Gotham Knights came out a week ago and I’ve found it exceedingly difficult to find anything to love about the open-world loot brawler. Red Hood’s snickerdoodle recipe, maybe? The latest Batman game borrows from a ton of other, mostly better rivals, and struggles to craft a clear identity in the process. Kotaku’s Levi Winslow also spent the last week trying to save Gotham city from feuding gangs and supervillains, and the two of us sat down to try and hash out what the game does well, what it does poorly, and all the ways it left us confused.
Levi Winslow: Ok. So, like, I feel Gotham Knights is a bifurcated game, something that has two separate identities living within itself. First, there’s the narrative action-adventure stuff where you’re solving crimes, meeting the villains, beating up goons before getting a cutscene taking you back to The Belfry. That is a solid gameplay loop. Then you hit the open world. I don’t dislike it, There’s some enjoyment in grapple-hook-jumping from one rooftop to another, but the RNG RPG-ness of it, the Diablo-like nature to the unnecessary loot grind, makes for some of the most tedious parts of the whole game. What do you think? How do you feel about the linear narrative juxtaposed with the open-world grind?
Ethan Gach: I’m incredibly underwhelmed by both so far. Everything just fits together so awkwardly, and I mean everything. The individual scripted cutscenes? Great. Love ’em. Completely fine. But everything else, going room-to-room in a story mission, crime-to-crime in the open world, and even enemy-to-enemy during the big brawls, all just feels rough and uneven and not good. Like you could describe the back-of-the-box bullet points of this game, and I’d go, sure, that sounds fine. It’s not the new Arkham I want, but I love the Batman comics, I love the universe, lets go jump off some rooftops and solve some mysteries. And yet almost nothing in this game feels actually good to do in my opinion.
Levi: Can’t argue with you there. The gameplay is especially clunky and imprecise. I don’t mind the combat. It isn’t as smooth as Marvel’s Spider-Man or as impactful as the Arkham games, but it definitely carries more weight and feels way better than Marvel’s Avengers, which is the closest comparison I could give. Like you said, something about it all just feels off and awkward. I really can’t stand the stealth and how sticky and slippery the characters are. You wanna open this chest after busting some skulls, but you gotta stand in this exact spot to trigger the contextual button input. Deviate from it just a little bit, like barely even a centimeter, and the prompt will disappear. Or you’re perched on this ledge to scope the area, looking for some stealth takedowns but, whoops, you accidentally flicked the left stick forward and now your vigilante has just jumped off and lands in front of the enemies you were trying to stealth. It’s frustrating.
Ethan: Yeah I basically haven’t even bothered with stealth for that reason, especially because the rest of the incentives feel like they are pushing me toward just complete chaos. Who have you been playing as? I’ve rotated every mission, but so far I think Red Hood is my favorite, mostly because he feels the most substantial and least slippery. Batgirl is a close second.
Levi: Lol, I’m just a perfectionist who wants to complete all the challenges. So when it’s like “Perfect whatever number stealth takedowns,” I’m like, “Bet.” But yeah I started with Nightwing, then switched to Batgirl, who’s been my main ever since. She’s just so OP, it’s insane. I’ve heard Red Hood is pretty good so I’m gonna have to give him a try. What do you think of Robin? Considering how frustrating stealth is, I couldn’t imagine playing him because of how stealth-focused he is. His bo staff’s looks cool.
Ethan: There are too many big enemies and dudes that will come at you from off-screen, to the point that I just didn’t want to bother with Robin after the first time I tried him. I also really don’t like Gotham Knights’ version of the character. I’m a huge fan of The Animated Series’ take on Tim Drake, and this feels more like a weird cross between Spider-Man’s Peter Parker and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’s Cal Kestis, if that makes any sense.
I also don’t really feel any compulsion to grind, which is weird, but I think mostly stems from just how diffuse everything is. There are not nearly enough villains in this world to beat up to sustain an entire upgrade and crafting loop.
Levi: Very that, both on Robin’s timidity and the unsatisfying number of villains in the open world. Gotham here truly feels lifeless. Sure, there are citizens wandering the streets and 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 did like for a hot minute—but I can’t help but wanna play Marvel’s Spider-Man every time I’m protecting Gotham. There’s something about the bland color palette and the sameness of the districts that strips Gotham of its character.
Ethan: I think the city itself looks cool, and I like the way they tried to play off the four heroes’ iconic color palettes with the neon lights and how steam and fog hang on the skyline. But I also kept thinking of Spider-Man, mostly because I was always frustrated I couldn’t chain the grappling hook together like I was web slinging.
I think a large part of that is how much space you have to cover because of how scattered the actual things for you to do are. I would have preferred a much smaller but denser section of the city than having to hopscotch around all the dead space. Usually, open-world games thrive on constantly finding things on the way to your objective that distract, intrigue, and send you down an entirely separate rabbit hole. Here it really does feel like moonlighting as an Uber driver in the worst-paved metropolis in the world.
Levi: Yeah, like, there really isn’t a whole lot to do in this world. And what’s available to do is incredibly repetitive: Go here, beat up some guys, check out a clue, escape before GCPD shows up, rinse and repeat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having fun dominating dudes as Batgirl. But the fun isn’t as satisfying as in other, better superhero action games that have come out recently.
Ethan: I also feel like the game is in a very weird place tonally. Batman’s family is left to figure out what their relationships are without him to orient them, but they are all pretty unfazed by the actual fact that he’s dead. And despite the dramatic premise, things get off to a very slow start. I will say I prefer aspects of Gotham Knights’ gameplay to Marvel’s Avengers’—whose combat felt indistinct and very much in the licensed game bucket—but the way the latter was shot felt like a much better approximation of the feel of the MCU than Gotham Knights is for the DCU.
As a Destiny guy who loves a mindless gameloop I can sink into at the end of the day, I thought I was primed to see the glass half full in Gotham Knights, but that’s just not what’s happened.
Levi: Same. I really wanted a mindless loop that offered solid gameplay with an intriguing story, and Gotham Knights misses the landing. There are good elements here, don’t get it twisted. The combat is fine, serviceable actually. And the sometimes tender, sometimes tense moments between characters during cutscenes is captivating. But the actual meat and potatoes of the game, the core gameplay loop, just isn’t as satisfying as I was hoping. I’ll finish it, though. I’ve completed Nightwing’s Knighthood challenges to get his Mechanical Glider, so I gotta do the same for Batgirl. And I wanna play some co-op to see just how untethered the experience is, but I can’t imagine thinking too much about Gotham once I finished the story. It isn’t sticking in the same way Marvel’s Spider-Man did.
Maybe that’s an unfair comparison, but truly, in my head canon, Gotham Knights is somewhere between Marvel’s Spider-Man and Marvel’s Avengers. It’s fine, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good spot to be in.
Ethan: I’m still only about halfway through the game, but feeling much less generous. It’s an indecisive mix of a bunch of games without any one solid thing to hold onto. The co-op that I’ve tried so far is very decent overall, and I think certainly sets a kind of standard for games like Far Cry—which have traditionally struggled with multiplayer that feels consistent and rewarding—to aim for.
But man, every aspect of the Batman mythos recreated here feels like it’s done better elsewhere. Maybe when the four-player mode comes out it’ll be closer to the 3D brawler it should have been. At this point I almost wish it were a live-service game. At least then there might be a shot at a better 2.0 version a year from now.
Levi: Right? Gotham Knights certainly feels like it could’ve been a live-service game. I’m hoping that four-play co-op mode Hero Assault extends to the open-world stuff too. There are four heroes. This game should be chaotic as hell, kinda like that underground Harley Quinn mission with that punk rendition of “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” That, so far, has been the most memorable part of the whole game.