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Batman is dead and four new heroes can't quite replace him in 'Gotham Knights'

Batgirl near her new hideout, the Belfry.
WB Games Montréal
Batgirl near her new hideout, the Belfry.

Batman is dead. Four heroes are left to defend Gotham from countless enemies. It's an intriguing start, but despite inheriting the legacy of Rocksteady's acclaimed Arkham game trilogy, Gotham Knights doesn't quite deliver.

A death in the family

DC has declared Batman dead plenty of times in their comics. But no Batman game has ever been so bold to kill him off in the opening minutes. Standing over the ruins of the Batcave, Robin, Nightwing, Red Hood, and Batgirl are left with a mystery to unravel — one that intertwines familiar villains with the Court of Owls, a secret society of billionaires and people of influence that has been operating from the shadows for centuries.

The resulting story unfolds linearly before opening up with a myriad of side activities. Each day begins with your Knights checking a detective board at the Belfry, a gargantuan skyscraper located in the heart of Gotham. Night falls when you're ready to patrol out into the open world.

Nightwing, Robin, Red Hood, and Batgirl, uncostumed.
/ WB Games Montréal
/
WB Games Montréal
Nightwing, Robin, Red Hood, and Batgirl, uncostumed.

Is the Gotham part of Gotham Knights fun? Well, there certainly isn't a lack of things to do in the city. Some storylines are meaningful, like those focused on villains like Harley Quinn, which illustrate how Gotham has tried to reckon with Batman's death. But the game is overstuffed with filler tasks, from collectibles to bike races.

And it's nothing particularly new. We've already seen this take on Gotham, first in Rocksteady's Arkham City and then expanded in Arkham Knight. So Gotham Knights tries to stand out not just by broadening the world, but by expanding its cast, as you toggle between four playable characters.

Convoluted gameplay

At least the titular Gotham Knights have strong branding. Robin, Nightwing, Red Hood, and Batgirl all have their own logos and costumes. They all go about their superhero-ing differently too. Robin prefers stealth, Red Hood can brawl, Batgirl's a master hacker. And you can further tune their abilities by leveling them up and equipping new gear.

Nightwing strikes a pose.
/ WB Games Montréal
/
WB Games Montréal
Nightwing strikes a pose.

Each character has three skill trees and an unlockable fourth, which is a standard but solid approach for open-world games. But the promising progression system gets swamped by a trove of armor and weapons you'll slowly accumulate the blueprints to craft. In practice, I ended up making whatever was top of the list that would improve my current abilities, while ignoring everything else. It's like Destiny 2, but much, much more bland.

The combat also gets muddled. Gotham Knights replaces its predecessor's parry mechanic with a simple dodge, which can set up a powerful attack if you execute it right before you get hit. Most of the time, however, I found myself button mashing and spamming each character's unique abilities. While the game invites you to perform special attacks through patient, precise timing, I had trouble following the rhythm.

The monotonous enemy behaviors don't help either. The Talons, a major foe in the comics, can be easily defeated by a two-step technique explained from the get-go. Every enemy type that tries to be unique has such clear patterns that taking them down feels routine. Even with some stylish special combos, encounters quickly become repetitive and shallow, missing the impact and grace that made fighting in Arkham games so remarkable.

The kids aren't quite alright

It's clear that Gotham Knights wants to introduce a new generation of heroes. Some cliché writing aside, their personalities shine through in little touches. The four don't take each other too seriously — in an early mission, Nightwing mocks Red Hood for allegedly reading off Wikipedia during the debrief. Characters can't help but embellish in-game emails with puns. They display a pride flag on the wall in their base. These details add up to an endearing glimpse of a modern Gotham.

Red Hood surveys Gotham.
/ WB Games Montréal
/
WB Games Montréal
Red Hood surveys Gotham.

But past conventions overwhelm the new tone. The Knights may criticize the way the police act in Gotham, but they don't ever interrogate policing in a coherent way. Moreover, the Knights can't get away from the Bat-shaped shadow of their fallen mentor. Even though Batman may be dead, no one can stop talking about him. And by the time it felt like the new kids' own stories were about to begin, the main plot was over.

It's true that this Bat Family had a big cape to fill. Unfortunately, neither Batman nor Gotham Knights trusted them enough to give them a chance to prove themselves and create their own legacy. For all its potential, the game falls flat.

Diego Nicolás Argüello is a freelance journalist from Argentina who has learned English thanks to video games. Find him on Twitter: @diegoarguello66

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Diego Nicolás Argüello