Gotham Knights didn’t just kill Batman – they killed Gotham

Gotham Knights didn’t just kill Batman – they killed Gotham

Batman: The Animated Series‘ the animation department had a standing order from the show’s co-creator, Eric Radomski: Instead of working to the industry standard of dark colors on white paper, the backgrounds would be painted using light colors included black paper. This formed what the show’s producers called “dark children,” a unique aesthetic drawn from Tim Burton’s Batman movies, detective noir, and art deco. When I think of Gotham, it is this Gotham that comes to mind.

When Rocksteady created its Arkham games, the developer drew from this episodic masterpiece. Not only did the trilogy pull from the brilliant cast of the animated series, but it modeled its version of Gotham on a dark deco style: gothic architecture, a large moon, art deco interiors and exteriors, a noir mood and lighting. This view is at the core Arkham City and Arkham knight.

It’s a shame, then, that it’s in WB Games Montréal’s latest open-world game set in Gotham Gotham Knightwith (which I did to some extent enjoy yourself), this kind of rich characterization of the city, as a unique character unto itself, is obscured, along with the villains in it. Gotham, Batman and his rogues gallery are inextricably linked: all great Batman stories are woven from these three threads. Diluting any of these will make for a less rich tapestry of any Batman story.

[Ed. note: Spoilers for Gotham Knights follow.]

Red Riding Hood, with her back to the camera, surveys Gotham City in Gotham Knights

Image: WB Games Montréal/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Gotham Knights sees you take up Batman’s mantle as the defender of the titular city after his death, in the shaky boots of four protégés: Batgirl, Nightwing, Robin and Red Hood. Every night, the four patrol the open-world Gotham. This is a city engulfed in fog that clings to buildings in the distance; multicolored lights pierce the darkness; light rain falls down walls and latex suits; gargoyles hang all over various buildings. It, at least on the surface, strives to emulate Gotham. However, I found it to be completely devoid of character: its homogenous, lifeless districts are distinguished only by name and do not develop at all during the Bat-Family campaign in Gotham Knights. This Gotham feels like a flat plane of monotony rather than a patchwork of personalities.

Arkham City and Arkham Knight dealt with Gotham itself as a character and space: you experienced permanent changes in architecture or landscape. (U Arkham City, the Joker blows up the tower; in Arkham KnightBatman often “remodels” buildings and roads with his tank.)U Arkham City, Two-Face’s minions, resplendent in their two-tone garb, break into banks and cars; The Joker’s henchmen in clown makeup hang around the carnival sets. Custom events took place in specific neighborhoods, giving Gotham depth and thus identity. Rocksteady takes on Gotham, along with WB Montréal in 2013. Arkham Origins, to a lesser extent, made a strong connection to the deeper aspects of Gotham, as they treated Gotham as a well-rounded character. Gotham of Gotham Knightshowever, it is static, monotonous and boring. Where is the permanent damage of the time-altering Mr. Freeze? Where is the structural damage after Clayface’s escape?

What makes this worse is that Gotham Knights mishandles a group of villains who, throughout their run in the comics, are believable, insidious embodiments of the city’s gruesome history: court of owls.

Gotham Knights key art of several members of the infamous Court of Owls - all three wearing ornate masks and luxurious suits

Image: WB Games Montréal/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Despite being one of the canonically oldest entities in the Batman universe, the Court was only introduced to the Batman mythos in 2012. The court consists of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Gotham, who maintain control through espionage and assassination. They’re iconic and creepy, they work in the shadows, and they’re as real a threat to Batman as they are to Bruce Wayne.

The court was only shown outside of the comics in an excellent animated film Batman v Robinand in the TV show Gotham. Of course, the possibility of banging their heads was one of them Gotham Knights‘ biggest initial draw. My love of all things cult and creepy meant I had high hopes for these new villains.

unfortunately, Gotham Knights abruptly bypasses the Court following a massive massacre by the League of Shadows, another group of recurring antagonists in Batman lore. All the intrigue and creepiness surrounding the Court dissipates: while we do have smaller side missions involving the Court, these are paint-by-numbers missions with little or no depth. They often involve a fight with a few stragglers, but nothing major comes of those encounters. One of the main threats to the Bat-family in the game’s marketing becomes little more than a chapter in the larger narrative. Gotham Knights he wasted an opportunity to dive into the veins of Gotham, to root out the court that is poisoning the city, the very group that sees itself as the cure. Would Gotham fall apart without a court? Would the city develop irreversibly? These are compelling questions. But inside Gotham Knightsthey only ask in passing.

Concept art for Gotham Knights, with Red Hood and Nightwing sitting on the edge of a building in the foreground, looking up at the bell tower

Image: WB Games Montréal/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

With Batman dead and his most interesting villains wiped out in the blink of an eye, the onus falls on the city to rise Gotham Knights. But Gotham is undersold. The landscape changes, but only in closed main missions that don’t leave permanent scars on the open world.

Rocksteady’s Batman was constantly failing, and his Gotham was no different: plants bursting from cracks, poison hanging in the air, buying the ocean, etc. That was because character change and Gotham itself ought be a character. That term is absent in Gotham Knights.

Gotham Knights has Gotham defiled by making all its areas and activities in the world homogenous; he had access to the Court of Owls, one of the most memorable actors in the Batman canon, but dismissed him like Batman might dismiss a loaded gun. There is no growth in this world because his world is just a backdrop. Gotham Knights makes a big show of killing the Dark Knight in the opening moments. The biggest tragedy? He also killed Gotham.

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