Batman is dead.
That very fact might lead some people to think that Warner Bros. Games’ latest crime-filled caper, Gotham Knights, is a follow-up to Batman: Arkham Knight, but it’s not. This is a new game with a different take on the DC property, and so while it may look like an Arkham game, when you settle down to play it you’ll find there are key differences not only in terms of characters and previous events, but also in gameplay. Don’t let it put you off though: what’s on offer here is equally as impressive as what’s come before. Perhaps even more so in some areas.
And so, Batman may be dead, but his legacy lives on. He may have been Gotham’s number one crime fighter, but waiting in the wings to pick up his mantle are Batgirl, Red Hood, Nightwing and Robin. Though first, they’ve got a pretty important task to carry out: find out exactly why Batman was killed. It’s a job that will take them many nights to complete, heading out onto the streets to find leads and then following up on them. And while they don’t quite all get on like a house of fire, by working together they can achieve great things.
With the Batcave destroyed, the team make use of a Belfry as a base of operations. There, they can take part in training activities, use the Bat Computer, and generally prepare for the night of crime-busting ahead. Leave the Belfry, and Gotham City is your oyster. Explore and deal with random crimes, and you’ll discover leads that will open up more meatier problems for you to resolve, known as premeditated crimes. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what you can get up to.
As you’d expect of an open world game, there are a myriad of collectibles to find, and as you make your way through the main story, you’ll unlock a wealth of side-missions and activities that are fun to delve into. There are challenges, too, which are very much worth doing due to the rewards they bring. When you first start out, for example, your grappling hook is the only way to quickly navigate the skies of Gotham, but earn your ‘Knighthood’ and you’ll be able to glide around just like Batman. Neat.
When your night of crime-fighting is done, you can return to the Belfry to follow up on the information you’ve gleaned, and perhaps also make use of the materials and blueprints you’ve acquired to craft new gear. Being an action RPG, keeping your gear up to date is an important aspect of Gotham Knights, and you can also customise it with a range of mods. This isn’t a game where you need to grind to enjoy it though: materials and blueprints are pretty plentiful, allowing you to get on with the main story without much of as hiccup. But if you want the rarest gear – the stuff that typically looks the coolest – there’s an impetus to keep hitting the streets.
The main story that ruins through Gotham Knights is an interesting one which Batman fans are likely to enjoy. It has plenty of familiar faces, but each one has been given a unique spin, so you never really know what quite to expect. It’s the gameplay that will draw you back again and again, however, blending stealth, combat, exploration and investigation to good effect.
The combat here will be familiar to those that have played the Arkham games ion the past, but there are couple of key differences. Firstly, there’s effectively zero reliance on building combos to enable some of your powerful moves. Instead, there’s a momentum bar which simply fills as you fight – when it’s full, you can make use of a range of powerful Momentum Abilities, many of which can turn the tide of a hard-fought battle. The counter button is also a thing of the past. Here, the onus is on evading attacks, though if you evade an attack just before it lands, you can counter with a snazzy attack that hits harder.
Stealth is also similar to the Arkham games, with you able to crouch and sneak up on unsuspecting criminals and then take them down with force, or silently. It also pays to keep up high, using your grappling hook to move from vantage point to vantage point. Ultimately though, how effective you can be at stealth depends on the character you choose to play as: Robin is perhaps the most effective as taking out enemies without being detected, for example, while with Red Hood your options are limited.
The good news is that you can switch between characters whenever you return to the Belfry, and they even level up with each other. That means you can change your character in accordance with what kinds of activities you want to get up to if you wish, without their movesets being limited. Chances are you’ll even have some decent gear in your inventory for them, but to get them at their peak performance you might have to do a little work to bring them up to speed with your main. The Knighthood challenge, for example, has to be completed with each character if you want to be able to glide with them all.
One of our favourite aspects of Gotham Knights is its deduction puzzles, where you’re presented with numerous objects or pieces of information of information and you have to analyse them before linking the ones you feel are the solution. They really get you thinking, and add to the variety of gameplay on offer. There are, of course, more traditional puzzles to solve, too, and some unique scenarios that further make Gotham Knights a game where you simply aren’t fighting everywhere you go.
Playing on PS5 for review, Gotham Knights looks absolutely stunning – trailers for this game haven’t done it justice at all. There’s been a lot of discourse about it being locked at 30fps with no performance mode, but during play it hasn’t bothered us all that much. It would be nice to have a 60fps option, sure, but anyone that has played a Forza Horizon game on last generation consoles knows that when it’s done right, 30fps doesn’t have to result in an experience that isn’t responsive and fun. The only time performance proves to be a bugbear is when you’re speeding along on your Batcycle.
In any case, Gotham Knights truly is a next-gen game, with a ultra-clean image quality, sumptuous lighting, impressive shadows and convincing reflections. Take to the rooftops, and the city is truly a wonderful sight to take in. It’s great that you’re not forced to enjoy it alone, either. A second player can jump in at any time thanks to online co-op, and mostly go off and do their own thing. Only if the host wishes to return to the Belfry or continue with the story will they be reigned in. And they keep all of their valuable experience earned and more.
Perhaps you could argue that the streets of Gotham feel a little empty at times, or that when facing off against a large number of enemies, the combat gets a little messy, but it’s hard to truly find fault with Gotham Knights. It’s an immensely enjoyable adventure from beginning to end, with lots to offer to Batman fans even though they don’t get to play as the caped crusader himself. Don’t let the lack of a performance mode put you off: with stunning visuals, varied gameplay and great online co-op, Gotham Knights is one of the best games of the year.