Gotham Knights review: Four in one is a tough fit

Rumors of Batman’s death have been hard to pin down. At the end of 2015’s Arkham Knight, the last major sighting of the Caped Crusader in video games, he appeared to perish in a fiery explosion only to be spotted alive in the final frames of the closing cutscene.

otham Knights offers no such ambiguity, killing the hero in the intro to establish why four acolytes have teamed up to protect the notorious crime-ridden city. As a gamble, it’s bold, supplanting the finely tuned combat rhythms of Batman’s finest hours with a less satisfying knockoff featuring more obscure characters.

This action-RPG – developed by Montreal studio Warner Bros rather than the usual London-based Rocksteady – features the novelty of optional two-player co-op as well as the freedom to switch between all four characters at any time. But none of Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl or Red Hood possess Batman’s brooding charisma – and even their moves struggle to eclipse their inspiration.

However, the team must first deal with the shock of finding the Dark Knight’s lifeless body in the ruins beneath Bruce Wayne’s mansion, murdered by nemesis Ra’s al Ghul. They swear to finish what Batman started, protect Gotham, and unravel the spiraling corruption case he was working on. The game offers a believable treatment of the foursome’s grief and houses beautiful writing expressing the anguish that resolves them to take up the mantle of Batman. It sometimes gets a bit lost in the weeds of lore, but for players who aren’t scholars of the Gotham universe.

Each night, one (or two if in co-op) of the four goes out on patrol to clean up the streets, jostling petty thugs while following leads on the main case. Here, Gotham Knights runs into two issues that undermine its appeal. The first is that unarmed combat lacks the smooth back-and-forth of Rocksteady’s Batman – where attack and counter-attack go hand in hand. An inconsistent frame rate exacerbates the problem. The second is that these nights of patrol begin to merge, with a lack of distinction in the architecture of the city.

Traversal is often awkward too, with a grappling hook allowing you to cover long distances, but regularly choosing the wrong anchor point as your objective.

Gotham Knights has the vibe of chefs playing with a few too many ingredients. There’s a lot to enjoy here, from heartfelt storytelling to pseudo-AR detective work. Intricate skill trees and challenges hide some of the most exciting special moves that elevate the final hours above the pack of opening missions.

But the repetitive brawls just aren’t polished enough to make up for the mundane stealth, and Night Patrols have a whiff of grind about them.

In short, even four minor heroes can’t replace the one and only Batman.

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