Gotham Knights: Hands-On With the Latest Open-World DC Action Game

Gotham Knights follows four of the caped crusader’s allies as they deal with a post-Batman Gotham City. The Dark Knight is dead, and Batgirl, Nightwing, Red Hood and Robin all vie to continue his mission, patrolling Gotham City and taking down criminals.

The game launches on Oct. 21 and will be available on PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. Despite some similarities, it isn’t a sequel to 2015’s Arkham Knight — instead, it’s a new franchise set in a larger Gotham City.

Gotham Knights is the latest game from Warner Bros. Games, the publisher behind super hero games like the Batman Arkham series, Injustice 2, various Lego DC (and Lego Marvel) games and the free-to-play MultiVersus, which features several DC characters as fighters. It’s one of the last big video game releases of 2022, as many studios have pushed their Q4 releases into 2023.

I got to play through about two-and-a-half hours of a demo on PC last week ahead of Gotham Knights’ Oct. 21 launches. The demo jumped around the game, giving me a glimpse at more than just the opening hours. I ran through some of the early tutorials, the beginning and end of a villain mission, plus a small slice of open-world gameplay.

While comparisons will be drawn with the Arkham series of Batman games, Gotham Knights feels much different, and not just because you’re playing as different characters. It took a while to settle into the pace and the mechanics, but I was having a blast by the end.

Gotham Knight gameplay

I spent the entire demo playing as Robin (the Tim Drake version), so I didn’t get to try any of the other three characters. It was a slow start for me. I went into the game expecting the fast-paced combat of the Arkham games and struggled at first to settle into the more deliberate rhythm of Gotham Knights. The controls were intuitive — I found myself performing some actions before the game explained them to me, but the pacing of combat is different than I expected.

Combat in Gotham Knights — at least as Robin — is a little slower and a bit more tactical. You string together light and heavy melee and ranged attacks, mixed in with a healthy amount of dodging, especially in large group fights. Eventually I got the hang of it, at which point chaining together hits and dodges felt satisfying, especially in the Harley Quinn boss battle.

But I had to be reminded several times that I had abilities I could mix into combat — such as the ability to create a decoy and flank behind an enemy for easier combos. You can use those abilities by building up a momentum bar, which charges your abilities. At the beginning of the game, you’ll gain enough momentum for only one ability at a time, but as you progress through the game you’ll be able to earn multiple momentum bars, allowing you to chain abilities together. It took me almost the entire two-hour session to get used to it, but I imagine playing through the game at a normal pace will give players a smoother transition into the mechanic.

Robin fighting enemies

Robin is equipped for tactical stealth gameplay.

Warner Bros. Games

Each of the four Knights has a different flavor: Batgirl excels at one-on-one combat, Nightwing has higher mobility to aid him in group fights, Red Hood has the best ranged combat of the group and Robin’s abilities make him particularly well-suited for stealth gameplay. For example, Robin can initiate stealth takedowns while teleporting through the air and can deal extra damage when attacking enemies from behind.

A lot of my favorite moments came from stealthily takedowns — picking off opponents at the edges of the group before repositioning and hunting down the next straggler. Predator missions were always my favorite in the Arkham games, and I felt like I had even more tools to work with as Robin than I did as Arkham’s Batman.

Conversely, I sometimes struggled in large-scale combat where I couldn’t stealth my way around. Whenever I was tasked with fighting multiple enemies at once, I really had to be on top of my dodges and combos to keep up. I’m interested to see how much easier or harder the other Knights feel in specific situations. Still, even though Robin wasn’t the best equipped for mob combat, I managed my way through.

My demo ended with a boss fight against Harley Quinn, which was the highlight of the session. While combat overall was slower than I expected, the Harley fight amped things up considerably, forcing me to frantically doge her acrobatic blitz and look for small windows where I could counterattack. I hindered myself by forgetting to use my abilities for most of the fight, but remembering that I could use them to counter unblockable attacks made the difference in the nail-biting final moments.

Sweat lined the edges of my controller. My heart was pounding. This was fun.

Gotham Knight’s overall impressions

I only got to spend about two hours with Gotham Knights, but I came out of that time more excited about it. The game looked good and the mechanics felt responsive. My only real issues were that collision detection felt wonky at times — I got stuck on a few unexpected corners and doors — and travel on the Batcycle felt slow when driving through the city. Overall, though, I ended the session wanting to play more.

Yes, it’s a very different game than the Batman Akrham series, and if you’re just looking for a photocopy of that kind of gameplay, this probably isn’t what you’re looking for. But if you enjoy more tactical gameplay, figuring out character gear and ability builds, or if you just have a particular affection for the Bat family beyond Bruce, my hands-on suggested there’s plenty to like here.

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