Suicide Squad: KTJL proves we treated Gotham Knights too harshly
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Featured Image Credit: Warner Bros Games
Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League is out now, and aims to be the next step for Rocksteady’s beloved Batman: Arkhamverse. Unfortunately it missed the mark in several ways, devolving from near-perfect action adventure games to a lifeless looter-shooter that you can’t even play offline.
While fans express their disappointment and outrage, I thought it’d be fitting to look back on another Batman game that received a critical reception at launch, Gotham Knights, which I believe we treated too harshly.
Take a look at Gotham Knights below
Spoilers ahead for Gotham Knights and Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League
To address the elephant in the room, both games deal with the death of the Dark Knight himself Batman, but after playing both games I’d argue Gotham Knights handles it much better.
At the start of the game we see a cutscene of Batman fighting Ra’s Al Ghul, which ultimately results in the Caped Crusader’s “death.” By the end he's battered, broken but still standing. As he staggers up to the Bat-Computer to send out a beacon to Batgirl, Nightwing, Red Hood and Robin, he sheds his batsuit revealing the man underneath, before blowing up the Batcave - and himself - taking Ra’s with him. The Bat-Family then join forces to finish a case Batman had been working on before he died: the Court Of Owls.
What's great about this opening is it sends Batman out in the only way he'd ever accept, as a warrior, protecting his loved ones and passing the torch to new heroes in one fell swoop. What follows is an optimistic tale of Batman having trust in his family to continue the war on crime when he’s gone, and the team coming to the realisation that they’re worthy of that trust and have always been the heroes he knew they could be, so told through videos he'd prepared for if his number ever came up.
Switch over to Batman’s death in Suicide Squad: KTJL and it’s an entirely different story. Keep in mind this is a Batman players have been in control of for three games, four if you count Batman: Arkham Origins. We’ve seen this version of Batman fight through some of the longest nights of his life in Arkham Asylum, Arkham City and Gotham City.. He’s gone toe-to-toe with some of the most powerful members of his rogue gallery in quick succession and always comes out on top. Not only that, but this version of Batman now utilises Scarecrow’s fear toxin to disorientate his enemies, and because of Brainiac’s influence he’s now completely fine with killing people. By all accounts this version of the World’s Greatest Detective should be the deadliest man on the planet, and while he puts up a fight, he’s bested by Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang and King Shark. He’s then tied up, dragged to a park in Metropolis, and executed on a park bench in the space of 10 minutes. Sure there’s a moment where Harley sheds a tear and seems to regret having to put him down, but it really didn’t feel like a fitting end to the character by any means.
Whether intentional or not, Gotham Knights felt like it had more respect for Batman than Suicide Squad: KTJL did, and the latter had three/four games of character development for the guy.
Then there’s the open world. No one can argue that Suicide Squad: KTJL’s depiction of Metropolis isn’t a good one. The grandiose architecture in ruins, the statues of all the heroes being a bleak reminder of who they once were and Brainiac’s horrifying skullship lingering overhead all set the scene perfectly. It feels like the end of the world, and makes you wonder how things could ever go back to the way they were even if the Suicide Squad can save the day.
Gotham Knights is obviously more grounded. It boasts a Gotham City that’s inferior in terms of graphics when compared to Arkham Knight, but it does have some style, and it at least feels lived in. Civilians can walk streets, police cars chase down criminals and crimes in progress are more than just someone being beaten up or thugs throwing bricks at buildings. It certainly needed more, as for a city as big as Gotham it felt like the population was around 20% of what it should actually be, best visualised by how empty the streets are when it comes to traffic. That being said, what it lost in visuals it made up for in interactivity. Going out on patrol allowed you to take on premeditated crimes. These ranged from simple muggings, to robberies, kidnappings and more, so there was some good variation to what you were doing. They weren’t all winners by any means, but more importantly they weren’t the same thing, over and over and over again…
Suicide Squad: KTJL has a gorgeous open world, but falls apart when you start taking on missions and side content. Mission variety cycles between defending an objective, escorting some of the slowest moving vehicles in gaming history, killing enemies to charge something, or rescuing civilians/soldiers. Outside of missions there isn’t much to do aside from shoot random aliens or solve Riddler’s stupid puzzles, which is a shame because the combat is actually engaging. I was shocked that there were no meaningful side missions that delved deeper into the story or lore of the universe. Arkham City and Arkham Knight had incredible side missions where you’d take on a famous villain or solve a mystery, sometimes both, whereas Suicide Squad: KTJL just points you in the direction of another horde of enemies to shoot.
Gotham Knights had three side missions involving villains, and while they didn’t hold a candle to Rocksteady’s work, they were at least present and had compelling stories to tell. One of the best in my opinion is Clayface, who you encounter reenacting one of his last previous defeats by Batman. Whichever character you choose tells him he’s telling the story wrong, before informing him that Batman won’t be showing up to stop him this time as he's dead. Clayface then gets visibly upset and distressed before lashing out in a rage, which just goes to show the respect some of these villains have for Batman despite wanting to kill him, like Joker’s famous “without Batman crime has no punchline” line from Batman: The Animated Series.
Placing the two games side by side you could do a long list of what one does better than the other and vice versa. That being said I’d consider Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League to be a perfect example of squandered potential. As an expansion to the Batman: Arkham world it does very little aside from introduce some new characters and explain where they were in previous games and haphazardly kill-off beloved characters in an almost slapstick fashion.
Gotham Knights on the other hand told its own story and tried its best at delivering a fresh take on video games based on Batman and while it fell short at times it’s clear there was passion put into crafting the world. If Batman hadn’t died at the beginning and instead taken on a mentor role at the end of his career it probably wouldn’t have received the hate it did on launch and beyond.
We definitely treated Gotham Knights too harshly, and I think the Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League and the critical reception its received so far proves that in more ways than one.