We’d been eagerly anticipating Gotham Knights for what feels like ages now, as it marks the return to Batman’s universe (and city) ahead of the release of Rocksteady’s Suicide Squad game next year. Available for the Xbox Series S/X, PlayStation 5 and PC, we played the PS5 version.
As huge fans of the Arkham series, we (and tons of people like us) have had to remain patient. For developer WB Games Montréal, it’s been 9 (!) years since their last game (Arkham Origins), and the last proper non-VR game in the series was Arkham Knight, which is from 2015. As Gotham Knights also leaves the previous console generation behind, we were curious to find out if this would push the extended franchise forward.
In many ways, it does, but there are also parts that hold the game back, and we don’t mean that this isn’t (strictly speaking) a “Batman game”. The caped crusader is dead here, and it’s up to his allies to take up the battle that’s still going on with Gotham City’s famous villains. In fact, crime is on the rise, and Gotham is a city in turmoil. Playing as Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing and/or Red Hood, you have to clean up the streets again.
Having this relatively fresh cast to work with is a delight, as it gives players the chance to explore lesser known parts and characters in the Batman universe. That also means seeing how they interact with one another, learning about their origin stories and seeing how they grow into their new roles in the wake of Batman’s downfall. If you’ve seen the associated comics and animated series this might not be as much of an eye-opener to you, but if you haven’t then you’ll love the storytelling here. You can alternate between the perspectives of the four main heroes as you swap between them, and you’ll see different conversations and story parts unfold depending on your active character even though there’s a singular story being told – it’s impressive stuff and made us want to replay the game at least one more time when we reached the end.
What’s even more impressive is that you can play through the entire campaign in co-op multiplayer, and you can just drop in and out whenever you want. It’s actually how we started playing, but ultimately we completed the campaign in single player mode. The reason? It wasn’t that it was fun, but the performance in multiplayer lags behind the single player mode and needs some optimization.
That doesn’t mean the single player mode is flawless though, and the pre-release announcement that Gotham Knight was going to support a max frame rate of 30 fps turned out as a bit of warning sign in terms of the game’s optimization state. And even though it’s a bit of a norm on today’s consoles, we’re certainly not hooked on 60 frames per second and are happy with a great game running at a stable 30 fps. The problem is – Gotham Knight doesn’t do that, or at least not all of the time.
The game is beautiful to look at, but in busy and/or high speed (vehicle-based) scenes the game struggles to keep up, breaking the cinematic immersion that is so beautifully set up with excellent character models and lovely environments. This also affects combat, which as you’d expect is a fairly big part of the game. With the occasional slowdown, it’s hard not to miss the fluid and free-flowing combat of the Arkham games, some of which are over a decade old at this point. You feel like a badass when you’re on a stealth mission and take people down one by one, but when things start to stutter in a busy fight scene it’s a lot less convincing.
Luckily, most of the story (non-combat) elements aren’t plagued by performance issues, and hopefully they’ll iron out some of these issues post-launch as well. Gotham Knights is an action RPG, and while many of the RPG elements are great it falters in the action department right now. Stick to exploring, crime-solving and completing stealth quests as much as you can, and you’ll have a blast – though this isn’t really what longtime fans will be looking for.
The non-combat elements are certainly worth mentioning though, as exploring is rewarded through new items and gear and each character can be leveled up and equipped with individual skills and gear. And although characters feel different from one another, they’re close enough in how they’re controlled that it makes it comfortable to regularly switch instead of just sticking with one character for the whole campaign.
It’s that diversity and flexibility between characters and things to do that makes it such a shame that the combat is disappointing at launch, because Gotham is wonderfully realized and feels alive with crime on every other corner, giving your squad plenty to do. You’ll also find a ton of optional side quests and collectibles in Gotham, so the game has all the ingredients for an absolute gem of a game. If it had launched with two additional months of development time, then perhaps it would have been the step forward for the franchise that we were hoping for.