I’ve played a little bit of Gotham Knights, and I might not bother playing any more, which gives you some indication of its overall quality. Knights’ limited marketing (and lacklustre footage we have seen) made me wary of it in any case, but Guardians had a similar launch cycle last year and delivered one of the surprises of the year. Gotham Knights flubs the superhero landing and instead hits the ground with a splat, but the secret to the sort of game it could have been might be hidden in Batgirl’s ass.
I’m seeing criticisms that the game is generic, but I’m not sure that quite strikes at the heart of it. Superhero games are often generic. The Arkham trilogy brought fast flowing combat and Spider-Man offered quick, creative transversal, but they were both pretty standard superhero games. Gotham Knights could, and perhaps should, have been more generic by copying them. Instead it takes a design by committee approach to everything, cramming in an upgrade system designed to incentivise tiny incremental boosts, when all it really incentivises is reaching for the off button. In moments of combat though, it shows you what it’s made of.
For the most part, Gotham Knights feels like you're playing as Batman from the Arkham games if he was suspended in treacle. The usual light-heavy-counter combo system applied in a predictable way. Despite having four heroes to choose from, most fights feel ineffectual and bland – you get the feeling that the co-op system has been doomed from the start; it’s the reason the game can’t hold 30fps, it encourages the strange GaaS UI, it’s not even crossplay enabled, and it forces quadruple the work for little return. Characters rarely feel like Nightwing or Red Hood so much as they do stick men in Nightwing or Red Hood costumes.
Occasionally though we do see a flourish come through. When Batgirl stealth kills (sorry, stealth knocks out but they’re definitely fine the next day) an enemy, we finally see the game display some personality. Batgirl has a thicc character model in the game, and it’s used to great effect. When she drops on an enemy from above, she wraps her strong thighs around their neck and squeezes until they pass out. It’s one of the few moments in Gotham Knights that feels like it was written by a human being rather than a computer or a focus group.
Regular readers of TheGamer might not be surprised to see me hone in on the whole ass-in-your-face-until-you-pass-out thing, especially after reading my many musings on Tsareena or Neon Violet. There’s definitely part of it which just speaks to whatever evolutionary part of my brain wants to sign up as a Penguin goon if it means Batgirl teaches me a lesson, but Batgirl’s ass has far more meaning than that.
This thigh chokery is in the game because someone said ‘hey, this would be cool!’ and that’s about that. The best thing about superhero games is that you get to throw random cool things in there and have it be fun. Several parts of Gotham Knights seem to be redrafts of redrafts of redrafts where the ideas have never improved but only gotten watered down, with other thoughts diluting them until everyone is pleased and no one is happy. In rare moments, we see the type of game Gotham Knights could have been.
I have no clue why traversal feels as awkward as clicking through Google Street View, nor why the vehicles in the game have the speed of a bicycle being pushed uphill with deflated flowers, but it’s not because someone thought it was a good idea. So much in Gotham Knights seems to exist because the game isn’t finished, because four heroes take four times as long to develop, or because corners needed sanding down to squeeze in every version of every idea ever pitched. When Batgirl gets to use the awesome power of her ass, we see the game’s full potential.
A game called Batgirl Chokes You Out With Her Thighs probably wouldn’t sell all that well (although I’d order the Collector’s Edition), but then I’m not asking for it to be all thighs, all the time. The much broader idea is that creativity and character has been expunged from the game in favour of bland ideas crammed in to hit bullet points in a studio-mandated design document that barely understands its players. They don’t all need to be ass-based, but we needed a lot of moments of personality in Gotham Knights.
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