Archive for January, 2023


2022 was a year that started and ended strong, with a slew of massive triple-A titles and darling indies that kept gamers busy for hundreds of hours across dozens of genres, making deciding my games of the year a particularly tough task. The only thing I am truly sure of, though, was that it was an unforgettable year as I rode the waves of adventure, hashed out my best strategies, and saved the world a few dozen times over before finally whittling down the list of contenders into this top five. 

05Sonic Frontiers

I’ll admit, I had low expectations for Sonic Frontiers, and maybe that’s why I was blown away by the experience it was able to deliver in the end. A couple of issues with the camera couldn’t take away from the fact that Sonic in an open-world setting just plain works here. Every island he explored to save his friends from a digital purgatory was a fresh new adventure that also found various ways to call back to Sonic’s past. Both the islands themselves (pinball anyone?!) and a half-dozen “levels” contained within that you could teleport to paid homage to Sonic games of the past. By the end, the Blue Blur had never looked better, and I had a hankering for some chili dogs. 

04Marvel’s Midnight Suns

Developer Firaxis is likely best known for XCOM, an intense, punishing, turn-based strategy series, so them taking a crack at the practitioners of the dark arts in the Marvel Universe seemed like an interesting idea. The studio was able to deliver both a memorable strategy experience and a game far more accessible than its usual fare. Marvel’s Midnight Suns’ card-based system, the removal of XCOM staples like fog of war and permadeath, and an explorable hub world outside of battles that holds its own secrets come together to provide a special strategy experience that is enjoyable for newcomers and veterans alike. Even the grind outside of story missions in order to enhance the Abbey, your fully upgradable base, never got old. When you take all this and throw in the settings of the larger Marvel universe, it made it difficult for me to put this game down. 

03Nobody Saves the World

It was late January and I had nothing on my docket to play, so I went scrolling through Xbox Game Pass and noticed Nobody Saves the World. It had a catchy title and a cute art style, and I saw it was made by DrinkBox Studios, the folks behind the Guacamelee! games and Severed, some of my favorite handheld releases from recent years. So, I took a chance and was not disappointed. Imagine an overhead adventure game, but filtered through the lens of DrinkBox’s humor and art style. It was both something familiar and new at the same time as you play the titular Nobody who has the power to become anybody: Mermaids, warriors, ghosts, dragons, and more as every new persona opens more to explore and offers you greater power as you try to save the world. It was so brilliantly done that it stayed in my top five the entire year. 

02Pokémon Legends: Arceus

The formula for Pokémon has worked so well for 25 years that while the mainline games have tried adding some bells and whistles, the series has stayed relatively close to its roots. What makes Pokémon Legends: Arceus so special, then, is that it’s probably the biggest deviation from what makes a great mainline Pokémon game, but still has those tenets of exploration, capturing, and battling. Journeying through the ancient Hisui region, finding variations or new evolutions for classic fan favorite Pokémon, and having to strategize more about each catch with the player character doing much of the workwas such a breath of fresh air that it made my return to the mainline series later in the year with Scarlet and Violet almost disappointing. The only hope now is that we’ll get another legend sometime in the future. 

01Horizon Forbidden West

This was my only easy choice on my list this year. There was no other world I spent as much time in as I explored every nook and cranny, completed every quest, and got to know every character on the way to my lone PlayStation Platinum trophy. Aloy and her allies took part in the most captivating story I experienced this year, and when combined with an unbelievably gorgeous world to explore and gameplay that never got old, it was the singular, most complete package I experienced in 2022. Every main and side quest felt organic to the world, whether it was helping out all the strangers Aloy met, laying waste to every robot animal in her path, or clearing the land so that it might heal. It did all this while setting up the next heart-pounding adventure that I cannot wait for. 

SPThe “Best Reason to Dust Off Your PS VR Headset” Award
Moss Book II

With Sony focusing on the future with its next VR headset, it should come as no surprise that support has somewhat dried up for the headset that’s still currently on the market. But one of my most anticipated sequels did finally drop on the PS VR (and later PC) this year, and it was absolutely worth digging out my PS4 controllers for. Moss: Book II continues the tale of Quill, a field mouse turned unlikely hero. With a larger world to explore and more powers to wield, Moss: Book II brilliantly builds on the first game in every way imaginable, and provides a premiere experience as VR continues to slowly grow in the gaming market.

SPThe “Unsuspecting Addiction” Award
Vampire Survivors

Sometimes there’s a game that’s so simple on its surface but has so much depth to it that it takes the gaming world by storm. This year, that game was Vampire Survivors. All you have to do is move around and try to avoid the ever-encroaching horde of undead enemies. But as you find items, meet new bosses, unlock new arenas, and continue to try to stay alive for longer and longer periods of time, a quick pick-up and play experience soon becomes one of the biggest time sinks, and most pleasant surprises, of the year.

SPThe “Don’t Forget About Me Because I Released So Late” Award
High on Life

It’s easy for a game released in mid-late December to get lost in the awards shuffle and then slip from people’s minds the following year. So, I wanted to highlight a solid shooter that is one of the funniest games you’re likely to ever play. If you’re a fan of Rick and Morty, then High on Life will be right up your alley. It feels like you’re injecting a full season of the show directly into your eyeballs as you’re guided through alien worlds by a set of talking weapons whose lack of filter is only matched by their bloodlust. 

Shadow of the Bat

OCTOBER 20, 2022  BY  RAY CARSILLO

No matter when Warner Bros. decided to revisit Batman in an open-world video game, it was never going to be an easy task. The Arkham series proved to be a pinnacle for the Dark Knight in digital form, and whatever came next would be held in direct comparison to that series in a lot of ways. After seven years since the last original Arkham game, WB Montreal—whose pedigree is proven from their work on Batman: Arkham Origins—has finally emerged from the shadows to take a crack at this Bane-sized endeavor with its new game Gotham Knights: an open-world action-RPG about the Bat-family taking over the crime fighting reins for a suddenly deceased Batman.

Although the game starts similarly to the end of the Arkham series, with Batman destroying the Batcave and Wayne Manor, it is not a continuation or even set in the same universe. The Batcave blows up under very different circumstances here as it’s to stop Ra’s al Ghul, who has infiltrated the cave looking to end his feud with “the detective” once and for all. As Batman has been apt to do in different media, he makes the heroic sacrifice, leaving the final case he was working on—digging into the secret society known as the Court of Owls—to his protégés. Now, players can choose to play as Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing, or Red Hood as they try to bring peace back to Gotham City, stop familiar foes from taking advantage of Batman’s absence, and also honor his memory by solving the unsolvable case. 

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

With the Batcave destroyed, the Bat-family has moved everything they could salvage to the Belfry, a clocktower in central Gotham that Batgirl used during her Oracle days. Even dear old Alfred, who fortunately was out of town at the time of Ra’s al Ghul’s home invasion, moves in to provide advice and help forward major story or character beats. In the Belfry, you can customize your heroes with dozens of different available looks, take on training missions, talk with others to flesh out the world and their relationships, and most importantly, plan your next night of crime fighting in this all-in-one hub.

From this hub, players will set out on missions around an open-world Gotham City in an attempt to track down the Court of Owls. Just like the Bat-family does in the comics, your chosen vigilante is also tasked with going on patrol and keeping an eye on the denizens of the city. And remember, not every villain in Gotham wears clown makeup or carries an ice gun, so completing side missions that have you stopping crime ranging from bank robberies to organ trafficking is a critical component to the gameplay. Winning these encounters is one of the fastest ways to level up your character and acquire loot to better prepare for battles yet to come. And when you’ve completed your missions, or fought enough crime and brought a temporary peace to the city, you can return to the Belfry to end the night, restock your gear, and reset the map for another night of crime fighting. 

Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, and each really plays into a classic RPG archetype. Something I appreciated with Gotham Knights is that even as you level up with one character, the XP is shared across all four. Even gear is awarded to all four characters at major story milestones to encourage you to try multiple characters. What isn’t shared, however, is gear blueprints. These usually provide the best items in the game, and can only be constructed from raw materials found in the world or awarded for arresting bad guys. Normally, materials are pretty abundant, but you can only equip gear built from blueprints when you return to the Belfry. Doing this, however, automatically ends that night of patrolling and resets the map. So, if you go back too soon, non-story related crimes you have been tracking could end up unsolved. 

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

I found this to be a major drawback, because it meant the fastest way to bring my weakest Knight up to speed would be to grind for a night at a disadvantage, go back to the Belfry to acquire newly constructed items, and then go after story missions if I really wanted to use that particular character. Because of this, by the time I got towards the late game stages, I mostly just stuck with Batgirl, who plays a lot like Batman did in the Arkham games when fully powered. The only thing worse than an underleveled character is an underequipped one. 

What also doesn’t carry over is beating challenges. Every character has to unlock their own way to better traverse Gotham’s rooftops, along with their own set of eight special moves, which can turn any combat confrontation to their advantage. Unlocking the traversal move is called reaching “Knighthood” and also unlocks the final of four skill trees the game offers, each playing into the character’s background. Batgirl can unlock a glide similar to Batman’s, Nightwing has a device called a “flying trapeze” that’s basically a rocket-powered mini-glider that lets him literally fly, Red Hood unlocks a special leaping ability that he taps into from his resurrection in the Lazarus Pit, and Robin hacks the Justice League Watchtower to short-range teleport—though it isn’t as cool or as effective as it sounds. Each of these has their own strengths and weaknesses, much like the heroes themselves, but they require each character to solve 10 different premeditated crimes around Gotham.

Until I was able to unlock what felt like a very basic maneuver, one given to us almost from the start of the Arkham games, traversal definitely felt somewhat neutered, forcing me to make these side challenges a priority. With there usually only being about a dozen premeditated crimes a night, and not being able to switch characters without returning to the Belfry, thus forcibly triggering the next night, it required multiple nights to really level up each character’s abilities evenly, and that continued with special abilities as well once I got beyond Knighthood. 

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

And this is where we get into Gotham Knights’ potentially biggest weakness. The bulk of the gameplay comes from stopping the same half-dozen or so serious crimes around Gotham being committed by one of five groups. Sometimes stopping these crimes even doubles as an objective in the story. The grind can be fun at times, and I admit I saw several hours slip away as I happily bounced around Gotham shoving evildoers’ faces into the pavement. But it does all become repetitive quickly, and when it doubles as a main story objective, it can feel it’s artificially bloating the game. 

The reason for this bloat I believe and that street level crime is such a priority is it feels like there’s a general lack of content, and the game is a bit on the short side for something so heavily leaning into its RPG aspects in other ways. The level cap is only 30, though it increases to 40 in New Game+. The main story that follows the Court of Owls is well-written and cohesive, leaping right off the comic pages in several ways, but it’s only eight chapters with a couple of sub-chapters to each—and the only side villains with missions tied to them are those WB revealed in previews (Harley Quinn, Clayface, and Mr. Freeze). There are few, if any, surprises to the narrative if you’re familiar with Batman comics and lore. 

There are a variety of collectibles scattered around if you’re obsessed with finding everything in the game, but it’s far from necessary to do so. There are also other open-world staples like time trials with the Batcycle (the only vehicle to survive the cave collapse) and for each individual character’s Knighthood traversal that can unlock some cosmetic options, but these again run into the issue that you can only complete one a night, and they only slightly inflate your total playtime. 

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

In contrast to this, Gotham Knights’ biggest success is easily its massive, open-world Gotham City. It’s beautifully designed to the point that you can feel the neon-backlit grunginess of Gotham almost oozing through your screen. It also pays homage to a variety of takes on Batman over the years with Easter eggs scattered throughout, such as monuments to legendary artists and writers like Neal Adams and George Perez. Weaving your way through traffic and down alleyways via the Batcycle is surprisingly satisfying, and feels like this should always be the preferred method of getting around Gotham when verticality isn’t necessary—especially if you still haven’t unlocked your Knighthood form of travel or fast travel. 

Of course, once you decide what crime you’re going to try to stop, it’s time to spring into action. Gotham Knights has a much more open-ended feel to some of its combat than the Arkham games, in that there are no rooms dedicated to just having to be sneaky. You can choose when to utilize stealth and when to go in with guns blazing (figuratively of course, unless you’re Red Hood). Or, you can even change your strategy based on what character you’re playing as. Robin lends himself more to stealth, whereas Nightwing is definitely more of a brawler, for example. And as you unlock your special abilities (even if it is a grind), there are a variety of area of effect moves, elemental moves, and stun moves that can really change any scenario. Batgirl and Red Hood even have portable turrets for extra ranged offense.

Bonus XP is offered if you complete an encounter in a certain way to encourage a particular playstyle, but even that isn’t necessary. It’s not always easy to sneak up behind four guards and knock them out, or make sure that you defeat every henchman using ranged attacks. It at least offers a hint of variety to the somewhat cookie cutter encounters. Even when going into mission location interiors, how you get through each mission is left up to you, and I did appreciate that freedom of choice. 

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

What slightly irked me, however, was the decision to eschew Arkham’s counter-system melee combat. I understand wanting to offer a different take, especially in trying to make this feel more like an RPG, but it feels like this was fixing something that wasn’t broken. I really loved the rhythm of the Arkham system, and was shocked at how much I had to unlearn as my muscle memory kept having me trying to do Arkham-style counters until I was already a quarter of the way through Gotham Knights. That’s how synonymous that combat system has become to Batman, and superhero games in general, in my mind. 

I can appreciate Gotham Knights’ system for what it is. It works. It’s just a simplified offensive approach with fewer buttons doing more work, and this will play well for potential newcomers to Batman games. Personally, though, I still prefer the more cinematic-looking Arkham combat, where I can catch or interrupt foes during their offense and immediately turn it back on them, especially as the Arkham games also did a better job of signaling enemies who were going to attack from off-screen. 

One way to better cover your backside when you’re being swarmed by enemies is to play with a buddy. Gotham Knights offers drop-in/drop-out two-player co-op, and this is another big bright spot for the game. I played an early story mission with Josh from EGM. I was Robin and he was Red Hood, which was a great combo because the characters really compliment each other well. He had already played the mission we were tasked with, but got extra XP for running it again with me. Working together to take down bad guys as a Dynamic Duo added another level of enjoyment to the game for me, and what was great was when the mission was over, we could stay in my Gotham City and go explore separately. Only when starting another story mission did we have to actually be together. I will say the server stability was a little shaky, but this was also a week before launch and I was told there were still kinks being worked out when we had played. 

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

There is a very solid core here in Gotham Knights. Gotham City is the best it’s ever looked, and it’s been too long since we’ve been able to explore it in a game. But as beautiful as the city is, we’re not here to sightsee. The combat and traversal systems are a clear step down from the Arkham games and the chase for gear can become a grind very quickly as you continuously repeat the same half-dozen side activities. The overall narrative is also appallingly short, leaving me wondering where the rest of the game is. Simply put, Gotham Knights feels like it’s just scratching the surface of what it could do with the Bat-family, and so in the end it might be best left for only the most diehard of Dark Knight aficionados desperate for their crime fighting fix. 

★★★☆☆Gotham City might never have looked better, but Gotham Knights’ gameplay repetition and lack of length to the main narrative might deter all but the most hardcore Batman fans. Co-op adds a fun layer to all the crime fighting, and every character feels truly different from one another, even if the combat system takes some getting used to. Overall, there is a solid core here that hopefully can be built on in the future.Developer
Warner Bros. Montreal
Publisher
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
ESRB
T – Teen
Release Date
10.21.2022
Gotham Knights is available on Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, PC. Primary version played was for Xbox Series X. Product was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.