Sometimes, reviewing a game under embargo feels a lot like the famous Jose Mourinho phrase: "If I speak, I am in big trouble." Not just with the publisher, but also those fuelling the narrative that Gotham Knights is a bad game before it's even out. Warner Bros. Games Montreal's latest has continually been thrown under a bus in the months leading up to launch, and while some of those criticisms are valid, it all comes across a tad unfair having now played it. Is Gotham Knights on par with the mainline Batman: Arkham series? No, but it's still a good game.

With a surprisingly excellent story, fun combat system, and engaging investigations, Gotham Knights differentiates itself just enough from the likes of Marvel's Spider-Man. The open world of Gotham City is your playground, but the campaign still loves its set pieces in crafted, indoor environments and top-quality cutscenes. It's pleasingly cinematic, revealing the death of Batman in proper 4K.

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Killed off in the opening cutscene, it's left to his crime-fighting accomplices to pick up the pieces. Batgirl, Robin, Nightwing, and Red Hood take it upon themselves to investigate his passing, which inevitably leads them to the doorstep of some of Gotham City's most infamous faces as well as the Court of Owls.

The game makes you a part of the inquiry, with crime scenes to examine and evidence boards at the Belfry keeping you up to date with everything the team has learned so far. It's not a CSI simulator, but you'll be connecting the dots between pieces of evidence to uncover new leads and coming to conclusions based on your findings. It's a really enjoyable aspect that gets you involved in the nitty-gritty of the story, making the pay-offs that follow all the more worthwhile.

The narrative serves as the most pleasant surprise of the entire package, with genuinely interesting cutscenes and side quests to enjoy alongside the main case. With dashes of that trademark style of superhero comedy, it all comes together to form a really enjoyable plot that surprises just as much as it entertains.

Batman's four protégés can be freely swapped between at any point during the roughly 20-hour story, allowing you to test their combat and parkour abilities before committing to a main mission. You'll probably already have your favourite — we gravitated towards Batgirl, for example — but it's worth experimenting just in case you vibe with someone else. Some key differences separate the four superheroes, making each one useful in different situations.

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Robin's skill tree is geared towards stealth while Nightwing charges up through evading enemy attacks. Red Hood is all about big explosions, and Batgirl can revive herself and hack into cameras and turrets. More exclusive abilities are then sourced from the Knighthood talent tree, which either grants you brand new tech to use or buffs existing skills.

A lot of the time, you'll be building up to using these powers by landing basic punches and kicks as well as ranged strikes that play about with elemental weaknesses. Each blow accrues Momentum, which can be traded in for an ability. You then rinse and repeat this strategy until everyone is dead.

Combat is at its best with a full Momentum bar and an arsenal of skills to call upon, but the rudimentary attacks needed to get there still provide a lot of joy. Fights in Gotham Knights are sort of similar to the Batman: Arkham series, but without a parry or even a block button, it's more about dodging attacks from the thugs of Gotham City and then striking when the time is right. It won't go down as the most complex combat system in the world — far from it. However, beating up bad guys provides a good amount of satisfaction, and inviting a friend along for the ride gives you the chance to get creative with your assaults.

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The entire game can be played in two-player co-op. No matter whether that's for a free roam of the open world or during a critical story mission, a buddy can be by your side playing as one of the other superheroes. The feature is implemented really well, with progress and XP gains carrying over to your own game once you return. Cutscenes always focus on the host, but you're able to split up and complete objectives separately.

It's a great way to experience the title; with a friend by your side, you have someone to bounce off of and the chance to test how abilities work in unison. Although, it's important to stress Gotham Knights doesn't feel like a lesser game should you decide to play on your own. We spent the vast majority of our playthrough in single player and never felt like we were missing out. While it's undoubtedly more enjoyable fighting crime with a friend, those who don't wish to team up are still in for a great time.

Having someone there to joke around with would improve open world exploration, though, because there's not a whole lot to Gotham City. Using the Belfry as a home base, you can tour its five districts under the cover of night, with optional activities to complete and collectibles to find. Some of these objectives are tied to popular Batman villains — like Harley Quinn and Dr. Freeze — while others are more generic tasks like clearing waves of enemies. They're serviceable enough, but there's little reason to return to them besides XP gains.

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Jumping and swinging from rooftop to rooftop is the best way to get about, not least because the streets below reveal how lacking the destination's nightlife is. Gotham City feels lifeless; there are very few pedestrians strolling the sidewalk and the roads remain quiet. Everything stays static, with your actions having no impact on the open world. Riding around on the Batcycle even introduces a bit of texture pop-in as cars appear directly in front of you, either causing you to swerve or crash over the top of them.

Despite Gotham Knights theoretically being its own standalone IP, it still feels like a disappointment for the open world to be so one-dimensional off the back of Batman: Arkham Knight. As soon as you start unlocking the fast travel system, you'll find yourself relying upon it instead of exploring the city on your way to the next objective. Besides some hidden batarangs and a couple of criminals to beat up, you know you won't be missing out on anything.

Another complication is the controls, which are the type of cumbersome where it's easy to get caught up on objects in the environment and it takes an age to readjust. They feel perfectly fine when you've got a good flow built up during combat, but accidentally press up against a wall or perch on a gargoyle incorrectly and the controls will put up just as much of a fight as Clayface does.

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The user interface isn't much better. A ridiculous number of menus make for a very busy and overwhelming pause screen, displaying different pieces of information on the same subject in varying degrees of detail. It's possible to learn about main objectives in three different places in the UI, but none of them house everything you need to know. One menu will highlight where to go on the map; the other two won't. It makes for a really confusing interface that doesn't get any better once you scroll over to the loadout and crafting screens.

We don't know who told Warner Bros. Games Montreal a superhero game needs crafting materials, but they're wrong. Gotham Knights gives you the chance to craft new melee and ranged weapons, and it's all completely pointless. These new versions are actually just the same pieces of equipment with better stats — they don't look any different and they don't give you any extra abilities. They're quite literally the same weapons over and over again with better stats and different elemental weaknesses. You can even craft better versions of the same suit! It's rubbish; get rid.

And then there's the elephant in the room: the frame rate. Having received our review code prior to the announcement, we were extremely surprised to learn the game is capped at 30 frames-per-second. In single player, the title runs very smoothly with only a few noticeable drops here and there. It definitely chugs when you head online for some co-op action, but when you're alone, Gotham Knights feels great to play. While the fact it can't output at 60fps on PS5 will immediately put some people off, you needn't worry if you're open to the idea of half the frame rate.

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If anything, it's something that’s emblematic of the entire game. It has many niggling problems that you just sort of forget about once the action kicks into gear, a quality cutscene reveals a new story beat, or playing detective in a crime scene uncovers new clues. With nods and references to the wider Batman universe, it's blatantly obvious Gotham Knights comes from a place of love and care for the character and Gotham City. If you have a passion for them too, there's so much to enjoy.

Conclusion

Gotham Knights is the type of game you so dearly want to love, but time and time again it gives you a reason not to. What Warner Bros. Games Montreal has here is an excellent story with top-notch cutscene direction and a fun combat system, with too many needless and confusing mechanics bolted on top. If you can look past them, there's a genuinely great game here. We recommend trying your best to do so; you'll find a compelling narrative on the other side.