Updated: 6 days ago
It’s been almost 7 and a half years since gamers and bat-fans alike have been graced with a new version of Gotham city to explore (disregarding the Lego games, for obvious reasons) and Gotham Knights allows us to, once more, don the cowl and defend the streets of Gotham – the only catch, Batman is DEAD.
The opening of the game holds very little back, showing Batman’s final confrontation and his ultimate demise. From here players will take control of one of Batman’s prodigies; Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood or Robin, and will be thrust into solving Batman’s final case, whilst trying to keep the residents of Gotham safe from a spew of gang factions that threaten the less than peaceful city.
From a purely narrative perspective, Gotham Knights offers players an original and intriguing story focused on the Bat Family both coping with the demise of their father figure, mentor, and friend, while also working to uncover the sinister machinations of the elusive and secretive Court of Owls. There is also a small cast of classic Batman rogues (Harley Quinn, Mister Freeze, Clayface and Penguin) that play certain roles in the main story of the game, along with providing players additional cases to investigate and solve. The use of slight divergences in how NPCs interact depending on the choice of playable character is where the writing of Gotham Knights shines. For the majority of my playthrough I was using Nightwing (don’t read too much into that, please), resulting in a more quippy and banter-ish response to some of Gotham’s rogues. The interactions with Harley were quite possibly some of my favourites. However, some of the interactions between Harley and Batgirl were equally entertaining, as were some of Robin’s nerdy quips (I didn’t enjoy playing as Red Hood, so can’t comment too much on his interactions, but he was fun in the main story elements!). You’ll also notice the general view of the BatFam from your average Gothamite evolves as you progress through the main story.
To ensure the BatFam can operate effectively across Gotham, players have access to the Belfry which acts very similar to a mini version of Dragon Age: Inquisitions Skyhold. Players can listen to the Gotham City News for updates on key story and side case updates, while also chatting to the other members of the BatFam. There’s also an arcade machine offering a fun minigame (three guesses which in-game character is top of the scoreboard!) as well as giving players the ability to do crafting, access the AR training and tutorials as well as switch character (yes, you can switch to whichever knight you want before each night on patrol, how exciting).
Variety and player choice seems to be at the centre of design thinking for Gotham Knights, and much like the writing and narrative design, combat and traversal have been carefully designed to provide players with enough variety to keep even the pickiest players happy. If you’ve played any of the amazing Arkham games by Rocksteady, the combat will be very familiar, especially if you’ve played through Arkham Knight and the various DLC packs that offered players the chance to take control of the wider BatFam. However, in Gotham Knights the combat is slightly more evolved with each of the playable characters gaining access to an array of abilities named “Momentum Abilities” that work on both a cool down and charge gauge offering players even more variety in how they can tackle both the criminal gangs and more challenging supervillains that have begun to expand into Gotham. Despite my personal enjoyment of some of the momentum abilities, some do feel somewhat less helpful than others. Nightwing, for instance, has an ability that increases his speed by a set percentage. That’s it. Not quite as fun, or visual exciting as some of his other abilities, such as being able to breakdance around creating a tornado of damage. And this is very much the case for all members of the BatFam, some of their Momentum abilities are fun, some are just there to fill up the list of 8.
While we’re on the subject of abilities, on top of each character having uniquely enjoyable combat and Momentum mechanics, each character has their own unique form of transportation. Now I shan’t lie, it did take me a solid 4 hours of gameplay to work out to use Nightwing’s Trapezium (I forgot that pulling back on thumb sticks would make me go up. Embarrassing, yes.) however each of the BatFam’s unique traversal abilities are a fun and enjoyable gimmick that allow players much more exciting views of Gotham (when you work out how to best use them!). The downside to this is the unlock process, however. Now I’m not saying it’s an arduous task to unlock the “Knighthood” abilities and the unique traversal method for each hero (don’t worry, you have your trusty grapple and the BatCycle to keep you moving from pretty much the get go and a fast travel that’s unlocked pretty early in the main story) but there is an amount of planning involved, planning such as needing to complete 10 premeditated crimes (crimes that you need to find evidence of by completing spontaneous crimes the night before on a solve them or lose them vibe), take down 3 mini bosses (big mobs, often found in certain types of crimes early in the game) and complete a wonderful AR training task (yes, they’re back from the Arkham games too). Like I said, not arduous for one character, but you need to do this 4 times. Once for each character. So if, like me, you spent a lot of the game playing as Nightwing and barely using Red Hood because he’s a slower, bigger hitter and you prefer to be flipping around living your Olympic gymnast/acrobat fantasy, then unlocking Red Hood and his fancy jump may be even more of a pain (especially if you leave it until late game, because some of the late game crimes are a right bloody pain). The unlock process is less of a pain if you plan your time in the early parts of Gotham Knights carefully (or more carefully than me, at least) or during New Game+.
Gotham Knights offers players a large city with plenty of crime fighting to do, both in terms of the main and sub cases and through just going out on night patrol. There is a significant focus on player choice and variety at the core of the game and Gotham Knights manages to pull this off well, for the most part. Is it a perfect game? No, but then what is perfect anyway? Is it fun? Hell yes! If you enjoyed the Arkham games, will you enjoy this? Most likely. Could there have been a bit more time on the overall detective elements? Yes, and this is possibly one of my biggest niggles with Gotham Knights. The detective stuff that is so well done in the Arkham series isn’t as developed in this, but that’s not to say the investigation moments in cases and on patrol aren’t interesting, even if they are a simple “read the clue and match the correct one or two pieces of evidence”. Gotham Knights knows what it wants to be to some degree and in that it achieves an entertaining game that fills a void since I finished my 4th playthrough of Arkham Knight well (Yes, I love that game, and will die on that hill), while giving players a different yet familiar experience in a version of Gotham that feels much more alive than previous versions have.