A bland, uninspiring superhero snooze-fest
Superhero games have come a long way over the years. The Arkham Batman games still hold up to this day, with Arkham City arguably the pinnacle of everything that’s great about the Batman franchise and why it has such endearing longevity. Guardians of the Galaxy showed that there’s still an appetite for single-player, narrative-focused stories (take note, Publishers!) and Insomniac’s Spiderman series made it so fun to traverse and get into combat, that fast travel was only a necessity late on to collect everything.
Sure there’s been some stinkers along the way (Hello, Marvel’s Avengers) but largely the field is smattered with great titles. And then we come to Gotham Knights. Had Gotham Knights come out 12 years ago on the PlayStation 3, we’d probably be sitting here singing its praises. However, as a “AAA” gaming experience on PlayStation 5, this is not just a misstep, it’s a mundane, boring, cookie-cutter title that offers absolutely nothing new.
The story is passable at best, with unskippable lines of dialogue to boot; exploring Gotham is a real chore thanks to clunky traversal; the characters are perfunctory at best to use; the combat is stale and repetitive; the music uninspiring; I could go on and on. Now, that’s not to say you won’t get some enjoyment out of this game, but this is much more of a title to kick back and chill to while listening to a podcast than actively engaging and being fully immersed in what’s here. Because what’s here is not up to scratch. Not to today’s standards anyway.
In terms of graphical fidelity and frame-rates, Gotham Knights isn’t great and chugs along at around 30fps. Usually this can be forgiven if the game manages to pepper in a reason for sticking with it…but it doesn’t. The world of Gotham is devoid of colour and life; a far cry from the aesthetically diverse cities of old. Hell, even Lego Avengers and Lego Marvel do a better job of crafting Gotham City than what’s here!
The story is the big drive and you can tell that Warner Bros have put the most amount of effort into attempting to craft an interesting tale. And for the most part, it does work quite well, but for a few annoying clichés and the obligatory “dream level” which is, honestly, another nail in the coffin for this one.
The narrative begins with a big cut-scene. Batman is killed after a fight with Ra’s al Ghul and as a result, the Bat family – Robin, Red Hood, Nightwing and Batgirl – are tasked with protecting Gotham City and bringing hope to its citizens, who feel the tide change and are about to be plunged back into a darkness not seen before the Dark Knight.
While a rabble of criminals do pop up, our four heroes mostly spend their time investigating the Court of Owls, who have appeared and promise bad news for everyone. Across eight different Case Files, you take control of any of these four heroes.
The four different characters all play slightly differently, with Red Hood much more adept at hand to hand combat and more clunky at traversing quickly. By contrast, Batgirl is much quicker but lighter with fighting, while Nightwing is, in all honesty, the best all-rounder out the four. You’ll find a playstyle that works for you, but traversing is an absolute deal-breaker.
While there is a button to jump, the game only allows you to spring off the edge of buildings. You can use a grapple gun to propel yourself up the side of buildings, and there’s a Glide function too, although the latter is highly dissatisfying to use and quickly drops you to the ground.
In fact, it’s quite surprising that the fastest way to get around is to literally grapple gun, jump off the edge of a building, propel yourself forward by a quick jump as you land and then use the grapple gun again. However, there is a slight delay every time you use this, so expect to be suspended in the air for a little under a second before you move.
The game does allow you to use the Batcycle, complete with “speed lines” for effect but the collision detection is pretty laughable to say the least. Smashing headfirst into a car at top speed does nothing – you don’t even fall off the Cycle! Hitting a bin or postbox will shatter it to pieces but you’ll drive straight through a lamppost without it moving, while bus shelters will stop you square in your tracks.
Even other human characters can be run over but they’ll just use the same stock animation to dive out the way, even when you plough into them head-on! The game is so lazy in fact, it doesn’t even register that you’ve struck them. It’s these sort of careless additions that really take you out of the world, which is largely flat and uninspiring.
That world of Gotham City I mentioned is divided into three different islands, and while you can unlock fast travel, it’s cumbersome and incredibly tedious to do so. Lucius Fox will give you instructions to scan a series of drones in the area, but you’re only able to do so when said drone is on a recharge pad. So expect to be standing around watching a drone float lazily about for several minutes or more before it drops. Don’t expect to swim either, the game restricts that from you completely, with the screen fading to black and dropping you back on land again.
So is the combat any better? Well… no. The combat has devolved from the Arkham games to the point of button mashing at best. I mean, even the Lego games have more variety than what’s here.
There’s a button for your attacks, with holding that charges up a stronger melee to pummel enemies with. There’s also ranged attacks too with more of the same – light taps and holding for a charged pump – and a Special attack through building up your button mashing, leading to 1 of 4 different moves to be used against enemy combatants. However, these can only be unlocked through specific tasks, including killing X number of enemies.
It’s a simple system and the levelling up is largely the same. Each level gain grants you an AP (Ability Point) which lets you flesh out your character with stronger attacks, variations on said combos or even just adding damage multipliers. To try and spice things up Gotham Knights also includes a Mod Chip system, which are basically bonuses dropped by enemies that can be fused together and added to your chosen Suit to spruce up your stats.
The game also includes a litany of challenges to complete too, but to be honest most of them devolve into those aforementioned “defeat X number of enemies” or uncovering “X number of collectibles.” It’s all the usual open world busywork and it’s largely uninspiring.
Speaking of uninspiring, the side quests in this game are just as tedious. Each Case allows you to get closer to one of Batman’s illustrious catalogue of enemies, but require you to complete a series of missions including (yep, you guessed it!) defeating X number of enemies or stopping X number of crimes.
However, there are a few stand-out moments with the story and this game is not a massive Ubisoft open world extravaganza like Valhalla, so there is that. Expect to spend about 8 hours or so with the main story and another 20 mopping up collectibles and achievements, if that’s your thing. It’s certainly an easy experience to dip in and out of, but like I said before, this is one of those games you need to temper your expectations for.
Those expecting the next Spiderman or Arkham City are going to be hugely disappointed. This is a great PlayStation 3 game that’s been repurposed and touched up for PlayStation 5, and it fails in almost every category to justify its hefty price tag.
The game has very few redeeming features and the fact that the DLC includes bringing Batman back as a playable character, despite the game LITERALLY being about how Gotham survives without him is a deliciously amusing bit of irony to finish off what’s otherwise a generic open world bore-fest.
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Verdict - 5/10