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Gotham Knights review: an action-RPG dictated by dull numbers and tired combat

Legendary tier level 99 bat pants can't change my mind

I watched a badminton match where one player was so dominant, his opponent looked like he'd largely given up. The commentator said, "Yep, the belief has all but vanished", as it panned over a guy who simply wanted to be anywhere but that court. At the time, I'd already sunk some hours into Gotham Knights and taken a quick break from the action to keep tabs on a tournament and collect my thoughts. But as I turned away from the telly to dive back in for another session, I couldn't help but think that if the same commentator had been in the room with me too, they would've repeated themselves. I'd simply had enough.

Gotham Knights is an action RPG set in – surprise, surprise – Gotham City, the former home of Batman who's not there anymore because he's upped and died at the hands of a supervillain. This leaves the daily chores to the Batman Family, a foursome dubbed "The Gotham Knights", who must wrest control back from a city that's taken advantage of Batman's sudden disappearance. The Knights are as follows: Red Hood, a large man with extremely defined forearms; Night Wing, who looks like Robert Pattinson's Batman; Robin, a bit of a dweeb; Batgirl, gets a point for not being another dude of a slightly different stature.

The squad are fine, I guess? They act as you'd expect from any young superhero in a big budget video game: like high schoolers from Until Dawn (except Until Dawn is good). Bat Girl responds to crises with the word "classic" as if unironic usage of the term is totally fine and normal, while everyone else responds appropriately to in-game cues with unremarkable locker room chat.

And if you've not read the comics, don't expect to understand the universe's terminology or its history. They bang on about "Lazarus Pits" which is a critical thing to whatever's happening and isn't – for whatever reason – susceptible to L'oreal's Carbon Defence 4-in-1 antiperspirant spray. Red Hood also references a significant historical event that's plagued him but never fully explains what it is. Truthfully, though, I don't care!

Barbara Gordon's Batgirl in a promotional image for Gotham Knights.
The residents of Gotham are an odd bunch, either commenting on your appearance as you whizz past in your bat bike, or saying stuff like: "It's been two weeks since I started deep lumbar stretching" and "My brother taught me a technique called conscious breathing".

Don't look too closely and Gotham's five districts are well-realised, with its sodden streets and oppressive skyscrapers. It's just a shame that it's wrapped in the formulaic shell of a looter that strives to emulate the likes of Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, where it could've achieved so much more as a curated experience akin to the *points violently* Arkham games. Instead, Gotham Knights embeds you in a messy loop of meaningless numbers that dictate progress and ultimately rip out all your nerve-endings, so you don't feel anything at all.

The game's rhythm is broken up into nights, where you tackle some crimes on the mini map, complete a main mission or two, then return to the Belfry (hideout) to advance the story – rinse, repeat. As you explore Gotham, you'll stumble into different factions like The Freaks and The Mob who might've taken someone hostage, so if you beat them senseless you'll earn Clues, a red currency. Take this back to your hideout and you'll unlock "Pre-meditated Crimes", more unimaginative side-missions marked on your map which net you lots of EXP and more currencies of various shapes and sizes: metal sheets, green goo, blue crystals.

So much of the game's loot system goes unexplained or is explained somewhere in one of 74 submenus. You've got crafting and mod slots, a power level, skill-trees, abilities, yet everything melds into either an incomprehensible mush or has no effect at all. Quickly, you learn that your newly equipped level 34 bat stick and level 40 bat pants can't possibly grant joy because the combat itself is weightless. There's just no crunch or crispiness when your knee connects with a thug's crotch, and most battles are won by mashing the attack button until the numbers that pop up stop popping up. No seriously, the "timed attacks tutorial" actively encouraged this technique.

Red Hood stands opposite a carbon copy of himself in Gotham Knights.
You can play co-op with one other player and even select the same character if you wish. This led to Liam and I giggling at this for a while.

Granted, your character's animations are nice but missions either involve a frustrating amount of scanning objects for clues with your Witcher senses, or they devolve into fending off a horde of the same knuckleheads for the umpteenth time. And even though you're able to switch between the four Knights between missions, there's nothing that truly sets one apart from the other. I mean, how could there be, when all you've got to do is mash a button?

Heck, even co-op doesn't seem all that breezy for a game that's marketed itself as a jaunt with buds. I dragged our vidbud Liam into a session with me, and it scaled him up to meet my power level which was neat, while the whole going-on-missions-together was largely painless, as well. But Liam's appearance in cutscenes was inconsistent, as sometimes he'd hold open a door for me to escape through, or he'd vanish entirely as my character took the lead. It may sound like a small thing, but it contributed to this awkward tension, as if both of our characters scuffled over who got to be star of the show, while the other had to wait outside for the filming to finish.

Listen, Gotham Knights has the tiniest shreds of goodness, perhaps tapping into the primal urge within all of us to make the numbers go up. I just don't want to play it again, which says it all for a game that's designed to worm into your brain and keep you coming back for more of its bazillion currencies.

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About the Author
Ed Thorn avatar

Ed Thorn

Senior Staff Writer

When Ed's not cracking thugs with bicycles in Yakuza, he's likely swinging a badminton racket in real life. Any genre goes, but he's very into shooters and likes a weighty gun, particularly if they have a chainsaw attached to them. Adores orange and mango squash, unsure about olives.

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