Harley Quinn is wreaking havoc inside Blackgate Prison in Gotham Knights. Yet I feel compelled to respond to a distress call to help out Gotham civilians and police officers, taking out a few deadly criminals in the process. Random crime events aren’t anything new in superhero games, but the way Gotham City in Gotham Knights raises the personal stakes in its massive open world encourages players to explore even when the core narrative is pulling you in a very specific direction.
The tone in Gotham Knights is predictably dark, differentiating it from Marvel’s Spider-Man, with which it shares a lot of DNA. It also just might surpass the Arkham trilogy as well, all thanks to its captivating city.
Ahead of the game’s full launch later this October, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment invited Inverse to play a sizable preview build of Gotham Knights, sending us on a mission to stop the insane Harley Quinn. While the combat and progression systems were engaging, it was Gotham City itself that really wows as the game’s most important character. It’s a lively place that feels more immersive and realistic than ever before.
A reason to explore
It’s clear that developer WB Games Montréal has referenced the locales of previous superhero games to create something special in Gotham Knights. Not only is the city itself brimming with personality and life, but exploring it is far more rewarding than in other Batman games. This is thanks to intuitive traversal and its new RPG mechanics that encourage you to complete tasks to gain XP and new gear.
Infamously, Batman: Arkham Knight featured a Bat-tank that was critically panned due to its clunky controls. Other games, like Arkham City, felt empty due to being filled mostly with criminals, which made it less enjoyable to explore. Even Marvel’s Spider-Man, which has one of the greatest settings ever — Manhattan, New York — always felt a little safe due to its family-friendly tone. Sure, exploring NYC is thrilling, but you never truly feel like you’re in danger, especially when you are a powerful man with spider powers.
Gotham Knights seems to have heard all of these criticisms and invested a lot in crafting a city that is compelling in a multitude of ways
Each character — Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, and Red Hood — has their own way of getting around the city. For instance, Batgirl uses her cape to glide, while Robin can literally teleport (thanks to technology from the Justice League).
But you can also utilize a motorcycle on the ground to get a different perspective. These various traversal methods encourage you to give each of them a try since they’re all so different, yet effective in their own ways. They may never gel quite like swinging through Manhattan as Spider-Man, but at least there’s a diversity of movement that keeps things fresh.
Raising the stakes
In Gotham Knights, you’re able to explore when the sun goes down when all the criminals come out to “play.” During my play session, I came across an objective that required me to free hostages who all had bombs strapped to them. Of course, you’re able to swoop in and beat up your foes face-to-face, but the best course of action is to act stealthily, making it easier to free the hostages in time. If you try to brute force your way through these encounters, you’ll wind up experiencing a very human toll.
Another mission requires you to prevent a kidnapping in progress, which feels like something you’d actually see in Gotham City. There’s also, of course, the superhero staple of a hijacked armored truck that must be stopped. Sure, each mission involves the expected barrage of enemies to defeat, but the overall presentation feels lively.
It also helps that combat is more challenging than in previous Batman games. AI is smarter and mission requirements more stringent, pushing players to earn XP to equip new gear and abilities to optimize their respective toolkits. So, not only are these missions simply more interesting than in other Batman games, but thanks to the RPG mechanics and difficulty, you have plenty of reasons to partake in these objectives.
Filled with life
Another successful aspect of Gotham Knights is the fact that its city is actually filled with pedestrians, rather than just criminals. This makes for a more convincing world, full of inhabitants with lifelike dialogue and animations. Once again, this adds to the immersion and makes Gotham City feel like a real place. Because of this, I felt more inclined to actually stop crimes. People live in the city, and it’s your job to protect them.
But the pedestrians don’t just walk around. You can interact with them, as well. Approaching a pedestrian triggers dialogue that pushes the realism even further. For instance, while I playing as Batgirl, a citizen said, “Hey, you’re that vigilante!”
During another sequence, I heard two pedestrians talking about a job interview, which sounds mundane, but is a fantastic little touch that makes Gotham feel like a real place.
Gotham Knights has plenty in store, but Gotham City is easily the most exciting aspect so far, finally giving players the best version of the iconic setting. This is thanks to the rewarding gameplay loop that encourages exploration, satisfying traversal, and the lifelike approach to the city’s design.
Gotham Knights launches for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on October 21, 2022.