief makers by attacking the gangsters I see along the way in one mighty sequence. Then I elegantly throw myself into a fight together with Nightwing, dancing around the enemies like a well-choreographed ballet and handing out devastating blows.

In theory, anyway. Because that's exactly how I'd hoped playing Gotham Knights would feel. I'm a big fan of the DC universe, and the glaring void of DC games that has set in after the Arkham series has made me follow this title with great interest. Because the premise is so good. Batman is dead and his disciples have taken over, those being; Batgirl, Nightwing, Red Hood and Robin.

Gotham Knights
Just because Batman is dead (right?) doesn't mean it's free for Gotham's scum.
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Since they're not quite as capable as old Bruce Wayne, you can jump into games with friends to take on Gotham City together playing co-op. With great gameplay and fancy graphics, this would have been a dream game of mine. But there have been warning signs. Among other things, development has dragged on so long that the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions have been scrapped entirely in favour of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X. The fact that it was once intended for old hardware is unfortunately obvious.

This is precisely why the experience I described in the paragraph above should more truthfully sound like this:

After a bit of random clicking, I've solved another repetitive murder mystery in the role of Red Hood, and thanks to this I've learned where more of the same enemies - I've been accustomed to taking down - are hiding. I try to get out of the building but get stuck in the geometry and can't exit the door on the first attempt, whereupon I accidentally use some health before I get out the grappling hook and accidentally shoot my way into the wrong building. I call for the bike but I'm obviously in the wrong place because it doesn't show up where I want it to. Once I finally get the bike, there's a truly boring transport sequence on lifeless streets where it's pointless to bother with enemies as it makes no difference, before I get involved in some fighting together with my partner playing Nightwing - who unfortunately gets logged out mid-fight - while clumsily attempting to play smoothly in choppy 30 frames per second.

Gotham Knights
Several familiar characters return in new, spiffed-up versions, which, however, often feel questionably designed on the same premises as in Marvel's Avengers .
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A lot of these problems stem from the fact that Gotham City feels old. The environments are certainly pretty, and many of the cutscenes offer impressive textures and effects, but the world is almost stone dead. Standing on Gotham City's main street with lots of lit windows indicating life and movement but only seeing one or two pedestrians outside, who are also behaving very strangely, is sadly commonplace. Furthermore, the animation work is actually not very good at all and the characters feel clumsy. I actually had to boot up Batman: Arkham City for the Xbox 360 to see if it was as stiff there, but the fact is that the old classic has a better flow than this.

To continue my whining, I think it has a completely unnecessarily high skill threshold to get into the game. Gotham Knights has a pretty complex menu system where pretty much everything has submenus. If it's going to be that fiddly, it needs to be backed up by logical and deep systems that really add to the experience, something I think the developers failed to do. It just feels like menu navigation that adds very little and also isn't entirely convenient with controllers, and even here the classic Batman: Arkham City feels more well thought out and gamer-friendly.

Gotham Knights
The battles, when they work (preferably in co-op) are the highlight of the game.

Much of this criticism, however, comes from the fact that I'm disappointed when I know how good this could have been. Because it's certainly not a bad game. The fact that there are four characters, each distinctively different, does a lot for variety and it's fun to try them all to find my favourite. Personally, I really like Batgirl and Red Hood, who in many ways feel very unique. The battles also offer some extra depth as there are some pretty nice stealth opportunities, and you're also rewarded for being extra skilled at things like avoiding damage or playing tactically.

Gotham Knights is very much a progression-based game where you do the same things over and over again to gain more abilities and better equipment, which in turn is required to take on the increasingly difficult opponents you face. There are also plenty of secrets to discover. The problem, however, is that it never really engages. While I enjoy DC tropes like finding Batman's old Bat Signal lamp tucked away in a police warehouse or references to more obscure characters, I never feel there's that natural drive that makes me want to continue. While I (mostly) haven't been bored while playing, I certainly haven't had trouble putting down the controller either.

Gotham Knights
There are several ways to get around the city, but unfortunately none of them are entertaining.

The story of the dead Batman is also largely neglected. This is due in part to the fact that there are four different characters who are supposed to be sharing the story. The narrative isn't very sharp and the dialogue rarely feels natural. Furthermore, there's often a disconnect between what the story is saying and what I'm actually doing in the game, like when Red Hood exclaims that he needs to shut up and take it easy as enemies swarm in looking for me in a stealth sequence, whereupon the scene opens with him violently kicking a door open, doing the exact opposite of what the story wants me to feel and do.

It's as if for every merit the still substantial adventure offers, there's also something negative that prevents it from reaching its potential. Gotham Knights is at its best in the battles that feel challenging and when the online code works as promised so I can get to play with a friend. Then there's automatically a bit more hustle and bustle as we find things to look at together, do quests, and take down moderately difficult bosses (I won't spoil which ones). It's during these moments that I actually feel so entertained that a rating of seven would have been closer at hand.

Gotham Knights
Little by little you unlock more skills and gadgets, but the system is not intuitive and fun enough.

But as soon as I'm in there fumbling through the tedious menus, listening to the lame story and making my way through the desolate game world with some poorly introduced character, the urge to play on quickly disappears. Four-person co-op in a Horde-inspired mode is coming in November, which is when I plan to return to the game, but in the meantime I feel that the time I spent with Gotham City for this review is more than enough, and for me this is a big disappointment.

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06 Gamereactor UK
6 / 10
+
Good battles. Nice design. Varied protagonists. A lot of content.
-
Rigid game control. Stone dead world. The motorcycle sucks. Crappy menu system.
overall score
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Gotham Knights

REVIEW. Written by Jonas Mäki

Batman is dead and Gotham City gangsters are celebrating. They shouldn't have, because four young proteges are ready to finish what old Bruce Wayne started.



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