Gotham Knights is a third-person action RPG in the style of the Batman: Arkham games, only with a few big differences. And the biggest one is that there’s no Batman!
The game starts with a video that Batman left behind for his “family” of current and former crime-fighting sidekicks: Batgirl, Nightwing, Robin and the Red Hood.
“If you’re watching this, I’m dead,” Bruce Wayne dryly reports. And then through an in-game cinematic, we see just how the Bats came to his end.
After Bruce Wayne’s funeral, it’s then up to the left-behind team to take the spotlight (or, uh, Bat-signal) and prove their worth while policing the incredibly crime-ridden streets of Gotham City. They’re also tasked with solving Batman’s final cases and unraveling the troubling mystery behind his demise.
Gamers can play online in multiplayer co-op mode, or offline in solo mode as one of the four heroes. (Even after choosing your favorite, you can opt to switch out as one of the other three while in their base of operations.) Each character has its special ability, such as Batgirl’s expertise at hacking, Robin’s enhanced stealth and Red Hood’s master-marksman trigger-pulling.
Players also have the option of changing their suits and accessories with unlockable items that include specialized armor, etc. And each character playthrough is personalized to your hero of choice—from battle style to dialogue. The large open world of Gotham City also offers miles of territory to explore, along with an endless stream of thug-focused crime to batter down.
As Batman fans would expect, Gotham Knights is packed with gadgets and vehicles as well—including pilotable versions of the Bat-cycle and Batmobile. And in the midst of seemingly endless battles with thugs and mini-bosses, players deal with major villains in the likes of Harley Quinn, Clayface, Mr. Freeze, Talia al-Ghul and a mysterious baddie group named the Court of Owls.
Detective skills come into play while looking for leads and clues. Players scan crime scenes and labs, searching out pathways and left-behind logs and codes. After battles and through mission progress, gamers earn the ability to upgrade their skills and unlock hidden gear.
This is a hero’s tale that encourages stepping up in the face of loss to fight for the sake of a beleaguered city awash in crime. And there’s a great deal of active fun to be had in this story that, for some families, might be navigable.
That said, a large part of the action here is about joining in with repetitive beat-downs in the streets and abandoned buildings. There’s no graphic gore, but players punch, batter and jump down on foes (thugs and cops) with various poles, bats and batons. One of the Bat-heroes uses pistols to blast the baddies. Enemies’ heads are slammed into walls and floors and close-range gunshots spatter blood. Players can also examine dead bodies in an autopsy (though the bodies are covered). Some of the cinematics can be very violent and show heavily bruised and lightly bloodied individuals.
In addition, that constant battling can become very grinding at times, since the game demands those beat-em-ups for upgrades. And while the hero skills can feel empowering, some players will find the low level of bad-guy intelligence (and challenge) to be a bit underwhelming. And that goes for the overall story as well. It’s not a terrible tale, but while trying to pack in as many big villains as possible, the gamemakers have left the story a bit disjointed.
Fans of the DC comics will also be aware that the third Robin, Tim Drake, has been represented as bisexual there. And while LGBT elements or a character’s sexuality are not key elements at any point in Gotham Knights, players can find small nods to Tim’s sexuality and the LGBT community here and there in the form of painted wall murals and “pride flags.” As for Tim Drake specifically, the game’s narrative director, Amy Lemay, said: “Tim is bi in the comics, therefore Tim is bi in the game. It’s not a huge plot point – it’s just a part of who he is and this comes up in the character interactions we have in the Belfry within the scope of how normal conversations would bring this up.”
There are also uses of crudities such as “d–n,” “freakin’,” “crap,” “a–hole,” the s-word and a few misuses of Jesus’ name sprinkled throughout the vast city’s overheard conversations. Players will spot some smoking, references to booze, and flesh-revealing female outfits (tanktops, very low-cut jumpsuits and the like.)
Gotham Knights gameplay and story may not live up to the heroic fun of a full-fledged Arkham game, but there’s still a lot of city swinging and T-rated bad-guy-besting to be had if you’re in a crime-fighting mood.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.