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Gotham Knights is a bold step for WB Games Montreal by taking Batman out of the equation. But the game struggles to escape the large shadow of Rocksteady’s acclaimed Arkham games. Players won’t find a definitive Batman experience here since Gotham Knights leans too hard on dated mechanics to stand out. As WB Games tries to break free of its previous work on Arkham Origins, they barely cobble together an action brawler that will test fans’ love for Batman.

WB Games Montreal’s latest project feels like it was made generations ago due to ageing action-adventure gameplay. I’ll admit it’s not easy to craft a third-person experience without the Arkham games. Rocksteady’s main trilogy gamified Batman in brand new ways while innovating in open-world level design and combat. This was easily the foundation that made Gotham Knights into a passable standalone game years later. But, while Gotham Knights is clearly heavily inspired by the past Arkham titles, it never manages to do more than feel like an inferior copy of better games.

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Anyone who has consumed a piece of Batman lore won’t be surprised at Gotham Knights’ deadly premise. It doesn’t take spoilers to notice Bruce isn’t around, and there is a new mystery as to what happened to the capped crusader. But this mystery doesn’t fully come to fruition after a 20-hour buildup. Without spoilers, players might be disappointed to find little to no payoffs.

Bits of clues are scrambled together with a familiar plot of villains taking over Gotham in another typical Batman-esque romp. Where the Arkham games took risks for a better story, Gotham Knights only does what’s serviceable for its open-world action-adventure game to function.

Nightwing (Christopher Sean), Robin (Sloane Morgan Siegel), Batgirl (America Young) and Red Hood (Stephen Oyoung) are all admirable substitutions for Batman. WB Games knows it takes four to make up for a one-man army against Gotham’s rogues’ gallery. Gotham Knight does a surprisingly better job at humanizing each of the heroes across its lengthy story.

The game handles Bruce’s absence differently through each lead. Nightwing/Dick Grayson struggles with the pressures of leading his team and living up to Batman’s mandate. Batgirl/Barbara Gordon loses yet another father figure and buries herself in the investigation to hide her grief. Robin/Tim Drake tries to find his place as a hero and is forced to discover it without his mentor. Red Hood/Jason Todd is a reformed antihero but sets his own grief aside to avenge Batman.

Players are also free to change between each of the heroes as much as they like. WB Games amazingly crafts a seamless experience where players switch instantly pick up on the story. Each hero has their own unique voice dialogue, which is fascinating to see play out differently in the same situations. Robin’s cutscenes add a bit of extra comic relief. Red Hood’s sarcasm, grit and gung-ho aggression feed into the former glory of the Arkham days.

Nightwing feels cut and dry as a Titan, while Batgirl’s scenes are the closest players will get to a respectable Batman tale. I won’t give away Alfred Pennyworth’s role across Gotham Knights. At the same time, his scene-stealing presence around “The Belfry” opens up lots of sentimental thoughts for players.

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Here, Gotham Knights does a surprisingly good job of handling those stages of grief. Bruce’s death stays sharp and cuts into the hearts of each playable character across 20 hours. It’s a core focus that rarely veers from the bigger picture as Batman’s family copes. Red Hood’s scenes feel the most relevant following his own brush with death and Lazarus Pit resurrection (like the comic). By the climax, Red Hood’s own gritty history naturally clicks in serious moments.

This opens up the most relevant and thoughtful dialogue about Batman across the single-player campaign. I thoroughly enjoyed flashbacks and bonus scenes that simply showed the Bat Family out of their suits and living life. But this version of Jason Todd is by far the most fleshed out following Arkham Knight.

Combat is Gotham Knights’ core focus. It doesn’t exactly stand out from the Arkham games by having players fight groups of enemies all at once. Here, WB Games waters down the combat and attempts to do more with less. Melee attacks are relegated to one button. Ranged attacks can interrupt gunfire and build momentum. All characters can pull off some impressively sleek animations and chip away at an enemy’s health bar.

Holding the attack button tosses in a heavy move to break an enemy’s guard and deal more damage. Gotham Knights goes a step back by removing the innovative counter system that is now popularised in action games. The old-fashioned dodge button returns for better or worse. While a few ultimate abilities can deal extra damage, but rarely take enemies down early on. If all this sounds familiar, that’s because it is.

Sadly, combat can quickly go stale with 20 hours of it to go. Players won’t find many surprises as they hit enemies until they’re down. It didn’t matter how imposing, nimble or large Gotham’s baddies were. It was the same matter of dodging and whittling away at their health. Arkham was able to build its combat around different enemies for a twist. But Gotham Knights goes backwards by designing all of its enemies around the dated combat.

Early on, players who don’t keep up with levelling up will take forever to take an enemy down. Combat starts to feel tedious, drawn out and short of twists. But this isn’t to say that combat isn’t challenging or a walk in the park.

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Gotham Knights can take a detour in its main story by having players meet a smaller version of Batman’s rogues gallery. Mr. Freeze, Clayface, Penguin and Harley Quinn are all back with their own unoriginal plots to take over Gotham. Players can follow these side quests to unlock new cosmetics and upgrades. Story missions can also be locked behind a list of sub-objectives.

WB Games pulls every trick in the book for an enjoyable full-length game. But it tediously puts players through the same interrogations, fetch quests and connect-the-dots puzzles. Worse yet, levels aren’t replayable, and players only have one shot to complete story-specific challenges (or go through the whole 20 hours again).

But Gotham Knights’ real meat comes from The Court of Owls, a dangerous group of the city’s elite formed generations back. The Court finds a compelling story beat by their systemically taking over Gotham. WB Games does a consistent job of keeping each encounter with the Court menacing. It’s translated through combat with Talons, the Court’s undead assassin’s with super speed and lots of knives.

In groups, the Talons feel like a real challenge that encourages dodging in succession and using a stun attack. But this isn’t a step forward for Arkham veterans who’ve dealt with better enemies. Gotham Knights falls back on the standard beat-em-up design that players will need to put up with for hours.

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Players will have fun experimenting with each hero. Gotham Knights’ combat really starts to settle in with character variety in a post-Batman setting. Nightwing’s attacks are beautifully animated, emphasizing his Escrima sticks and electric-based special moves. Robin is my personal favourite for his long-reaching staff and creative finishing animations. Batgirl feels closest to the Arkham games with classic close-quarters combat.

Red Hood feels the most unique with his ranged attacks and gun-toting design that is satisfying to execute. A classic progression system is also tied to each character, and players can have fun investing in all four heroes. The upgrade tree — in its own ways — can buff up health, hit points and follow-up attacks. WB simplifies its new movesets while keeping button mashing to a minimum. But all four characters are nearly identical in design, save for a few animations. Despite all this progression, the Bat Family is kept under the mercy of Gotham Knights’ uniform mechanics.

WB Games takes a note from Marvel’s Avengers and Destiny by scattering loot chests with resources across the game’s levels. Luckily, players can find these and not fork over real money. The resources can be used to build new suits that buff out health and armour. Weapons can also be crafted with their own unique perks and damage multipliers. It’s a conventional mechanic that players have seen before. Nothing more and nothing less.

Stealth is a hit or miss in Gotham Knights, while players aren’t given enough gargoyles or cover to hide. WB Games leaves too much to chance by putting players in open areas and a few strolling guards. Enemies patrolling also have the same patterns of walking, stopping and turning in the other direction. While the AI lacks any sort of learning to keep players on their toes or try another stealth tactic. If you can sneak up on them, it’s a done deal without any surprises.

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WB Games Montreal isn’t the first or last studio to craft another open-world Gotham City. It’s still as rainy, messy and crime-infested as ever. This becomes a playground to stop crimes, find collectibles and farm progression (XP) points. Unfortunately, the open-world fatigue will quickly set in and line up with Gotham Knights‘ familiar third-person action-adventure design.

Players might roll their eyes at driving a Batcycle aimlessly through the same street again or grapple without Batman’s gliding and plummet back into the street. Gotham feels emptier than ever and serves as no more than a hub for patrols. Players who do return to their hideout (called the Belfry) will get a tally of crimes stopped every night. But none of it makes a real dent in character choices or the ending of each lead.

Gotham Knights keeps its main story missions separate from its own open world. WB Games stumbles by not giving Gotham City itself something to do when players spend so much time navigating it. Levels will rarely take place outdoors as the game loads up specially designed set pieces. However, some of my personal favourites were Court-driven and relatively atmospheric. Gotham Knights‘ story may feel drawn out with a flat ending, but some unique levels, like a deadly labyrinth and exploring Gotham’s historic sites, are immersive.

On the performance and visuals end, WB Games has luckily crafted a gorgeous Batman world. Gotham Knights easily runs above a buttery smooth 60 frames across story levels and indoor sections. But things start to buckle under the stress of Ray Tracing and open-world reflections at Max Settings. Commuting from waypoint to waypoint with the Batcycle dropped performance down below 40 frames. But this didn’t stop me from seeing picture-perfect moments in every cutscene frame.

Heroes, villains and even NPCs are designed with attention to detail to make Gotham City come to life. Gotham Knights visually fit the current generation when its gameplay stretches further back. I went as far as to play this on the Steam Deck for hours. On a technicality, Gotham Knights is also a portable experience. It’s playable on the lowest possible settings. But struggles to keep up with the open world in the mid-20s and rarely keeps up with the 30-frame baseline.

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Gotham Knights still gets credit for giving players a good old-fashioned action adventure that can be comfortably sipped on across 20 hours. Players will enjoy the experience best by framing it as a dessert after the Arkham trilogy is said and done. It’s a full-length open-world game that still stands on its own without the big Bat in the room. Here, players spend equal amounts of time with Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood and Robin and see Gotham through their own shoulders. Gotham Knights does just enough to prove it can make a Batman game without him, even if three heroes (and an antihero) can’t fill the void left by Arkham Knight.

This content was originally published here.



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Brendan Frye

EIC at CGMagazine (@CGMagonline), Veteran of the field with more then 10 years experience. Also Publisher at Nuada Press.