After unleashing a flurry of punches and kicks upon the giant assassin twice my size, I was almost out of breath from mashing the square button so many times.
But somehow, his health bar had barely moved.
I kept going, clobbered through a heavy shield, activated my Beatdown ability, and struck him several times with my baton. An eternity later, my foe finally went down. Excruciating and unsatisfying, this fight against the Gladiator Talon is the most memorable moment in Gotham Knights for all the wrong reasons.
WB Games Montréal’s Gotham Knights is an open-world action RPG in which you play as Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin, and Red Hood, with the ability to switch between them freely. Bruce Wayne is dead, so without Batman around, it’s up to this cast of heroes to protect Gotham City. While the game’s premise is intriguing and the overall presentation breathtaking, it’s ruined by combat so bland and repetitive that you'll wish this were a TV show you could just watch instead.
A repetitious slog
Although Gotham Knights takes place outside of the Arkham game universe, the two share a lot of the same DNA. Combat, however, feels like a monumental downgrade in Gotham Knights. Whereas the Arkham games feature the fantastic Freeflow Combat system — which has bled into Marvel’s Spider-Man and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor — Gotham Knights feels retro with its relentless button-mashing.
Instead of having a diverse toolkit at your disposal, the majority of your offense in Gotham Knights is restricted to basic melee strikes tied to one button input. Sure, you can press another button for ranged attacks, but if an enemy is up-close (which is often the case), you really don’t have a lot to work with, even after acquiring upgrades.
The Arkham games make liberal use of the controller’s buttons, encouraging you to experiment with different gadgets and attacks. Gotham Knights, on the other hand, doubles down on unnecessary gear systems and RPG mechanics that do nothing to mitigate the sluggish button-mashing combat.
The skill trees, crafting, mod chips, and XP progression all feel like ways to artificially inflate an action game into an RPG in a way that makes you long for something simpler and more rewarding.
For instance, crafting new gear can improve your attack power, but can only be equipped at your hideout, The Belfry. So most enemies feel more powerful simply because you can’t use the gear you just crafted, which makes the whole experience more frustrating, especially for your soon-to-be overused square button. It’s enough to make anybody try to avoid combat as much as possible, which isn’t what you want out of a Batman game.
Predictable, yet disappointing “twists”
While the majority of the game’s narrative is engaging, the ending is groan-worthy at best and undermines so much of what makes this adventure interesting to begin with.
Gotham Knights adapts a novel version of the famous Court of Owls storyline from the comics. In this game, it’s revealed a secret group of Gotham’s most influential families have been controlling the city for generations through the use of highly trained assassins called Talons.
Getting to the bottom of the Court of Owls mystery is easily one of the game’s strongest points, as it throws many twists and turns your way. It’s a genuinely compelling detective story (which is what you want out of a Batman game) about a group of young heroes who must step up to fill Batman’s shoes due to circumstances beyond their control.
It’s a shame that things culminate in a frustrating and cliché finale that every player will see coming — even if the four Bat-detectives don’t. It’s as if the game’s writers just couldn’t resist the low-hanging fruit or they weren’t allowed to take bold risks.
Red Hood is no good
Jason Todd, aka Red Hood, stands out for all the wrong reasons in Gotham Knights as an insufferable brute with a chip on his broad shoulder. The game doesn’t ignore that he was the Robin assassinated by the Joker, who was then brought back to life by a mystical Lazarus Pit. From the outset, he’s abrasive and pretty much never evolves beyond that.
At the very start of the game, Red Hood suggests a violent approach for the team’s first mission, but the rest of the squad wants to gather more intel before jumping to conclusions. Red Hood responds by pushing Nightwing around, forcing Robin to step in to break things up. His behavior remains just as over-the-top and unnecessarily frustrating for the entire game.
When the others later try to make conversation, he’ll hurl insults. Most strategic discussions devolve into fights for no reason other than to provide an outlet for his anger. It’s almost as if the story is written to deliberately fabricate more conflict where it isn’t needed, so Red Hood’s aggressive behavior feels forced and unbelievable.
It’s hard to imagine what dying and then being resurrected by a magical chemical pool would do to a person, but Jason sure seems overly angry, so much so that he’s willing to use lethal force to protect Gotham. He lacks the kind of noble commitment to virtue that the rest of the Batfamily has, so he looks down upon them and stands apart. He thinks the others “don’t have what it takes” to do things right, so in most cases, he’s the biggest roadblock to these four heroes assembling as a proper team.
Gotham Knights wants you to sympathize with Red Hood, but the game doesn’t do enough to contextualize his existential crisis, and we never see him evolve. He’s just the same angry brute doing the same thing over and over again, mashing that square button like the rest of us.
Terrible combat, unnecessary RPG systems, a half-baked ending, and miserable Jason Todd leave very little to enjoy in Gotham Knights. Surely this is not what Bruce Wayne wanted for Gotham.
Gotham Knights releases on October 21, 2022, for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series consoles, and PC. Inverse reviewed the game on PS5.
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