Gotham Knights Review

by

Arkham Lite

I’m sure, at some point or another, you’ve seen a conversation that hangs around the Arkham games that hinges on “But would they be good if it didn’t have Batman in it?”. Which, to be fair, is a pointless argument because the game did have Batman in it, and the games were good. It’s a question that we’ll see more of in the coming weeks, I imagine, because Gotham Knights is a game set in the DC Universe, but without the presence of the Dark Knight front and centre.

The shadow of the Bat is there though, both in terms of the game as a whole and the characters within. The opening scene depicts Bruce Wayne, in the suit but without the cowl, on a video that he’s recorded to be played in the event of his death. His duties are then passed on to Nightwing, Red Hood, Batgirl and Robin to pick up where the caped crusader left off, and rid Gotham’s streets of the menaces that infest them. After picking one of the hooded heroes (don’t worry, you can change character at will), you’re off to find a seemingly familiar rogue’s gallery to pummel seven shades out of. The gang’s (mostly) all here, with Harley Quinn, the Penguin, Mr Freeze and more showing up, and letting their own gangs roam the different areas of Gotham, committing random crimes and generally terrorising the ever beleaguered population of what must be the lowest-ranked city on Tripadvisor in history.

Where things get really interesting though, is with the addition of The Court of Owls. A shadowy cabal of elites that are secretly running Gotham, their existence has been rumoured but never confirmed. However, thanks to some detective work, the fearless four discover their locations, and begin trying to take them down. I shan’t dwell on the main story for spoiler reasons, but it kept me hooked all the way through, to the point that I wanted to make sure every villain was dispatched before writing the review, and not just sticking to the critical path. I’m something of a fairweather Bat-fan, and The Court of Owls is one of my blind spots in the franchise, so I was really pleased to see them pop up here, in all of their cultish glory.

Alongside the main story are, naturally, a ton of side objectives, crimes to fight and things to collect. Some of these crimes will only reveal themselves after interrogating an enemy that you’ve battered into submission, and they range from stopping robberies to recovering stolen human organs and returning them to a doctor in time for them to still be of use. Of course, you can still pick off random thugs in the street as well, and there really is quite a lot to do in Gotham Knights’ version of its titular city.

And what a stunner that city is. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of some of the design work that’s been shown off in the build up to the game’s release, and I’m sorry, I just can’t agree. Gotham here looks fantastic. Buildings are richly detailed, streets glisten with neon reflections bouncing up from the rain and it feels like the dirty, crime soaked hell hole that we’re always led to believe it is. The only thing missing from it, for the most part, are citizens. There are a few, but it’s nowhere near as populous as the likes of Insomniac’s Spider-Man, for example. Who can blame them though, I guess? With a bunch of criminal maniacs running around the place? In addition to the stunning environments, each character in the game is meticulously detailed, right down to the final stitch in their outfits. Without pixel-counting, the game looks to be a fully native 4k, but at a cost, which I’ll come to in a little while.

As you’d expect, the four protagonists each have their own abilities that will compliment each other. Robin is tricky and nimble, Nightwing is a hand-to-hand master, Batgirl uses tech to her advantage, and Red Hood simply pummels and shoots everything in his sight until it’s dust. If you get stuck on a mission’s combat, my advice would be to pick another character and give it another go (I had a bit of a tough time during one mission so I switched to Red Hood and found it borderline trivial). All characters level at the same time, and for the most part get similar gear every time some drops. There’s plenty of customisation to get your teeth into, including modifications to the outfits to improve your stats, and “transmogrifying” your loadout with a pre-set skin, just in case you’ve found an armour set with amazing stats but looks like it’s been painted by a five year old. A final skill tree is unlocked after completing a set of tasks which actually remedied one of my biggest complaints with the game (specifically when I completed them with Batgirl), and it made me wish some of the traversal options had come into play a little earlier. Stories are fleshed out with little vignettes that you can activate in the Belfry (your hideout), and it adds a little more colour to the palette of each character. Combat feels fine, but it’s not the Free-Form combat that we’re used to in the Arkham games. It feels like a stripped back version of this, without the snappy hits and increasing tempo, or indeed the combo meter that fuelled the obsessive replays of gang fights in the original games.

I mentioned in a previous paragraph that there was a cost to the pin-sharp visuals. And, well, thanks to the internet being the internet, I’m sure you’re aware of it by now. Gotham Knights runs at 30 frames per second on console. As of the time of writing, the only PC specs that are out are for running it at 1080p60, and they’re suspiciously high for running a game on low settings. We’ve all been spoiled since the launch of the new consoles with an array of graphical options available for most titles. Personally, I like to play in performance mode, with a likely hit to resolution. However, without this option, you’re forced into 30fps. And that’s not the end of the world, but it’s a frustration. What makes it an even bigger frustration though, is that this 30fps promise is terribly inconsistent. It’s particularly noticeable when riding the Bat-Cycle, using the fast travel ability, or bizarrely, looking at the evidence board in the Belfry. After analysing some of the footage I’ve taken, it looks like there is a serious problem with frame pacing, leading to anything but a straight line on our frame graph. We’ll have a video up shortly looking at the performance, but it’s disheartening to see this happen. It’s immediately apparent why the last gen versions of the game were scrapped, and those clamouring for a 60fps performance mode might be in for a shock when they get to play this. It’s a big shame, because I feel that the obsessive compulsion that people seem to have for native 4k visuals is overshadowing the experience for people when they could have a much smoother time at, say, 1440p and most wouldn’t notice a difference.

It’s not the only issue with the game either. Time after time I found myself walking into geometry that either stopped me in my tracks or glossed over an objective marker, and I was fighting with the camera on a few occasions as well. Oh, and there was a rather hilarious bug with Jason (Red Hood)’s toggles on his hoodie too, but that seemed to vanish after a restart of the game. Other than that and a single crash pre-patch, I’ve not had too many issues outside of the game’s performance.

The final thing to mention is the co-op gameplay. I managed to find a few partners while playing, and it’s incredibly satisfying to head to an objective and plan out your attack with someone else. It’s incredibly rewarding when that plan comes off, and it’s incredibly fun when it doesn’t and you have to improvise a new method of attack on the spot. Progression and loot are carried across to your game once you leave the session, and everything scales to the host’s level, so you’re never going to feel under (or over) powered to take on some challenges.

All of this then leads me to answer the question that nobody ever wants to answer. Can one of these games be good if it doesn’t have Batman in it? Well, the short answer is yes. The longer answer is that it can be, and with a little ironing out of those performance problems, it could well be a great one. While the spectre of Bruce Wayne threatens to haunt every aspect of Gotham Knights, it manages to do a solid job of being a tale all on its own.

7.5

A great story set in the Batman universe, Gotham Knights emerges from the shadow of Bruce Wayne and forms its own experience. If it weren’t for the performance issues I experienced, it would likely be getting a higher score. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Editor-In-Chief - NGB. Started writing for NGB in 2013, 3 years later I was running the show. I love what we do here, if you want to get involved, get in touch! PSN/Xbox LIVE/Steam - Winstano

@winstano

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