For nine years, Warner Bros Montreal has stayed silent. The studio’s last release was Batman: Arkham Origins in 2013 — a relatively early title in the series. And while it was certainly true that Arkham Origins didn’t do as well as Rocksteady titles, Warner Bros Montreal still managed to deliver an excellent Batman game. With success, the future looked bright and it looked like Warner Bros Montreal would take over from Rocksteady. So the studio released their DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight, with Batgirl missions and no more announcements came from them again. Some reports indicate that WB Montreal canceled development on Damian Wayne’s Arkham Knight sequel and Suicide Squad title due to bad sales of Batman: Arkham Knight. For nine years, WB Montreal had been working on projects without releasing anything; for nine years they’d been keeping employees on salary with absolutely no product to show for it. This got people worried about their company and called into question their existence. But here we are now; Gotham Knights is finally released, a new Batman game with the old Warner Bros Montreal feel- different from the setting of Arkham Knight. It’s an opportunity for WB Montreal to prove themselves once again– we believe in them!
At first, Gotham Knights seems like it’s an enjoyable game with a single-player Bat-family adventure that is also co-op, loot grinding, and strong live service elements. However, when you peel off the cowl, there’s not much left underneath. A few gameplay decisions leave you scratching your head. In the end, Gotham Knights is a gentle fizzle.
Arkham Knight’s is an original game that takes place in its own universe with its own timeline. This can be confusing or disappointing to people who are mostly acquainted with Batman through the games and the movies rather than comic books because they may not understand Jason Todd while he appears only briefly in the midst of other Batman lore. As a comic book fan, I know his story from different timelines and it’s difficult to pin down which version of Todd is being represented for Arkham Knight’s game. It’s like the Joker, who also has a convoluted history which WB Montreal sidestepped completely by not mentioning him at all, which is either smart or strange considering this game involves Batman’s death and the killing of two major characters who have been intricately involved in Joker’s storyline causes before. Does this frame any of what is going on to be important to those not well-versed in DC Comic lore? Probably not but it still feels like an odd omission.
Playable on PS5, Xbox Series S/X, and PC
Warner Bros. Montreal developed the game
I mentioned the death of Batman, so I’ll just mention the positives about the game first. The best part of the entire game is its opening scene that sets up the story that follows. It imagines a bruised, battered and beaten Batman who finds his city in peril. Seeing no other option to save Gotham, he does what other superheroes rarely do-he sacrifices himself for the people he loves. This begins an emotional play starring a new version of Batman’s famous cohorts: Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin and Red Hood. And with Bruce Wayne gone–both as Batman and as the father to these heroes by way of adoption–it’s up to this new group to step up in his absence against an enemy that feels just like one from Batman’s past.
I found the film’s main plot to be fairly predictable. It draws from other stories, wraps up with a “twist” that anyone could see coming a mile away, and only has one or two exciting moments. The true draw is getting to hang out with Batman and his family. The actors who play Alfred Pennyworth and Dick Grayson are particularly outstanding- as are some of the other sidekicks (namely Jason Todd). Tim Drake (Robin) does alright because he had just lost his dad-figure but I really liked how he became Batman’s leader after Bats died. But my favorite character arcs were Barbara Gordon and Jim Gordon– Barbara lost her father in this world to a similar situation but then Bruce dies so now she has nothing yet Bruce helped her get over the loss of her father by looking at him through photographs; thus, now she can’t remember anything about him when she looks at regular pictures of him. Jason is another standout because he had died then was resurrected by a Lazarus pit then turned into an evil killing machine and Brainwashed by Joker but was saved by Batman which helped reform him into someone better than ever before.
Quite a lot of the best moments in the game come from optional character arcs, little narrative-driven cutscenes you can trigger within the Belfry that provide glimpses into the relationship between these characters. These optional conversations are an essential part of understanding various members of the team, such as when Jason takes on Barbara in a dancing game or when Alfred shares more emotional sentiments. Not all of them land, but the majority of these scenes are fun and interesting. There’s no doubt that comic purists may not always like how WB Montreal reinterprets these established characters, but for the most part, I think they do a good job at delivering their own take while also retaining the general feel and tone of the original work.
While the major plot of Arkham City feels more dynamic and interactive, the story in Batman’s scenes feel more basic. Most often, he is following missions but not going anywhere, and so his personality never really changes. Jason Todd follows the same routine: he’ll get frustrated with the lack of progress, storm off while muttering disparaging remarks about Dick Grayson who nods knowingly at Tim Drake. It’s fine at first because it establishes who these people are. However, as the story continues and evolves, the characters become one-dimensional and we no longer understand their motivations.
I enjoyed the plot of Gotham Knight overall. I think it’s a decent comic book yarn, and I appreciate Warner Bros Montreal’s decision to kill Batman and stick with it. Choosing to not use the Dark Knight must be frightening when the Batman license is given to you. But in the end, I find myself remembering moments in the side-missions and in the optional cutscenes far more than anything from the main plot.
Batman: Arkham Asylum feels like a game created by designers passionate about what they do, and it was fun to explore the dark and grimy city. The grappling hook worked smoothly, and I could grapple targets in almost any direction without fail. I also liked the Bat-cycle that could be summoned at any time. However, fast travel wasn’t unlocked until much later in the game, so when I did use it wasn’t very satisfying.
While there are three options in the form of each character’s unique feat, Batgirl has the best Knighthood. To complete her Knighthood party trick, you glide like Batman across the rooftops of Gotham and glide where she wants to go. The other three options have to move a certain distance without interaction.
You need to commit 10 premeditated crimes, defeat 5 mini-bosses and complete the tutorial on Timed Strikes for each character to unlock their knighthood. This process needs to be repeated for all characters. forty premeditated crimes and 20 timed strike tutorials in order to complete each character’s knighthood. This can lead to an issue of repetition.
Sadly, Gotham Knights features a repetitive structure throughout the whole game. This often requires you to complete the same tasks repeatedly in order to unlock the next story mission. The world of Gotham Knights is populated by randomly generated crimes like thug threatening a civilian or breaking into a car. After taking care of these criminals, you can interrogate them for information that will open up new, larger premeditated crimes like bank robbery and hostage situations. These side quests are enjoyable little diversions, but they quickly become repetitive when stuck doing another kidnapping attempt on an overpopulated street corner just blocks away from one you’ve already done five times before. The main campaign isn’t the only thing with this problem either; both side missions built around classic Batman villains have this same pattern as well. Even challenges which reward you with resources have this predictable format. It would be easier if we asked more often for players to patrol areas and beat up thugs – but the relentless repetition only made worse by having to constantly return to your base of operations “Belfry” in order to trigger the next event branch and go out on your mission before heading back there again so it’s possible for anything else.”
Even when you’re in the midst of a battle, fighting off henchmen and utilizing a system that has some similarities to id Software’s Arkham Knight and its predecessors, you’ll usually be stringing together heavy, regular and even timed attacks. Special moves are still being used because these enemies have health bars – so knocking them out with one hit is bad for your loot-hunting purposes. There’s more complexity to this system with timed button presses, which tasks players with hitting buttons at the right moment just before the last hit lands. In other words, it’s kind of like a rhythm based game where you push out attacks mixed with dodges just in time to attack or counter an opponent without letting your momentum build up. It sounds similar to what we’ve seen from id Software’s previous games, doesn’t it?
Without spoiling anything, the story isn’t super compelling which can make it feel more tedious. For a while, it’s an okay time to beat down groups of enemies with simple combos in a ballet-like fighting style. However, only as you progress do new skills and enemies start to appear that require heavy attacks or specific Momentum skills to take them down. But after a dozen hours (without touching any side quests), you’ll find these types of battles are still pretty similar, and one character will eventually feel like the same as another. The enemies also continues to get more obnoxious since they start adding drones into the mix–definitely not the best decision!
The abilities also bring the Momentum to a halt when I use them, which I don’t like. While Arkham’s special moves flowed smoothly into combat, the Momentum abilities dragged you into a slow animation that left you vulnerable to damage as well. As I think about it, it seems to be a theme throughout the game.
Combat in the game feels evocative of Arkham games, but spying on enemies was almost like an episode of Scooby Doo. Robin is the most capable character of the three heroes because he’s also the only one who can pull off classic Batman moves. You can also take out enemies with stealth in single move because he is one of the best characters in terms of agility and strength. Though, when you compare to harrassing goons with Batman, it’s not as satisfying. It might sound like Scooby Doo, but this approach is still interesting to see and do.
Arkham Knight has a loot system in which you’ll find new gear, weapons and gear mods. Enemies also have health bars and main-line quests will recommend player levels. In addition to the basic loot system, this game also offers various suits for each member of the Batman Family. It is not a great fit with the Batman universe and players may quickly want to prioritize damage and other stats over character builds or crazy combinations.
One of the best features of the game is that you can play the entire thing with a friend. The 6th or 7th bank robbery, or even 4th group of idiots hell-bent on busting into a prisoner transport–the two of you can tackle it. As they freely roam around Gotham, your friend will also help take out enemies that would be unachievable if they weren’t there to assist you. Arkham Knight features special moves like Momentum which tackles an enemy to another player and allows them to use a special skill. WB Montreal has also announced plans for a future update will include 4-player co-op gameplay.
There has been a major change in the console market ever since these consoles were released. Consoles now either have 60fps, or a lesser FPS option where you can trade that for prettier graphics. When it was announced that Gotham Knights had been canceled on PS4 and Xbox One, many assumed that this would mean they could run without restrictions. Sadly, it turns out the last-gen -or much less powerful- versions of Gotham Knights probably actually got canceled because even with all the processing power of the PS5, it still runs like your grandma after a hip operation. All there is left to do is pick one option: 30fps, or a lower FPS rate. Either way you go, you’ll experience frequent drops in framerate, and in co-op mode what little framerate there is will sometimes go below 20.
However, it’s not an amazing-looking game either. Don’t get me wrong, it does look good with some nicely detailed character models and a reasonably authentic rendition of Gotham City, even if it lacks the same atmosphere as previous Arkham games. It is also nice to visit a Gotham City where people live – you can see cars driving on the street and citizens roaming around in the background. With that said, there are a lot fewer residents than you would expect considering how busy Gotham City is – most people would refuse to go outside at night in a city like this one anyway.
The point is, I’m not sure what exactly justifies the performance at 30fps. It has some pretty ray-tracing effects, but the Marvel’s Spider-Man remaster delivers stunning visuals with Ray-Tracing and a densely populated New York at 60 frames per second.
The biggest performance culprit is sadly the co-op. Without tesering players, both people can move around as they please but that also means the game has to put more work into generating two separate player experiences and that’s hard to do in some cases. The framerate chugs like it has been made to run uphill with Bane strapped to its back. It’s bad and comes close to completely killing the co-op at least in the PS5 version. The problems always got worse when someone else joined my game and I would be having a hard time enjoying it properly.
Arkham Knights isn’t just a good or bad game, it actually feels like an amalgamation of various disciplines and concepts. When you play Arkham Knights, you’ll come to the conclusion that this game endured a development hell because so many aspects of the game seem half-baked or like they came from a different version. Tendrils of these ideas are intertwined in the play experience and are enough to keep you engrossed for hours as you dissect them. But Arkham Knights suffers when it is considered against specifically Batman’s games. Sure, it’s not set in the Batman universe but there’s constant combat and stealth reminders that this is very much an Arkham-style game, which is hard not to compare to and find their offering lacking
Despite all my gripes, though there were plenty, I did have a good time. I enjoyed the story, got into the characters and admired the choice to kill Batman off. I also got into the habit of grinding out crimes in a mindless, popcorny way and that complimented the dark nights and lashing rain really nicely. It was a safe, comfortable gameplay loop that nicely complimented the rainy night atmosphere. In the end, I do think this is a disappointing release for a company that went nearly ten years without putting anything out. The Gotham Knights are not quite ready to take on Batman’s legacy but they do have potential. They could be Gotham’s heroes it just remains to be seen if Warner Bros Montreal get their long-awaited opportunity to prove themselves.