Warner Bros Montreal's one-four-all superhero spin-off Gotham Knights hits Game Pass today. In his RPS review, Ed Thorn described it as "an action-RPG that wraps what could've been a wonderfully realised Gotham universe in a tired, slapdash mix of meaningless numbers and loot." I reviewed it myself as a freelancer and can't disagree with his verdict. Game ain't great. But I find myself itching to download and revisit this muddled open world contender all the same.
In key respects, Gotham Knight isn't so much a bad game as an OK game that had the misfortune to be left standing when the music stopped, the music in question being that classic mid-tensies number "Phat Loot and Gear Tiers", from folk rock outfit Bungie. Which is to say, it feels like it was bolted-together by committee circa 2016-2017, using pieces popularised by the original Destiny and Ubisoft's The Division - open world RPG looting and progression conventions that had long since become a laughing stock when Gotham Knights actually launched in 2022.
Bad timing aside, Gotham Knights also has classic "resentful younger sibling" syndrome. It tries to stand apart from Rocksteady's Arkham games - still probably the best superhero adaptations on offer - while also riding their Kevlar coat-tails. It's a weird mix of cash-in and act of rebellion.
The premise kills off Batman so that the sidekick cast can spend the whole plot struggling to live up to and transcend him. The stealth and exploration mechanics borrow the core ingredients of Arkham's sandbox infiltrations - grappling hooks and gargoyles you can perch on, for example - but the game dilutes the execution by introducing level gaps. It then pipes the resulting mess through bland open world fixtures such as cycling wave-based sidequests. Similarly, it takes Arkham's intricate but clean, Metroid-adjacent approach to gear and abilities and blurs and multiplies and inflates it into a boggy, Destiny-style progression system driven by looting and crafting, presented via inventory screens that feel like an overdose of Scarecrow gas.
Still, as Ed wrote, there are "shreds of goodness" to unearth throughout. I rather like Gotham Knights' fisticuffs, probably more than Ed did, both for the charisma and springiness of the animations, and for how the game walks the line between a single control scheme and four diverging ability sets. There are some cool individual flourishes: Batgirl has a satisfying rushdown move, Robin gets to teleport once you've levelled-up enough, Red Hood has 360-degree pistol attacks that might just earn him a forgiving nod from Bayonetta.
The writing isn't mega, but with four major characters, there's a lot of Batlore to uncover. And some of the interior missions and fights are quite fun, though you're constantly thinking about how much more engaging they'd be in an Arkham game. The game's Gotham is a work of dreary GTA-clone utility, with square streets and flat furnishings, but there are touches of the old twisting, gothic magic. The horizon is full of draconic buildings rising from coloured smoke, some of which house dungeon-type spaces that are moderately suspenseful.
Gotham Knights is never going to be one of our best open world games, but I remember certain aspects of it quite fondly, and am curious to see how it squares up beyond the cautionary tale of its release. Maybe I'll find some time for a return visit over the weekend. Will you?