Gotham Knights came out a week ago and I’ve found it incredibly difficult to find anything to love about the open world loot brawler. Red Hood’s snickerdoodle recipe, maybe? The latest Batman game borrows from plenty of other, mostly better rivals, and struggles to create a clear identity in the process. Kotaku‘s Levi Winslow also spent the past week trying to save Gotham city from messing with gangs and supervillains, and the two of us sat down to try and figure out what the game does well, what it does poorly, and all the ways it left us confused.
Levi Winslow: Okay. So, like, I feel Gotham Knights is a two-part game, something that has two separate identities living within itself. First it’s narrative action-adventure stuff where you solve crimes, face the bad guys, beat up the bad guys before you get a cutscene that takes you back to The Belfry. It’s a solid game loop. Then you beat the open world. I don’t dislike it, there is some enjoyment in jumping from one roof to another, but the RNG RPG-ness of it, Diablo-similar nature to the unnecessary loot, makes some of the most boring parts of the entire game. What do you think? What do you think of the linear story combined with the open world gate?
Ethan Gach: I’m incredibly underwhelmed by both so far. Everything fits together so awkwardly, and I mean everything. The individual scripted scenes? Good. Love them. Alright. But everything else, going from room to room in a story mission, crime-to-crime in the open world and even enemy to enemy during the big fights, it all just feels rough and uneven and not good. Like you could describe the back of the box bullet points in this game, and I’d say, sure, that sounds good. It is not new Arkham I want, but I love the Batman comics, I love the universe, let’s jump off some rooftops and solve some mysteries. And yet almost nothing in this game actually feels good to do in my opinion.
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Levi: Can’t argue with you there. The game is particularly clumsy and imprecise. I don’t mind the battle. It is not as smooth as Marvel’s Spider-Man or as effective as Arkham game, but it definitely weighs more and feels a lot better than Marvel’s Avengers, which is the closest comparison I can give. Like you said, something about it all just feels awkward and uncomfortable. I really can’t stand the creepiness and how sticky and slippery the characters are. You want to open this chest after breaking some skulls, but you have to stand in this one exact location to enable the contextual button input. Deviate from it just a little, like barely even a centimeter, and the prompt disappears. Or you’re sitting on this ledge scouting the area looking for stealth takedowns, but oops, you accidentally threw the left stick forward and now your vigilante just jumped off and landed in front of the enemies you were trying to sneak. It is frustrating.
Ethan: Yeah, I basically haven’t even bothered sneaking for that reason, especially since the rest of the incentives feel like they’re driving me towards complete chaos. Who have you played as? I’ve rotated each mission, but so far I think Red Hood is my favorite, mostly because he feels the most solid and the least slippery. Batgirl is a close second.
Levi: Lol, I’m just a perfectionist who wants to complete every challenge. So when it’s like, “Perfect regardless of stealth takedowns,” I’m like, “Bet.” But yeah, I started with Nightwing and then switched to Batgirl, which has been my main ever since. She’s just so OP, it’s crazy. I’ve heard Red Hood is pretty good so I’ll have to give him a try. What do you think of Robin? Given how frustrating stealth is, I couldn’t imagine playing him because of how stealth-focused he is. His bo staff looks cool.
Ethan: There are too many big enemies and dudes coming at you from the screen, to the point that I just didn’t want to bother with Robin after the first time I tried him. I really don’t like either Gotham Knights‘ version of the character. I’m a big fan of The animated seriesthrow in Tim Drake, and this feels more like a weird cross between Spidermanis Peter Parker and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen OrderCal Kestis, if that makes sense.
I also don’t feel compelled to grind, which is strange, but I think mostly depends on how diffuse everything is. There aren’t nearly enough baddies in this world to beat up to sustain an entire upgrade and crafting loop.
Levi: A lot of it, both on Robin’s timidity and the unsatisfying number of villains in the open world. Gotham here really feels lifeless. Sure, there are citizens walking the streets and the GCPD patrolling their headquarters (or getting bullied by some dudes), but there’s no energy to the city. I know I compared Gotham Knights to Marvel’s Avengers— Which I admittedly liked for a hot minute — but I can’t help but play Marvel’s Spider-Man every time I protect Gotham. There’s something about the bland color palette and the uniformity of the districts that robs Gotham of its character.
Ethan: I think the city itself looks cool, and I like the way they tried to play up the iconic color palettes of the four heroes with the neon lights and how the steam and fog hangs on the skyline. But I also kept thinking Spidermanmostly because I was always frustrated that I couldn’t chain the grappling hook like I was casting the net.
I think a big part of it is how much space you have to cover because of how spread out the actual things you can do are. I would have preferred a much smaller but denser part of the city than having to jump around all the dead space. Usually, open world games thrive on constantly finding things on the way to your goal that distract, intrigue, and send you down a completely separate rabbit hole. Here it really feels like moonlighting as an Uber driver in the world’s worst paved metropolis.
Levi: Yeah, like, there really isn’t much to do in this world. And what there is to do is incredibly repetitive: Go here, beat up some guys, check out a clue, escape before the GCPD shows up, rinse and repeat. Don’t get me wrong, I have fun dominating guys like Batgirl. But the fun is not as satisfying as in other, better superhero action games that have come out recently.
Ethan: I also think the game is in a very strange place tonally. Batman’s family gets to find out what their relationships are without him being able to orientate them, but they’re all pretty unfazed by the actual fact that he’s dead. And despite the dramatic premise, things start very slowly. I will say that I prefer aspects of Gotham Knights‘ the game to Marvel’s Avengers’— whose combat felt unclear and very much in the licensed game bucket — but the way it was later handled felt like a much better approximation of the feel in the MCU than Gotham Knights is for the DCU.
As a Fate guy who loves a mindless gameloop that i can sink into at the end of the day i thought i was ready to see the glass half full Gotham Knightsbut that’s just not what has happened.
Levi: Same. I really wanted a mindless loop that offered solid gameplay with an exciting story, and Gotham Knights miss the landing. There are good elements here, don’t get it twisted. The combat is good, workable actually. And the sometimes tender, sometimes tense moments between characters during cutscenes are captivating. But the actual meat and potatoes of the game, the central gameplay loop, just isn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped. I’ll wrap it up though. I’ve completed Nightwing’s Knighthood challenges to get his Mechanical Glider, so I need to do the same for Batgirl. And I want to play some co-op to see how untethered the experience is, but I can’t imagine thinking too much about Gotham once I finish the story. It doesn’t stick in the same way Marvel’s Spider-Man did.
Maybe it’s an unfair comparison, but really, in my head canon, Gotham Knights is somewhere in between Marvel’s Spider-Man and Marvel’s Avengers. It’s good, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily a good place to be.
Ethan: I’m still only about halfway through the game, but feeling a lot less generous. It’s an indecisive mix of a bunch of games with no solid thing to hold on to. Co-op I’ve tried so far is very decent overall, and I think really sets a kind of standard for games that Far Cry—which has traditionally struggled with multiplayer feeling consistent and rewarding—to aim for.
But man, every aspect of the Batman mythos recreated here feels like it’s been done better elsewhere. Maybe when the four player mode comes out it will be closer to the 3D brawler it should have been. At this point almost wish it was a live service game. Then at least there might be a shot at a better 2.0 version in a year.
Levi: Right? Gotham Knights It really feels like it could have been a live service game. I hope the four game co-op mode, Hero Assault, extends to the open world as well. There are four heroes. This game should be chaotic as hell, kind of like that underground Harley Quinn mission with that punk version of “Livin’ La Vida Loca”. It has been the most memorable part of the entire game so far.
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