Gotham Knights has a lot to live up to. Not only were the Batman: Arkham games some of the best titles of the Xbox 360 generation, but they were the catalyst for the renaissance of comic cook video games that would go on to give us Insomniac’s Spider-Man.
The game will see players take control of Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin and Red Hood, covering multiple generations of Batman allies. While the team are split apart as the game begins, they must come together to protect Gotham in Batman’s absence, especially in the face of a new threat from the Court of Owls.
The Court of Owls is a relatively recent addition to the Batman canon in the comic book world. They first appeared in 2011, and since then they’ve been a staple in recent storylines, most notably in 2012’s ‘Night of the Owls’ which saw a crossover featuring several members of the Bat-family taking on the group.
Developer WB Montreal finds itself once again attempting to step out of the shadows, not only of Batman but of original Arkham developers, Rocksteady. With Batman: Arkham Origins, despite a strong reception from fans, the game always felt like the black sheep of the series, despite being a canonical prequel.
This wasn’t helped by the fact that Rocksteady would routinely refer to their story as a trilogy, listing Arkham Asylum, Arkham City and Arkham Knight as deliberately separate from Arkham Origins.
This time around, Warner Bros. Montreal seem to be intentionally set the game apart. Firstly, despite featuring characters featured in the Arkhamverse, Gotham Knights is not set in the same universe as the Batman: Arkham games.
While there was some initial confusion as to whether or not the new game would be included in the Arkham canon, the finale of Arkham Knight would make the inclusion of a few of the main characters impossible, so it’s very unlikely this is a swerve to mislead fans unless multi-verses are in play. This isn’t impossible, as it’s been hinted at in the series, but it doesn’t seem likely.
The entire game can be played either single-player or in two-player co-op, which is a huge change for the series.
“With Batman: Arkham Origins, despite a strong reception from fans, the game always felt like the black sheep of the series, despite being a canonical prequel.”
The key to Gotham Knight’s success is twofold. Firstly, the game has to make each of the characters actually feel distinct. In the brief gameplay that’s been shown off so far, Batgirl adopts Batman’s more stealthy approach, whereas Robin excels in closer combat.
How a character like Red Hood, who uses firearms, or Nightwing will differ is yet to be seen, but they run the risk of being too similar, with Robin and Nightwing being at the highest risk of feeling redundant.
Another huge difference from the Arkhamverse from a gameplay perspective is that players and villains now have levels, and supervillains, such as a Mr Freeze fight that has been shown in prerelease material, can be tackled at multiple levels.
So unlike the Arkham games wherein boss fights typically occur in a linear fashion, with a power level that’s only really developed by the difficulty the player sets, in Gotham Knights, the order in which players take down the villains that populate the open world will impact their strength, and what attacks and abilities they have access too.
This could certainly be an interesting twist, frankly, having a second player means that the game would need to do something to increase the difficulty from the traditional Arkham series, but we’re slightly worried that with enemy levels, and the implication of gear drops and upgrades that the game will edge slightly too forcefully towards an Outriders or The Division-like.
With the Batcave closed for renovations, the new fab four will spend their days in the Belfy, where you’ll be able to prepare for missions, choose which characters you’re going to play as, and change your equipment. Beginning a mission will fast forward until nighttime because skulking on rooftops in bright costumes is slightly less intimidating at 3 in the afternoon.
Players will be able to explore Gotham using the Batcycle, and from the footage shown so far, it looks like an incredibly fun way to tear up the cobbled streets of the city. There’s a huge sense of speed as you’re flying through the snow-covered streets.
The game is exclusively set at night, and this makes the world look even better. There are neon signs, shop windows and street lamps that set the mood incredibly well. How much of that you’re going to want to actually get off the bike and explore is yet to be seen, but it’s a great setting to get between missions.
“Players will be able to explore Gotham using the Batcycle, and from the footage shown so far, it looks like an incredibly fun way to tear up the cobbled streets of the city.”
While comparisons to the Arkham series are entirely unavoidable, Gotham Knights has the opportunity to truly set itself apart from that iconic series. It’ll be especially interesting to see how it compares to Rocksteady’s next project, Suicide Squad Kill The Justice League, with both games likely to release within months of each other.
If Gotham Knights can nail evolving the combat into something that accommodates two players, and feels truly cooperative, then we think they’ll be most of the way there. Exploring Gotham already looks great, something that was fine, but the weakest part of Rocksteady’s final entry, giving WB an element of the Batman fantasy they can create the definitive version of.
We’re less sold on the level system, which makes the game look more like a generic modern co-op title, like a Batman themed-version of The Division. The numbers literally flying off enemies that each have a health bar and level number above their head certainly doesn’t help.