Like the Bat Family itself, Gotham Knights has the tall task of stepping into its predecessor’s shoes. The Batman: Arkham games are considered some of the best superhero video games ever made and have gone on to influence countless other titles with their stories, world design, and combat. No matter who developed Gotham Knights, following those games up in a brand-new game in a different universe with changed combat mechanics and without Batman was going to be a tall order. As WB Games Montreal also hasn’t put out a game in nine years, this game is also the studio’s big chance to prove itself during a time when WB Discovery is going through heavy restructuring.
The cards are stacked against Gotham Knights, and early bits of gameplay highlighting significant changes to gameplay and incorporation of RPG mechanics seemed a bit questionable in the wake of the lackluster Marvel’s Avengers. Thankfully, after going hands-on with Gotham Knights for about two hours, the experience is shaping up to be an enjoyable superhero romp, even if it doesn’t end up being quite as groundbreaking as the likes of Batman: Arkham Asylum was 13 years ago.
My Gotham Knights demo took me across four different parts of the game and allowed me to go hands-on with all four playable characters. To start, I took control of Nightwing as he investigated the death of Kirk Langstrom and is surprised by the sloppy work of the cops and the appearance of The Freaks, one of the gangs that roam Gotham in the wake of Batman’s death. This part of the game allowed me to get used to the investigation mechanics — which have players scanning clues in the environment — as well as combat. Nightwing felt like the most standard of the four characters, although this may be because I controlled him during an early, tutorial-heavy section of the game.
Instead of the Batman: Arkham series’ highly influential single attack and counter system, Gotham Knights opts for more complicated combat that involves light and heavy attacks of the melee and ranged variety. Instead of dodging, players can counter. This might take some getting used to for longtime superhero games fans, but it works well enough as the fundamental backbone of combat. Players can also use special “momentum abilities” to deal extra damage, reminiscent of the Flow system in the latest Saints Row. After that, I jumped forward in the story and into Robin’s shoes.
That mantle still belongs to Tim Drake in this game, which I appreciate as an early 2000s comics reader. I snuck into Blackgate Penitentiary to get intel from Harley Quinn, who winds up sending Robin on a wild goose chase of fighting enemies and gathering intel to get a book of leads Harley gathered for Batman. Tim’s a more stealth-focused character, although I didn’t find sneaking to ever be too effective during my time with Gotham Knights as enemies are clustered together and aerial takedown opportunities weren’t as common. Hopefully, other sections of the game are better tailored to that playstyle.
Harley ultimately escaped, so next it was time for me to explore the open world and complete challenges connected to taking down Harley Quinn. I chose Red Hood for this task, who stands out as the most distinct (and my current favorite) character in the game. He uses mystical powers granted to him by the Lazurus Pit to jump around the skies of Gotham and is very effective at mowing down enemies with heavy hitter (but nonlethal) guns. Hopping around Gotham as Red Hood feels very distinct to this game. Gotham Knights‘ open-world exploration and crime-busting also feel more natural and enjoyable as a single-player experience than the War Zones in Marvel’s Avengers.
The Harley Quinn-related challenges are heightened versions of these dynamic open-world events, like one where I had to save three hostages strapped to bombs at a concert held by The Freaks. These types of missions will probably be the meat-and-bones of the Gotham Knights experience, and while they are not necessarily anything new to the genre, I didn’t have any major problems with them. After spending some time in the open world, it was time to jump forward later in the game so I could take down Harley Quinn.
By this point in the game, Harley Quinn has enslaved many Gotham residents with a mind-control drug. Batgirl and Renee Montoya show up at Gotham’s hospital to take her down. I slowly made my way through room after room of enemies as Batgirl, taking them down with special momentum abilities that oftentimes electrified her opponents. Eventually, I made it to the showdown with Harley Quinn, who swings a heavy hammer that deals lots of damage if you don’t dodge properly.
This boss fight was probably my least favorite part of the demo, as my hits felt like they had little impact, and it was a bit too repetitive. Still, other bosses like Clayface have the potential to be much more exciting, and I hope there are some surprise bosses and scenarios that we don’t even know about yet. Still, I have a good idea of how the final game will be after going hands-on with Gotham Knights for this long, with the exception of two things: the gear system and co-op.
All four playable characters can find and equip gear that modifies their stats and the like. As enemies and missions do have level numbers attached to them, improving each Knight’s gear and character level seems like it will be important to the final experience. I mostly played with preset gear in the sections of the game I got to try, and from what we could tell, the gear and RPG systems are barely frustrating as long as you are at the proper level for a scenario. My preview was entirely single-player, and none of the segments felt like they were tailored toward multiplayer, which is a breath of fresh air following Marvel’s Avengers’ odd mission design. I’ll probably play Gotham Knights mostly alone (in true Batman fashion) when it finally launches, and this early hands-on with the game makes me less weary about the situation.
Hopefully, the final game is a smooth and balanced experience, regardless of a player’s gear or cooperative choices. I came away from this Gotham Knights hands-on relieved and impressed. Although it probably won’t become a new video game institution like the Batman: Arkham series, my preview demonstrated how WB Games Montreal left its distinct mark on the idea of an open-world Batman game. I haven’t even taken on the Court of Owls yet, so there is still lots left to uncover. If you were on the fence with this game like me, I’d recommend giving it a shot when it launches. Gotham Knights probably won’t replace Arkham Asylum or Arkham City as your favorite Batman game, but it might become the best one to return to and play with friends consistently.
Gotham Knights launches on October 21 for PC, Xbox Series X/S, and PS5.
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