Gotham Knights Review – Keeping Busy
Batman may be dead, but his mission carries on as Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin, and Red Hood take up the calling to protect Gotham. Pulling the most well-known and popular character of the mythology from the mix comes with some notable downsides, as much of the pathos and psychological drama goes with him. However, the young generation of heroes manages to put on a relatively good show even without their mentor along for the ride, albeit one that feels like it’s not quite in the same league as the Dark Knight’s greatest adventures.
Gotham Knights is not part of the celebrated Arkham series, but enough similarities exist that you’d be excused for thinking otherwise. Players take their chosen hero on nightly patrols across a large but not especially lively Gotham, halting crimes, helping allies, and hunting down clues. The freedom of exploration across a vast cityscape is inviting, but the space feels empty and lacking in memorable locales.
There’s plenty to do on your patrols, from gathering lost Batarangs to completing races on your Batcycle. But as the hours wore on, I increasingly felt like the gradual leveling and mission structure were heavy on busy work and light on original and exciting moments or reveals.
Several more established mission locations are scattered across the game, where storytelling and structured encounters are more common. But even these felt extremely linear, lacking in the ingenious encounter problem solving the game needs. Even so, it’s fun to see some of the most enjoyable rogues show up, from individuals like Harley Quinn and Penguin to groups like the mysterious Court of Owls.
Combat and stealth work mechanically well but lack the breadth of creativity that makes predator-style combat experiences so fun. I had too few tools to manipulate and terrify my foes while in hiding, and combat too frequently devolved into the same timed button press combos. Momentum abilities (unlocked over time) add flash and flexibility to combat. However, even with those special tricks up my sleeve, as the game drives toward its climax, enemies increasingly take too long to bring down, and fights drag on unpleasantly. Even knowing this is a different game, I consistently longed for the more nuanced encounters of earlier Arkham games.
It’s interesting to watch a cast of characters who were originally sidekicks all rally together to step into lead roles. The sense of family camaraderie works, and all the characters can hold their own as they venture forth onto solo missions. But from the dialogue to the storytelling beats, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was experiencing “Batman Jr.,” with a tone that feels out of step with the dark setting. Nothing has quite the gravitas it needs to land.
A rewarding progression system offers many ways to tweak your characters; the plethora of awesome suit designs is especially fun. I enjoyed crafting new weapons and modding them with my preferred bonuses. Each character also has a unique ability tree; the further into the game I explored, the more each character felt distinct in playstyle. I liked most of them, except for Red Hood, whose slightly slower movements and focus on ranged weapons didn’t really click.
Warner Bros. Montreal deserves significant praise for its approach to two-person cooperative play. The drop-in, drop-out experience is seamless and enjoyable, readily adjusting difficulty so that both players are on par. Players can work in tandem in a single fight or range far across the city from one another – without a hitch. It’s a multiplayer system that works so smoothly that you won’t notice any complications beyond the chance to beat up some bad guys with a buddy – and that’s as it should be.
Gotham Knights didn’t wow me with its overly familiar objectives, combat, and activities, but it didn’t leave me sour. It’s fun to control some new heroes as they brood over Gotham from its building overhangs and uncover hidden plots against its people. Those heroes are right to wonder if they’re living up to a vaunted legacy. And even if they’re not quite up to snuff, Gotham has enough baddies to punch to make for a good time, whoever you are.
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