After years of speculation, rumors, leaks, and anticipation, DC and Warner Bros. finally pulled the curtain back on the pair of projects from WB Games Montreal and Rocksteady Studios during the DC FanDome event. And while a lot of the prior rumblings were pretty spot-on, there were still details about both Gotham Knights and Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League that surprised people, for better and worse, especially when viewed through the lens of what Marvel and Crystal Dynamics are doing with the upcoming Avengers game.
With Gotham Knights, WB Games Montreal is building a story set after the death of Bruce Wayne (I’m sure that’ll stick.) that’s centered on Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, and Red Hood teaming up to face not only villains like the Court of Owls, but seemingly the entire city of Gotham that has turned on its heroes following the death of Jim Gordon. While the full game can be played solo, it also has two-player co-op, though interestingly enough it doesn’t seem to support four players, despite the focus on the four heroes stepping up in Batman’s absence. That said, the multiplayer appears to be drop-in/drop-out, with a message reading “ROBIN Joined the session” appearing at one point during a scene featuring Batgirl riding her motorcycle through Gotham.
Despite visually resembling the Arkham trilogy, the story of Gotham Knights is set in a different continuity than the previous Batman games. While that fact seemed a bit strange to me at first, it’s a much easier pill to swallow when you take into account how the DC Extended Universe of films has no qualms with introducing several different versions of the same characters within the span of only a few years. One need only look at how many unconnected portrayals of the Joker we’ve had since 2008 in order to understand where they’re coming from.
Gotham Knights is also leaning more heavily into the RPG side of things than its Batman predecessors. While the Arkham games contained XP, leveling up, and spendable skill points, this time around the enemies themselves also level up. Damage numbers pop up during combat, status ailments occur after specific attacks, and there appears to be loot and a gear system of some sort. With these, the systems of Gotham Knights more closely resemble those of the modern Assassin’s Creed games than of Arkham Asylum, which honestly just seems like an overall trend in big open-world AAA games as a whole. And as a 2021 release, it’ll be appearing on PC as well as both generations of consoles, meaning Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.
While we have a solid amount of details regarding Gotham Knights, Rocksteady’s Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League left us with a lot more questions. The studio’s first game since 2015’s Batman: Arkham Knight and 2016’s Batman: Arkham VR is set in the same universe as the previous Arkham games, unlike Gotham Knights. When we last left Harley, she was behind bars, so it would make sense that she would become a part of Amanda Waller’s Task Force X in order to shave some time off of her sentence.
The trailer focuses on Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and King Shark enjoying a bit of R&R on a rooftop in sunny Metropolis while the city goes to hell around them. It appears as if Brainiac has taken over, mentally transforming the citizens into mindless zombies while also taking control over members of the Justice League itself, which is evidenced when we see Superman disintegrate a person using his heat vision.
The entire tone of this trailer feels much less like the dour, rain-soaked nights of the Arkham trilogy and more in line with the colorful and manic chaos of something like Brute Force for the original Xbox combined with 2014’s Sunset Overdrive. Seriously, rewatch the E3 2014 trailer for Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive and tell me it doesn’t give off a lot of the exact same vibes as Suicide Squad. That said, the similarities are welcome, as the vibe and energy of this game, as well as James Gunn’s upcoming The Suicide Squad film, is much more in line with what I want to see from these characters than the utterly joyless 2016 adaptation.
Although we didn’t see any gameplay from the 2022 next-gen release, there are some details that could be gleaned from the trailer. The focus on those four specific characters is deliberate, as the entire game can be played single-player or with up to four people in multiplayer. Accordingly, each of the four characters seemed to have a specific set of combat and traversal abilities. Harley acrobatically swung around on her grappling hook, Deadshot flew through the air on his jetpack, Captain Boomerang was able to teleport to wherever he tossed his weapon, and King Shark leapt high into the air and came crashing down like the Incredible Hulk.
That last comparison was on purpose, as all rumors and reports leading up to now pointed to Rocksteady’s Suicide Squad project being a live GaaS (games as a service) similar to that of Destiny — or more recently, Marvel’s Avengers. This trend isn’t surprising, and it’s not unfathomable to think that Rocksteady would want to create a world that grows and evolves for players long after release. And while those words are poison in the ears of some fans, I feel like Rocksteady has earned the benefit of the doubt after delivering an astounding trio of games in the Arkham trilogy.
With the way that both of these announcements were framed, it feels like the developers were very cognizant of the ups and downs of the Avengers’ lead-up to launch. From some fans bemoaning the heavy loot and gear focus of the gameplay, to the unproven success of its four-player co-op, to the controversy surrounding including Spider-Man as a PlayStation-exclusive character, it feels like Crystal Dynamics’ game has been mired in controversy from the start. And while actually playing the beta has proven that the game has bright spots and genuinely great moments, the final verdict will still be up in the air not only until launch, but in how the game and the world is maintained and changed in the months and years to follow.
In this respect, it’s honestly pretty savvy for Warner Bros. to let Marvel’s Avengers be the canary in the coal mine of this multiplayer-focused future and adapt its messaging accordingly afterwards. Both DC reveals seemed to avoid putting their multiplayer front and center, instead highlighting how the games offer the player the choice to go it solo or alongside friends. But at their core, it feels like the games have quite a bit in common with what Crystal Dynamics has created.
As it stands, it appears as if the future of not only DC video games, but superhero games in general is leaning heavily into the multiplayer aspect of things. While we obviously have Spider-Man: Miles Morales coming this fall and focusing on a single-player story, who knows what will happen with Insomniac’s eventual Spider-Man 2 down the road, especially with having both versions of the hero existing in their New York City? Gotham Knights and Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League might not have been the exact games I wanted or expected from the developers prior to their trailers, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that both reveals got me excited to jump in their worlds alongside a couple pals.