After an initial reveal at DC Fandome, followed by a delay announcement last year, things have been quiet for Gotham Knights. Last week however, we got our first new look at Gotham Knights gameplay in ages, and something just seemed… off. What should have been met with abject excitement from Gotham Knights hopefuls instead left many in the community scratching their heads, with others expressing outright disappointment. So, what’s going on with Gotham Knights?
The first thing that immediately pops out is the gameplay. Many of the animations in Gotham Knights look clunky and dated at this stage. The Batman Arkham series, which Gotham Knights clearly takes a lot of inspiration from, looks much cleaner in comparison. The difference being that the last entry in that series, Arkham Knight, came out seven years ago.
The point of this gameplay demo was to highlight the playstyles of two of the game’s leads, Nightwing (Dick Grayson) and Red Hood (Jason Todd). Being a circus performer, Nightwing movement style is very acrobatic, as expected. However, the difference between what we see Nightwing doing and, say, Spider-Man (or even Batman in the other Arkham games) is how it’s executed. Dick seems to be playing the most high-stakes game of “the floor is lava,” and it doesn’t seem to serve and real purpose in combat other than being flashy.
Likewise, as I would expect Dick to be more quippy than someone like Bruce, the dialogue feels forced. It isn’t complimented by the overall audio, as neither the sound effects or music blended well into the atmosphere.
Jason Todd’s magic act
Enemies didn’t seem to do much either. Though they surrounded the duo, foes didn’t seem pose much of a threat. In earlier Arkham games, even someone like Batman could be overrun if he became surrounded by goons. The enemies here in Gotham Knights seem more like they are waiting their turn to get hit like in an old, poorly choreographed kung fu film. Also, while the two-player takedowns look cool, I hope there are more features that take advantage of co-op. The rest of what we saw could just as easily have been a single-player game without that one aspect.
Moving on to Red Hood, we see his unique mode of transportation titled the “Mystical Leap,” which is baffling. Nightwing’s “Flying Trapeze” glider makes sense for him. But giving Dante’s magic jump pads to Jason Todd just seems goofy, and has no basis for him as a character. The game also seeds weirdly cagey about mentioning the Lazarus Pit or the League of Shadows, which is clearly where this idea came from.
Why he doesn’t have a jet pack, or even rocket boots, something with quick speed and a short duration, is questionable to me. Either piece of traversal tech seems far more appropriate for a brash, headstrong character like him. Also, the way he looks like a Gears of War character doesn’t sit well to me. Jason can still be ‘the heavy’ of the group without looking like a goon you pummel and forget about in the previous games.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the Hood
We can also cast our Bat Signal on the game’s voice acting and dialogue. Conversations came off as a bit stilted, with Dick and Jason coming off as indistinct characters. Canonically, they are basically on complete opposite ends of the personality spectrum. Even in the comics when Jason cooled off from his edgelord phase after coming back to life, he was still very divergent from the other members of the Bat Family.
The customization and crafting the video briefly shows off has been a point of contention among the community. Personally, I don’t see why the game couldn’t just have a skill tree like other games in the Arkham series. But I can understand that having a gear-based system isn’t inherently bad. However, based on the stats shown on screen during the Gotham Knights gameplay we saw, and all the numbers and arrows flying around, I can’t help but get big Avengers vibes.
And that is one thing this game should not want to elicit. If the gear becomes too much of a focus and becomes an uphill grind, that could be an instant death nail for Gotham Knights. It is far too early to speculate if that’s the case, but I sure hope it isn’t.
Lastly, we come to the game’s performance. For a game that only just recently announced to be leaving the previous console generation behind, the game looks far jankier than it should. Near the end of the video, the boss fight featuring Red Hood stood out the most. The game’s low framerate was evident, but that sequence brought things to a crawl.
Now, to be fair, Gotham Knights is still a work in progress, and this could be because this gameplay was from an earlier stage in development. It could be months old, and the current build may be performing differently behind the curtain. Regardless, it wasn’t a good showcase for the game, especially when its initial gameplay reveal at DC Fandome looked so much better.
Robin and Batgirl will need a better showing
The Gotham Knights gameplay left other questions and mild concerns on the table. It’s weird that we only see Jason using a grappling hook, without the developer confirming it’s something every character has access to. And it should be. As the gameplay demo continues, it becomes harder to not see Gotham Knights as disparate elements taken from other open-world superhero games. The Marvel’s Spider-Man-esque car chase doesn’t seem to add much to the gameplay. All the characters get unique modes of rooftop traversal. But why do they all share the same Bat Cycle?
Gotham Knights is slated to release this year, and I am still anticipating the launch. I would love for nothing more than a cool and fun co-op adventure throughout the streets of Gotham. I’m especially eager to see developer WB Montréal’s take on one of the best Batman stories in recent memory — Batman: The Court of Owls. As of right now though, it is hard to feel anything but trepidation at best (or downright worry at the worst) for the sons and daughter of the Bat. Hopefully when we see Tim Drake (Robin) and Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) in some more Gotham Knights gameplay, we’ll have much more praise in store.
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