The new Batman video game Gotham Knights suffers in comparison to its Arkham predecessors. 

That is not, strictly speaking, a fair criticism; the studio has made it clear that “Gotham Knights is an all-new, original story and experience set in DC’s Batman Universe. It is not connected to the Batman: Arkham games.” But the comparison is inevitable. The developer, WB Games Montreal, also developed Arkham Origins, the third game in the Arkham series. The playstyle, at least on its surface, is Arkham-esque, and emphasizes stealth, third-person melee combat, and detective work.

Arkham Knight ends with Batman’s apparent demise. In Gotham Knights, both Commissioner Gordon and Batman are dead, and it’s up to the Bat-Family—Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Red Hood (Jason Todd), Robin (Tim Drake), and Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) to carry on The Bat’s legacy and emerge as Gotham City’s young protectors. You have a “Belfry” hub where you can switch between them, learn new abilities, and upgrade your gear. And when you upgrade one of them, the others acquire the same experience and commensurate gear. You’ll never be in a late-game situation where you’re railroaded into choosing one over the other. The game encourages experimentation.

You will inevitably have favorites. Robin has a bo and favors stealth; he’s the closest to what we traditionally accept as Batman. Batgirl has tonfas and tech chops; she can disable cameras and booby-trap electric panels. Red Hood has guns, and he’s a head-on brawler; you have to get in close to throw and pummel your opponents. Nightwing has escrima sticks, and he’s sort of like choosing Mario in Mario Kart; he does everything serviceably, but nothing to mastery.

I found myself choosing Robin the most (often switching to Red Hood for variety), and Nightwing the least. There was, in my mind, an obvious pecking order. Ideally, the four characters would represent different playstyles, strengths, and weaknesses; they would fundamentally change how the game is played, and necessitate repeat playthroughs to appreciate their subtleties. But in practice, it felt like two of the characters were fully realized, and the other two were sketches, and not fleshed out to the extent they needed to be. 

It reminded me, in a negative way, of 2020’s Marvel’s Avengers game. That game sold itself on the premise that every added superhero would affect how you approached and played the game. But some characters were clearly better defined than others. And because they all needed to traverse the same landscape and obstacles, it had a narrowing effect on how different the characters could ultimately be. The variety existed, but within strictly defined limits.