James Stephanie Sterling
Gotham Knights - Gotham Shite (Review)
Gotham Knights Released: 21st October 2022 Developer: WB Games Montréal, QLOC Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment Systems: PC, PS5, Xbox XS (reviewed)
I can’t take it anymore. I cannot stand Gotham Knights’ numbing tedium a moment longer. It’s not a game I can beat before it thoroughly beats me, sucking the very soul from my body with merciless pedestrianism. This may well be a difficult review to write, as words sufficient enough to describe such exhausting drudgery do not currently exist in the English lexicon.
That, and it crashed three times on the Xbox already, alongside a litany of bugs including attacks not triggering properly and characters glitching through the scenery. On top of being one of the most boring games I’ve ever played, it’s an ugly, janky, mechanically unpleasant product to boot.
The billionaire who sinks his money into beating up the mentally ill is dead at last. Batman is probably the luckiest character in the game because he gets to mostly avoid being in it. He’s present in an opening cutscene - one long enough to qualify as a short film - before getting blown up, leaving Gotham protected by four characters who aren’t bankable enough to star in their own games - Batgirl, Nightwing, Red Hood, and Robin.
Just as this quartet of sidekicks struggle with living up to Batman’s legacy, so too does Gotham Knights flail against the pressure of following Rocksteady’s critically acclaimed Arkham games, some of which were actually good. The city of Gotham is a comparatively lifeless version of what's found in Arkham City, the supervillains are awkwardly shoehorned shadows of the classic rogue’s gallery, and our four playable characters are vastly inferior imitations of Bats himself. It’d be almost thematic if it was done on purpose, but to knowingly make a game this bad would be far less forgivable than doing it by accident.
That’s not to say Gotham Knights is in any way forgivable. Its flaws are glaringly evident right away. At the most fundamental level, controls are terrible - simply moving around is made more difficult than it should be thanks to stodgy animation and a tendency to stop dead in one’s tracks by lightly brushing against walls and scenery. Sometimes stealth attacks won’t work when approaching behind an enemy, or special moves will fail to activate correctly.
I despise navigating the city. You have access to a grappling hook and it sucks. It automatically targets ledges that you’re looking at except when it decides to target ones behind you or switch its focus at the last second before firing. The Bat-Twats will fall off platforms, try to zipline through obstacles, and because grappling is still faster than anything else even with its problems, the presence of the mechanically better Batcycle is almost pointless, as is the gliding ability obtained way too late in play.
Hell, you don’t even get to fast travel without playing a while, and even then you have to manually unlock each travel point by engaging in a crap scavenger hunt. Oh, and using it requires an unskippable cutscene each time. Getting around Gotham is just plain garbage.
Combat is similarly awful. While fundamentally similar to the system found in Arkham, Gotham Knights' lack of a counterattack option disastrously ruins its flow and makes the ceaseless barrage of incoming attacks far worse to deal with.
Gaggles of opponents will constantly swing at you, but without the ability to seamlessly reverse their blows - many coming in from off camera - you’re left only with the option of timing dodges and responding with a “perfect attack”, which has a tendency to open you up for an unforeseen cheap shot. Combined with an incessant assault of gunfire, molotov cocktails, explosions, and shielded enemies’ charges, fighting is a chaotic mess.
To make matters trashier, Gotham Knights suffers from a problem found in the franchises it apes - playable characters will auto-target enemies seemingly at random, sometimes attacking the nearest one, sometimes flying off to hit a wanker in the distance. While this could be annoying in Arkham or Shadow, the effective counterattack prompts offset the hassle - you could just go with the flow. There's no such option here, and you'll face a lot of enemies that demand prioritizing such as shooters and healers. This'll likely result in you screaming at your moronic avatar as they dance around like dickheads regardless of input.
These "Knights" are more than happy to try and launch themselves at an enemy standing behind molotov flames or ice walls, leaping bravely into area-of-effect hazards, staggering, and doing it again. Dumb pricks.
Every opponent is a damage sponge, so fights are drawn out far more than they should be. It’s hard to feel like a hero when even the most basic mooks take a huge beating while many others power through your punches without flinching. Special abilities can be triggered by building up a meter but many of them feature lengthy animations and can be stopped at any time by the smallest hit, often turning them into a wasteful risk. It doesn’t help that none of them do enough damage to anything other than the lowliest of thugs.
You have access to stealth, but once again it’s a lesser version of what you can find in similar titles. Maps aren’t well designed enough to take advantage of sneaking, the awkward controls make it irritating to attempt, you have fewer tools than Batman ever did, and ultimately its bargain basement nature is too rudimentary to stand out.
Then we have boss fights which exacerbate all of the problems, almost universally flood you with mobs of enemies, and are excruciatingly long battles of attrition. The first boss I found had three stages - stage one was simply a version of the large mooks with shields I’d been fighting for hours, only with a huge health bar and healing. Stage two was a similar mook using a flail instead of a shield and added minion swarms. Stage three was both of these assholes plus minions and time bombs that you kept having to stop and defuse. The second boss I encountered? A three stage fight against an actual supervillain that progressed almost the exact same fucking way.
I was in genuine disbelief at how pathetic these encounters were. Their only real challenge was in how long it took to put them down, how their sole tactic was to swarm you in a bid to deplete your healing resources. While there are a number of slightly more unique bosses, they still largely pull the same shit - multiple stages of unflinching soak, dull attack patterns, and a gaggle of the same gang members you’ve already fought in the hundreds.
This grotesque reliance on mindless repetition runs through the game’s entire structure like the sandy shit going down a shrimp’s digestive vein. You know how so many open world games fill their maps with “enemy camps” that you infiltrate and clear ad nauseum? Imagine if such a game only had about three or four of those camps and repopulated them with the exact same mobs on an infinite basis. You just imagined Gotham Knights.
The game overwhelms you with side quests, activities, and meaningless “challenges” but it’s all so samey as to be interactive slurry - you travel to a gang of baddies, beat them up, and then maybe interact with a macguffin or three to complete the objective. Any variation on that routine is largely aesthetic or adds mild pressure like time limits.
Missions repeat over and over, as every time you patrol the city, new ones generate. Ignoring them will make character progression even grindier than it already is - and it's a hell of a grind. Indeed, failure to gain the dripfeed of XP and upgrades means story missions will easily out-level you, so you're borderline forced into tortuous regurgitation.
When you consider story missions are already a case of beating up the same old criminals - only interrupted by insipid puzzles and hidden object minigames - you’re left with an experience that effortlessly defines the term “one-note.”
Variety is in short supply and consists of nebulous busywork found in better open world games. A vehicle chase or two, timed checkpoint races that I won’t do because I don’t trust characters to navigate correctly, and a bunch of collectibles strewn about the place. That’s about it, really. Barely anything at all outside of pure, unbridled sludge.
We’ve also got embarrassingly bad dialogue, a dull story, and wooden character animations alongside dodgy physics, because it wouldn’t be a sub-par sandbox without ‘em! Hell, even your choice of four characters hardly stands out - they have different attacks and an easier time with certain enemy types, but Gotham Knights’ mechanics are simply not complex or diverse enough for it to matter.
The only truly interesting thing about this shitshow is how its laborious structure is modeled faithfully on a “live service” concept without the aggressive monetization and forced online requirements. While there is co-op available, it feels like any wider “service” bullshit got stripped out at some point in Gotham Knights’ long, troubled development.
It has all the hallmarks of 2019’s favorite gaming fad, some of which we’ve described - damage sponge enemies, infinitely repeatable tasks, horrible grind, a Destiny style gear system in which “Power” is the only stat that matters, primitive crafting, a bunch of crummy cosmetics, a home base that breaks up gameplay and accesses “raid” style missions. Most importantly of all… it’s fucking shit.
Gotham Knights takes the concept of inconsequential open world busywork to a ludicrous extreme, exquisitely culminating years of creative laziness in the genre. Nothing can adequately convey how monotonous, how unimaginative, how fucking banal this thing is. It manages to be offensive in its structural mediocrity, and that’s before we consider its enervative combat, inadequate controls, and threadbare world. Wearing the flayed skin of a live service and managing to be worse than any one of them, this sorry mockery of the Arkham series will rightly be forgotten in a year’s time - sooner if we’re lucky.