Gotham Knights has more than just a Batman problem

In Gotham Knights, Batman is dead. “Like dead dead,” as WB Montreal put it during our preview, and in his place are four sub-heroes: Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Red Hood. These, apart from surprises, are what you will play in Gotham Knights. I previewed as three of them – Batgirl and Red Hood in early game scenarios and Robin for a late game mission and boss fight – and I can now say with confidence that they are… good.

It’s faint praise, and I hate being too harsh on Gotham Knights when we’re still a few weeks from launch. But for now it’s underwhelming and underwhelming in terms of real-world substance, rather than technical performance – it looks good enough and ran without hiccups while we played via streaming platform Parsec.

What is missing is conviction. The setup sees you constructing a base for the Belfrey, a hideout in the clock tower that will be familiar to series fans where you can snoop around and briefly chat with the other characters, switch between them and start missions or an exploration of the open world of Gotham City. Gotham looks pretty good, but also a little muted alongside the Gotham of Rocksteady’s Arkham games – notably Arkham Knight – where that glorious, gothic maximalism is replaced with more mediumism. The city’s deep blacks seem more like faded browns, the rain doesn’t fall as heavily, there’s no sense of sharpness, purity, no distinctive hint of criminal dirt and grime, and all with a kind of unsettling clarity, like an old game that has been visually “remastered” by an AI, whose atmosphere is lost without its textured fog.

Zoe lent a hand too – here’s her video preview!

The same goes for his fight. Gotham Knights leans more towards the RPG tendencies here, with the typical three skill trees (although I didn’t really understand the differences between each) and points to be allocated as you level up. This can be a cause of the problems. In the later game mission, the combat had a bit of punch, with some kind of glittery purple elemental damage that spawned on hit, but earlier it felt weak, almost tasteless. Where the Arkham Batman landed punches with the crunch of a sledgehammer and flowed from one bone-crushing blow to the next, in Gotham Knights they’re delivered with a sort of unintended delicacy, each roundhouse like a fly slammed against a window.

The system itself, I would suggest, is the other part of the problem. Gotham Knights combat is based around some sort of rage meter in the bottom right of the screen. Landing a series of hits will build a bar, and when it fills up you can use an ability. But that means any enemy, even the weakest, can seem to take a dozen featherweight hits to knock them down, and their resilience allows you to fill that skill bar – and then the skills don’t do much either. For example, one, with Batgirl, allowed me to unleash a barrage of attacks, and so I’d fill my bar by beating up Grunts and then saving the ability for a heavy – usually an unusually huge human – but even that, she would don’t take down. So the result is a dozen Light Attacks, followed by another, more stylish barrage of Light Attacks. Then several more light attacks. All of this is delivered by crushing X or holding it for a heavier one (a heavy attack for these heroes feels about as powerful as a Batman Punch). It doesn’t feel good.

Some of these skills are a little more interesting. On one end of the scale, Red Hood was pretty bad in the early game, whipping enemies with multiple bullets or multiple more bullets. On the other hand, in the late game, Robin would use some sort of electrified dash or spin his pole like a propeller and briefly charge across the room. However, that leads to another slightly underwhelming aspect, which is the way the characters fit loosely into classes. Red Hood, formerly a Robin, is a unit and likes to hit stuff – but mostly attacks with auto aiming weapons. Batgirl, who is Barbara Gordon, is good at techie things, but there were no opportunities to use tech in the preview.

Gotham Knights Preview - Late Game Robin in an alley

Gotham Knights Preview - Late Game Batgirl chokes a single enemy with the back of her thigh

Gotham Knights Preview - Nightwing stares at a tank of green liquid

Gotham Knights Preview - Red Hood spins an enemy around by his ankle

The four main heroes with Batgirl, Robin and two guys who used to be Robin.

Robin is good at sneaking, but Gotham Knights’ stealth from the short section I played didn’t really work at all. I’d enter a large, two-story room with the secondary goal of performing multiple stealth takedowns, but without the Arkham games’ broader multipath level design, there’s very little room to maneuver. Two of the first guards are right in your way, and also on a ledge right in front of a dozen other enemies. With few typical stealth design tools – indicators of where enemies are looking, custom gear, or lots of systemic responses to sound and light – and no escape routes, being detected was hard and impossible to undo. You have the choice to restart this section of the level or lead a horde of enemies around a corner to a dead end and slowly bring them down one by one.

Part of that could just be the nature of the preview – stealth in particular is one of those things you develop an understanding of as you spend time with a game and learn its rules and your skills – but it wasn’t a promising experience. That’s especially true when you consider that the layout mirrors any basic, early game setup from an Arkham game – an elevated perimeter with some ledges to perch on, and a lower area with swarming enemies to climb onto you can jump down and defeat them.

Gotham Knights Preview - Harley Quinn wields a hammer

Gotham Knights Preview - Gotham City from a high ledge at night

Harley Quinn is as brand loyal as ever. The city of Gotham, meanwhile, lacks atmosphere, but there are some new gameplay elements that seem to have you preventing crime every night. The police are as much an enemy as the gangs, which is a nice change.

Where Gotham Knights can gain some ground is with its Batman lore. There are many recurring favorites. Harley Quinn was our late-game boss, where she used a radio signal to brainwash some average Joe citizens into rioting (one yelled “I BELIEVE IN Q!”, which got me a sinister laugh). The penguin is here, as is Alfred and the Court of Owls, and that’s all I can say. The dynamic between the four heroes was a little cliched, mostly revolving around the hot-headed Red Hood wanting to shoot things and the others saying maybe not. But there’s potential, especially with a story that focuses on new beginnings for the town and the need for growth in its core group (which also gets some fun outfit changes later in the game).

That’s the problem, though, and it gets back to the main point at this early stage with Gotham Knights. His heroes have a little inferiority complex and keep talking about Batman and his absence, how important he was, how hard it will be to live up to him, but how damn they have to try. It may be mundane, but it’s really that same inferiority complex reflected in the game, which feels like it’s trying to replace Batman by recreating him in his entirety across four characters with individual abilities that add up to his . The result is a game that constantly reminds you how good Batman was and how nothing else compares. There’s an obvious solution: put Batman in it – and make it feel like Batman, too. Gotham Knights has more than just a Batman problem

Curtis Crabtree

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