Where do I start with Gotham Knights? I should begin by saying that it is the most confusing game I have played in years. It has no idea what it wants to be and instead of focusing on one core genre, it has strands of co-op looter, story-driven action-adventure, and open-world elements sprinkled through its DNA. As a result, Gotham Knights feels like it has gone through a bruising slog of a development and a lack of focus, and the final product sadly bears the scars and wounds from it.
With Bruce Wayne dead, Batgirl, Red Hood, Robin, and Nightwing are tasked with taking down the villains that run rampant in Gotham that are making the most of Gotham’s protector being gone. But the villains aren’t the only ones to fear; The Court of Owls, a mysterious and secretive organisation that influences Gotham from the shadows, emerges and attempts to seize power.
Sadly, while it’s great to see the likes of Harley Quinn, Clayface, and Mr. Freeze in ways we haven’t seen before, they feel like mostly wasted opportunities. Their questlines are largely separated from one another, never really heightening the tension in-game and feeling like Gotham is slipping out of the Bat family’s control.
It’s a shame too because these questlines are actually quite good, ending in memorable boss fights that really put your abilities to the test. But with the game’s main plot focusing on The Court of Owls, something which feels largely underused, they simply don’t have the opportunity to shine.
That’s because the villains do at least have some redeeming features, but the same can’t be said for the four Knights. None of the performances particularly grabbed my attention and a lot of them are very one-note. Batgirl, who I played as in my playthrough, was the most interesting as she didn’t fall into a stereotype, unlike the others. Red Hood is the moody and direct member of the team, Robin is the nerd who gets picked on by the rest of the group, and Nightwing is just rude to almost everyone.
Beyond that, there’s not much to say about them. Despite having four key characters to work with, Warner Bros. Games Montreal doesn’t really do anything with them. All four are supposed to be grappling with the mixed emotions of grief of Batman’s death and duty to protect Gotham, but none of that is reflected well in the writing, cutscenes, or performances.
The four are presented as a unit, but no one ever takes charge, despite their clear strengths and weaknesses, or shows any kind of teamwork besides bouncing clues around the members. They don’t even have a plan for how to protect Gotham.
They just pick up Batman’s last case that he never got to finish and are funnelled into chasing villains rather than looking at how they work as a team. Besides a moment where Alfred yells at them because they aren’t working well together, the challenges of this group of heroes coming together for the first time are never really explored.
The moments where we do see the heroes grieving for Batman are laughably bad. Entirely removed from the main linear quest line chasing villains, these small minute or so-long cutscenes all involve one of the Knights being angry or sad but the writing can’t pull off the kind of hefty emotional weight these scenes are meant to carry and the performances fail to stand up as well, making the whole thing just awkward.
To top it off, these narratives do not seamlessly intertwine. They are two separate plotlines just shoved together without consideration of one another. There is a constant, jarring back and forth between crying about Batman one moment and being fired up to ‘take down Harley Quinn and save the city!’ the next. There is almost no rhythm or cadence.
If you’re a fan of DC, these plot points will likely work better for you. I know from speaking to other reviewers that’s certainly been the case, but for me, it just feels flat and underwhelming.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the story that is incoherent in Gotham Knights. Nothing gels, meshes, or fits well gameplay-wise either. The map is stuffed full of strange open-world activities that feel like filler, and Gotham itself feels bland and uninspired. For example, there are about half a dozen fast travel points for you to unlock. This is done by scanning drones, but some drones have shields and can’t be scanned until they take a rest at a recharging station. So, you are forced to just wait around for 40-60 seconds for the drone to complete its flight path and rest at a station, allowing you to scan it.
You can’t do anything else while this happens, other than put down your controller and wait. I was so stunned at being asked to do this, that I found myself scrolling through my phone while I waited for the drone to do its thing.
Story quests are also full of filler, with challenges interrupting main missions that regularly ask you to kill time in the open world. The side quests feel like they’ve been pulled from a game from five years ago, and the list of extra objectives, tasks, and checkbox quests that recycle crimes or activities feels incredibly outdated.
As you complete these tasks, you’ll be bombarded with loot, which you can use to upgrade your power in combat. The combat here is pretty similar to the Arkham games, but this time it’s focused on abilities that recharge. It’s engaging enough to get you through the main story, but it’s not particularly special or innovative.
To make matters more complicated, though, the loot system is just cluttered, and in all honesty, entirely unnecessary. While the game showers you with new weapons, suits, suit styles, batcycle decals, elemental gear and weapons, and mods, (some of which you can also craft) none of it really does anything meaningful. They provide such minuscule stats buffs that they’re not really worth paying attention to, cluttering up your inventory as you progress. The only variation comes in the form of elemental damage some of the weapons can do, but they don’t change how your character looks or behaves in any meaningful way.
It’s a case of quantity over quality with progression in this game. Gotham Knights suffers the same problem Anthem and Marvel’s Avengers did where the gear feels substantial as you get upgrades so often and they aren’t altering gameplay in a way that is engaging.
As mentioned, all of these items can also be crafted, which adds to the inconsequential feeling of the game’s gear system, as there are a dozen different materials to collect that all just blend in together and accumulate. I then spent these materials without ever paying much attention, never really thinking about going after a specific thing or trying to craft any particular piece of gear.
But, the final nail in the coffin of Gotham Knights at launch is that on PS5 it doesn’t run well. The game regularly dips well below its already less-than-ideal 30 frames per second on PS5 when traversing the world and has gaudy, noticeable pop-in at both close and far range.
It’s hard to really know what happened with Gotham Knights beyond the rumours of WB Games Montreal shifting projects and chopping and changing things behind the scenes over the years. What is clear, though, is that it is a mess.
It feels like an amalgamation of five or six different games, that when shoved together just leads to an experience that lacks direction, focus, and thoughtful gameplay and mechanics. Gotham Knights is a dull and diluted trip to Gotham City.
Gotham Knights (PS5)
Gotham Knights is a messy, directionless open-world RPG that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Its lack of identity means that, just like its heroes, it fails to step out of the shadows and truly shine.