Today sees the release of Gotham Knights, a new action title set in the Batman universe, from developer WB Games Montreal.
The game is set after the death of Batman, Gotham's greatest guardian, and following his demise, it's up to his closest surviving friends – Robin, Batgirl, Red Hood and Nightwing – to clean up the city.
Gotham Knights was originally slated to launch in 2021 but, like a lot of big games expected to arrive last year, was pushed to 2022. As of writing, the title has a 69 score on Metacritic, based on 51 reviews, a just above average rating which seems to sum up the critical response to Gotham Knights so far.
"Gotham Knights buries a great Bat-family under a combat slog," read the headline of Polygon's review written by Cameron Kunzelman.
"The vast majority of the time I spent playing Gotham Knights was spent nodding my head and thinking 'OK, yeah, cool,'" Kunzelman wrote later in the review. "It’s that kind of game."
Over at IGN, Travis Northup described how his interest started to wane after a certain point in a 5/10 review, due to technical issues and confusing design.
"WHAM! Underwhelming combat. POW! A weak, predictable story. BIFF! Puzzling design choices. THWACK! Sub-30 frame rates"Travis Northup, IGN
"From everything I’d seen up to this point, Gotham Knights appeared to have all the makings of the ambitious, action-packed smash hit that it was clearly intended to be," Northup wrote. "But then, as I played it for 30 hours, it just kept hitting me with bad news: WHAM! Underwhelming combat. POW! A weak, predictable story. BIFF! Puzzling progression design choices. THWACK! Sub-30 frame rates. I’m left wondering how it went so wrong.
"Some good parts manage to shine through, like the impressive open-world Gotham sandbox, but its problems never let me enjoy the moment-to-moment crime fighting nearly as much as Bat-family fans deserve."
Gotham Knights has players assume the role of the four aforementioned heroes, each with their own skill sets. They're tasked with an open world full of procedural crime and baddies to beat up, all while unravelling the main plot, one of Batman's unfinished cases. It's worth noting that Gotham Knights is not a follow-up to Rocksteady's series of Arkham games.
"Arkham was about Batman in his prime, a godlike predator who doesn’t just knock opponents out but terrorises them, whittling their numbers down one dangling execution or crushing countermove at a time; the point was to feel overwhelming," wrote Edwin Evans-Thirwell in a 3/5 review for The Guardian.
"Gotham Knights is a spirited work but gawkier, less assured, at once more expansive and somehow less immense."
The sentiment was echoed by Ed Thorn over at Rock Paper Shotgun, who said that underneath Gotham Knights' authentic design, the gameplay falls somewhat short.
"Don't look too closely and Gotham's five districts are well-realised, with its sodden streets and oppressive skyscrapers," Thorn said in his review. "It's just a shame that it's wrapped in the formulaic shell of a looter that strives to emulate the likes of Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, where it could've achieved so much more as a curated experience akin to the *points violently* Arkham games.
"Instead, Gotham Knights embeds you in a messy loop of meaningless numbers that dictate progress and ultimately rip out all your nerve-endings, so you don't feel anything at all."
IGN's Northup also highlighted an issue with the game's story, in that "it tries way too hard to squeeze an entire rogue’s gallery of potential suspects into its murder-mystery premise, and feels completely disorganized as a result."
"You spend most of the surprisingly short campaign’s eight story missions jumping from one villainous cabal to another, before arriving at a conclusion I was able to predict practically before the end of the opening credits. It’s devastating to see such an underwhelming plot unfold after the Arkham series included some of my favorite Batman stories of all time, which often left me speechless with their stirring twists and turns."
"This game is a visual stunner. And the excellent writing and performances deserved better combat"Tauriq Moosa, The Verge
Over at The Verge, compliments were paid to the quality of the performances and visuals by Tauriq Moosa, who said "it’s so disappointing the combat feels this way because the animations are truly wondrous when they occur."
"This game is a visual stunner. And the excellent writing and performances deserved better combat."
This is backed up by Evans-Thirwell, who said that "the game's architecture is arresting, with landmarks rearing from coloured fog like watchful dragons and a multitude of ominous interiors to pick through," but then immediately harks back to the open world surrounding it, which is "mundane: optional races, backstory collectibles and laboriously unlocked fast-travel points."
While Gotham Knights is its own story and setting, it does follow a similar combat style to the Arkham series, according to Moosa.
"There is little doubt of the influence Rocksteady’s series has with [Gotham Knights'] fighting mechanics: a single hero surrounded by multiple goons using abilities and movement mechanics to deal and avoid damage," Moosa said. "Further, grappling and glide abilities also look and feel similar to those in the Arkham series. Fighting and traversing are the two things you’ll be doing most in the game."
They added: "It’s a pity, then, that because of the game’s terrible frame rate, the fighting was often a chore to play." The combat gets more complex later on, with an ability points system that lets the player upgrade certain moves and skills.
"Some of these matter very little, like gaining more crit damage, and others matter a whole hell of a lot, like Batgirl’s ability to remotely disable some electronic devices," Polygon's Kunzelman wrote. "There are collectable suits and weapons, each with their own stats that go up, and there are mod chips that can be equipped to those items, which make the numbers go even higher."
Some critics had further qualms with the combat and the weight of the upgrades on offer. IGN's Northup said that "combat in Gotham Knights is one of the worst parts about it," while Rock Paper Shotgun's Thorn wrote: "Quickly, you learn that your newly equipped level 34 bat stick and level 40 bat pants can't possibly grant joy because the combat itself is weightless."
Overall, Gotham Knights has some impressive visuals on offer, but its convoluted loot system, disappointing combat and puzzling design choices left critics underwhelmed.
"[Gotham Knights] can’t work out whether to become Batman or dump him"Edwin Evans-Thirwell, The Guardian
"Listen, Gotham Knights has the tiniest shreds of goodness, perhaps tapping into the primal urge within all of us to make the numbers go up," Thorn concluded. "I just don't want to play it again, which says it all for a game that's designed to worm into your brain and keep you coming back for more of its bazillion currencies."
Evans-Thirwell said that might seem unfair to relentlessly compare Gotham Knights to Batman and the Arkham games, but "the game itself insists on this, its story chewing over Bruce’s memory even as it clings to signature Arkham ideas, such as spying from Gargoyles. It can’t work out whether to become Batman or dump him."
Moosa was a little more positive overall, but still shared the sentiment about the combat and technical stumbles.
"I enjoyed my time with these heroes, villains, and this beautiful world," Moosa wrote. "But I am hesitant to return to or recommend it given the choppy frame rate and sluggish combat. If you can overlook those issues, you’ll find an enjoyable open-world action game with moments of levity and wholesomeness. While Batman himself may be dead, it felt great to play in the spandex and capes of his protégés."