Gotham Knights Review: The Kids Are Alright; The Game Design Is Not

What’s a Batman game without Batman?

I’ve been stewing over various formulations of that for some ten years. I got into Batman comics in the Nineties; I didn’t hide from all the dumb stuff that they did there. I embraced it. I got attached to all of Bruce Wayne’s children, whether he wanted to acknowledge them or not (and maybe he shouldn’t have, given how badly they fumbled Batman-as-Dad during the 2000s). I was, in a short and terse sentiment, a huge fan of Tim Drake. The first time I got an action figure with my own money, it was that dumbass and his weird skullcap haircut; it came with a comic book that had him and the Huntress rubbing up against each other while being captured by the Lynx gang. Needless to say, hooked.

I did not perform silent takedowns.

The Huntress doesn’t make it into Gotham Knights, along with a bunch of other characters that probably should have at least gotten cameo roles, but Tim Drake shows up for his first substantive video game role as Robin. There was a guy in the previous Batman games, the Arkham quadrilogy, named Tim Drake, but he looked and acted like a Texas high school linebacker who was cycling hard — steroid cycling, not cardio on the bike — and going into MMA after graduation instead of college football. He was also given basically nothing to do in those titles except have an interesting moveset in challenge mode; it’s a good thing that this game has nothing to do with those for a couple of reasons.

The premise of the title, if you weren’t aware, is that Batman has died and his adoptive children need to rise to his legacy. The game is very clear about Batman dying: the opening cutscene is extremely long, lovingly renders him getting beaten to death and then crushed by rubble, and takes pains to assure you that Batman’s dead, lifeless body was found and buried, such that it’s not possible that he’s running around out there somewhere as the game begins. Gotham Knights keeps the Batfamily at a tight four: Tim as Robin, Dick Grayson as Nightwing, Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, and Jason Todd as Red Hood. These are the most generic iterations of these characters — and that makes Jason Todd interesting, because he still doesn’t really have a generic iteration. Most of the time he still just looks like Dick with a white streak in his hair…which is not the case in this game. If anything he looks like young John Fetterman with more scowling and a wallet chain, and it’s a very good look for him; Jason needs to be distinctive if he’s ever going to get over.

This is a good look for Jason. Sadly the Red Hood in costume looks mostly like linebacker Deadpool in this game.

It turns out he’s the star of this show. Dick, Babs, and Tim are all well-written, but they’re very rote. That’s kind of understandable; Dick and Babs have been the same characters for almost half a century now, and the biggest change in Tim’s status quo since his introduction 30 years ago — his coming out as bisexual in the comics last year — has basically no relevance to what’s going on in this game. Jason, the second Robin in the comics killed off in a 1988 comic plot and returned exceptionally clumsily in 2005, has been sort of drifting since his reintroduction; no one has really been sure what to do with him, given how clownishly his return was handled, and the decision to give him non-lethal guns as his main weapons hasn’t really allowed anyone to endear him to being taken seriously. A lot of stuff involving him is just stupid.

The good news is that in a game focused entirely around combat, having very dumb weapons gets you a pass of sorts. It helps that he is explicitly doing gun kata from the 2002 film Equilibrium every time he uses those dual pistols, posing with the guns every time he fires them in the most serious fashion you could possibly imagine, which helps his cause a lot more than you might think. This character operating ironically just wouldn’t work; the smirking and the winking would be too much. He has to take himself as seriously as possible, and resent the implication that he’s being silly at all — while still being fundamentally a good person. This Jason Todd manages to thread that needle, thanks in no small part to a great vocal performance from Stephen Oyoung. He closes the loop on a lot of the small character scenes that really make Jason Todd land in a way that Jeph Loeb and Judd Winnick, those luminaries of the medium, weren’t able to on his botched debut.

Up there as one of the craziest references in this IP’s entire history. The original Arkham Asylum referenced the Creeper; now we’re tagging in Snagglepuss as a civil rights pioneer.

The conceit of the game is that you can play every mission as whatever character you please, though, and you shouldn’t actually play every mission as Jason. In fact, the best character to play the first mission in the Iceberg Lounge is young Tim. The game kind of telegraphs that — there’s some banter about Batman never letting Tim come with him to the Penguin’s nightclub when he was sidekicking it as Robin — and when the game gives you nudges like that you should listen. Similarly, when the game involves Harley Quinn, Batgirl is probably your best go-to. There’s not a lot of subtlety here. The character writing is very, very good; the best they can do with some of the weakest villains in the Batfamily and bizarrely with some sort of apparent edict to more or less ignore the Babs and Dick relationship that just about anyone who picks up this title is going to expect will be featured. I’ve played 50 hours in the game and haven’t seen literally every character scene that matters, but you can only tell those two characters used to be madly in love by the fact that Babs still knows Dick’s go-to fast food lunch order. There are very clear hints, but only if you’re looking for them.

You should absolutely play this game if you’re into the Batfamily and the kids thereof. If you’re not…well, here’s where we talk about the rest of the game. It’s a Denuvo DRM title, which means it runs like shit on medium and sometimes even low settings for your graphics card versus the performance it should be outputting. It’s deeply infected with live service brain, which means for no good reason at all it has a Destiny equipment heuristic which forces you to waste a bunch of time optimizing gear. It was forced to be a cooperative multiplayer game by a team of extremely anxious C-suiters, which means that every single major sidequest is designed by force to require a party of players to defeat, and if you want to solo those bosses you need to either severely overlevel them, get frame perfect for a 30 minute boss fight that will force you to start over if you fuck up three times, or sometimes both. There are a lot of giant blaring warning signs to not play this game unless you have a deep affection for the characters that it portrays.

Even if you do have that affection, the game’s going to mess with you a little bit. There are basically no classic outfits for any of the four Batkids in the base version of this title: you can’t get Tim’s classic redchest and green tights outfit, you can’t get Dick’s disco Nightwing duds, you can’t get Batgirl’s purple vest and boots outfit that’s come into fashion recently for the character, and you can’t even get any outfit that shows Jason’s face, let alone his black Robin outfit from the Hush limited series, because the game cut corners and decided never to animate his mouth when he’s out on a mission. Instead you get endless stupid semi-ninja outfits for everyone involved. If you loved the designs in the DC Metal alternate universe miniseries, well, you’ll have a lot to love here. Most of these just suck, though. Though I guess Dick does have a cool outfit that makes him look like an anime pirate.

This is the closest you’ll get to disco Titans Dick. At least most of his other outfits basically look like his classic 90s black leotard/blue crest vibe.

Regardless of outfits, if you love the characters then the game is a pretty good ride. There’s a great ride buried somewhere deep within it. All four of the Batkids play demonstratively differently, and you’ll gravitate towards one of them based on the playstyle you prefer; I ended up a Jason and Babs fan, but Dick and Tim weren’t bad when I decided to take them for a spin; they were just different. You will need to play the gear treadmill game in order for the combat not to feel tedious, because if you fall behind then guys suddenly become HP golems specializing in being pure damage sponges, and all the big sidequests are also optimized in terms of enemy headcount to encourage you to play with your friends.

Mild spoilers: Eventually you’ll get endgame enemies who are a true test of your ability to hang with them both in terms of pressing buttons and maximizing your gear. They’re weird zombies working for the Court of Owls; I hate fighting them a lot, because doing so means performing very specifically prescribed movements, which in fairness was also how you fought elite enemies in the Arkham titles. I’m not a fan of the Court of Owls as villains — I don’t think anyone since Grant Morrison has even approached introducing a good new villain to this franchise — but you get some satisfying moments out of fighting them. The concept of having an exhaustible amount of crime content per night of patrol is a very neat way to entice you to play the members of the team that maybe you’re not so much into.

Traversal isn’t great. The game went into dev trailing the most recent Spider-man game for the PS4/5 and they tried to address the gulf between how good web-slinging feels and how bad ziplining is in comparison with second-level travel options, like Jason’s mystic air-jump and Tim’s Watchtower level skip teleport. Those aren’t bad, particularly, but traversal for the Batkids never feels as good as it does for Spider-man, and frankly, maybe it shouldn’t — but that’s not gonna stand up as an argument to gamers who are coming to Gotham Knights from the Spider-man titles and suddenly finding themselves a lot more constrained than they used to be in how they get around the world. There’s a Batcycle you can ride around the city as an alternative to ziplining across the Gotham skyline, but I had multiple instances where hitting max speed on a long stretch caused the game to put the bike into zones faster than it could load them. So buyer beware there.

This is actually a really fun look for Harley, and in general the game treats her really well.

Gotham Knights got real dire reviews out of the gate; the game kind of put its worst foot forward by releasing a preview segment for reviewers that involved the absolute worst cover of Ricky Martin’s “La Vida Loca” that they could have found in any digital library, and to appreciate its best qualities you have to like the characters that it’s trying to tell a story about, because otherwise you’re just playing an Arkham game with more annoying barrier-to-entry grinding/inventory/equipment management than any of those — though this game is definitely better than Arkham Knight, which had all of its technical issues and more on release and an actively repulsive plot/character situation, and probably also better than Arkham Origins, which was just a superfluous nothing of a game. It’s not as bad as it has been made out to be.

But unless you’re a superfan of the characters this game is depicting, it is, sadly, not the must-buy that games in this title’s market position have to be in order to be considered anything like a success.

Final Verdict

I got this game for $34 on Steam following some discounts after refunding another game and getting wallet credit; I think that’s basically the perfect value for it. Wait for a sale, which should be forthcoming relatively soon. I sadly don’t think this title will be seeing a sequel. It could have if its entire business plan wasn’t deeply sabotaged by executive brain from the start.

Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at