Round, like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever-spinning reel
Unintentionally, Gotham Knights is the perfect Batman, or Bat-family, game simulator. It really makes you feel like Batman. Not physically but mentally. The pressure of a job never being complete, one criminal replacing another, each night a new nightmare. Gotham Knights left me deranged and broken. Or rather I left Gotham Knights deranged and broken. My attitude on gaming forever changed.
I’ve written before on how I’m something of an obsessive compulsive gamer. A completionist. A trophy hunter. I like collecting collectables, box-ticking tick-boxes. I enjoy a great story first and foremost, sure, but afterwards I want the satisfaction of clearing a map of all the, preferably interesting and engaging, things to do. The Arkham games did this brilliantly. Their spiritual successor, Gotham Knights, does not.
The game can never be completed. I can never tick things off a list nor clear an area of the map. I finished the game’s first night thinking I had made good progress only to realise progress is but an illusion. All those crimes and challenges are back again the next night, marginally mixed up by procedural generation. Every night is a new reset, the sense of completion and satisfaction wiped away with a repopulated map of identical objectives. The whole game is just a series of artificial gameplay loops. These developer tricks are usually obfuscated but in Gotham Knights it is all laid bare.
To fulfil Warner Brothers’ increasing RPG, games-as-a-service obsession, Gotham Knights is one cycle after another. Constant repetitive gameplay. The story is very quick and simple, made up of eight chapters consisting of two quick missions each. Outside of that, it’s the same regurgitated side missions and crimes to stop. Most of my time was spent replaying the same objectives in the same locations just to grind gear and level up. The gear upgrades and mods aren’t additive. They subtract. Gone is the strong story, atmosphere, location, and combat that made the Arkham games great.
I should have just left the game alone after the credits rolled (after surprisingly few hours). Delete and be rid of it. It’s not like I paid for the game, it was PlayStation Plus reward. But I was too locked into my way of thinking and playing. Too focused on that platinum trophy, no matter the pain it’ll cause. I still needed some shiny gold ‘Nth metal’ resources to craft a legendary weapon for a trophy. How does one receive such stuff? It’s totally random, of course. Certain high difficulty enemies may or may not drop it. So, I was stuck hoping the correct mission type with the correct enemy gang with the correct difficulty level appeared. It didn’t, for a long long time. But even though it didn’t spawn I still had to complete the cycle, stop all the crimes in order to bring the crime level up to maximum for a chance for the high level crimes to spawn the next night. And if the don’t? Spend 30 minutes completing the night cycle in hope they do next time. It’s soul destroying.
Every step of the way I was forced to do things I didn’t want to do. I finished one Batcycle time trial and wanted to do the next. Not just to get the trophy for completing them all but because they are one of the few genuinely fun missions in the game. But whereas in a similar game, say one of the Arkham series, the next time trial would unlock straight after the previous, or after the next main mission, in Gotham Knights it unlocks in the next night cycle. But first I needed to complete all the crimes in the current night to get the crime level maxed out. One vile task after another.
Despite only really needing to upgrade gear a few times throughout the game, every enemy defeated drops resources, blueprints, or mods. So after every single combat encounter another little cycle has to play out. A wheel within a wheel. I go to the gear menu and hover over the newly acquired gubbins to make the notification marks disappear. It’s insufferable. And because the game is designed for online co-op, even though I was playing single player, the game doesn’t actually pause when I’m flitting through the menus. I have to find a quiet rooftop to ensure I’m not attacked while doing so.
Gotham Knights ends with the most damning piece of repetition of all. The level cap is at 30, despite it being very easy to reach. It could easily go higher; I obtained it two thirds of the way through the campaign. The game instead, to add insult to injury, only raises the level cap to 40 for New Game Plus. To get that shiny platinum trophy the game forces gamers to play the entire thing over again. The ultimate cycle; the outermost wheel, with all the other little cycles within. Figuring out this was the case broke me. For the first time the pain I feel in being forced to complete a game is more severe than the (admittedly stupid, self-induced) pain of having an uncompleted game on my trophy list. It’s broken my will and changed the way I play games. I won’t do it and I don’t care anymore. The completionist in me is dead.