Telltale Games is getting close to wrapping up their first Batman story with the penultimate episode of the season. Episode Four: Guardian of Gotham, starts to focus on what will surely be an exciting climax, though it’s clear that Telltale also wanted to use this episode to plant seeds for future installments. What most would probably consider to be the biggest tease would be the reveal of Telltale’s Joker, or “John Doe” as they know him in the game. This episode also focused on the aftermath of the big cliffhanger ending of episode three, and while it was a satisfying change, the episode ultimately suffered from pacing problems, not to mention a few missed opportunities. Be warned, as there are minor spoilers for previous episodes and even some for this episode as well.
Batman: The Telltale Series has done a good job of introducing a fresh take on the universe, and all the twists of these characters are still very welcome. The Joker is probably the biggest highlight of the episode, as the first scene takes a lot of time to focus on the infamous villain. Telltale obviously put a lot of love into crafting this incarnation, making him familiar, but also unique at the same time. He’s a volatile man with a genuine sense of tenderness, extending a welcoming hand to Bruce Wayne as a start of a new “relationship”. Even though it’s a short appearance, the game handles the character perfectly, and Anthony Ingruber pulls off an excellent performance for him.
Despite this Joker being a great take on the Clown Prince of Crime, his late introduction in the overall story makes him feel a bit wasted. We simply get a taste of what he has to offer, but clearly we will have to wait to see the Dark Knight battle against his biggest nemesis. The direction of the plot makes it seem like he won’t be making an appearance in episode five, and that’s actually a good thing. Inserting a new villain in the mix will just feel forced and will likely hurt the pacing of the next episode, so hopefully Telltale saves their best for him in season two.
Speaking of the villains of the story, the game seems to struggle while it juggles three different antagonists at this point. Even though the identity of the Children of Arkham leader was revealed at the end of the previous episode, we never directly see the character this episode. We only get to see the aftermath of their actions as they brutally murder two unsuspecting victims, providing perhaps the best detective mode sequence thus far. It makes sense, as the Children of Arkham is the primary focus for this plot, leaving room for a final showdown in episode five.
Harvey Dent, regardless of the choices in episode two, is basically Two-Face at this point. Taking advantage of his power as mayor, he takes the steps he feels are necessary, no matter the consequence. Given the recent issues with his relationship with Selina Kyle, he has a newfound motivation to perform some of his actions, while his primary focus is still the Children of Arkham. At this point, Harvey has sort of overstayed his welcome in the plot. It was cool when it felt like we had a chance of changing his fate, but unfortunately, he was destined to become a villain. Even visiting him as Bruce seems like a fruitless effort, so it feels like Batman is the only real choice here. Depending on one of the choices of the player this episode, Harvey may not even make it to episode five as a key player.
That same choice determines whether The Penguin even shows up in the episode, as all the mandatory encounters with him are indirect. The major choice presented in this episode basically gives the player the option to save their home (and potentially Alfred), or to protect their precious bat-gadgets. Cobblepot, using his newfound resources, begins to tamper with Batman’s technology, causing malfunctions and the potential threat of revealing his secret identity. Clearly Telltale wanted to make this a tough decision for the player, as the consequences should have a huge effect on episode five. While it should feel like a big decision, it seems to be missing the emotion to give it that impact that typical Telltale choices have. Should the player choose to stop The Penguin, they do get a look at a somewhat more familiar version of the character, even using a Google Glass-like device as a makeshift monocle. It’s a nice detail that will surely be appreciated by the fans.
Whatever choice the player makes, there is still a solid action-packed fight scene for Batman at the end of the episode, which is good because this episode is a little light on the fighting. While either fight is conclusive, it does make one wish that we could experience both choices (with the consequence) in the episode rather than using it as the cliffhanger. Obviously Telltale wanted to save one of the villains for the finale, though how this will play out is interesting given how one is against the Children of Arkham and the other is for them. It should make the episode drastically different, but being the conclusion, we can only hope that it doesn’t lose too much focus.
Perhaps one of the most disappointing moments in the game is the meeting between Bruce and Selina, as their relationship has only grown stronger with each new episode. They share an incredibly short scene together in this episode, and though the player can extend it slightly with some dialogue options, it still feels a little out of place. There is a chance that the two can share a kiss, but this would all be based on how the player’s choices were in previous episodes. Depending on how the player last interacted with her, the scene could actually feel a bit redundant, as she mostly reiterates wanting to leave as the threat level increases. It truly is unfortunate, because the relationship between the two usually brings a playful mood to a scene, but this one doesn’t have that sense at all.
On a good note, the technical issues that tend to plague Telltale’s engine seemed a lot less frequent this time. I didn’t notice any major clipping issues or bugs in this episode, and the frame rate only had a couple minor dips, but for the most part, it held up throughout the episode. This tends to be the most common criticism against Telltale Games, and while the experience is still going to be a case-by-case basis, it’s good to see that wasn’t a problem for reviewing this particular episode.
While it’s definitely the weakest episode of the series so far, episode four brings a lot of essential information to the plot. It also leaves an interesting setup for the final episode, surely to leave most in anticipation for the finale. The pace was a bit inconsistent this time around, but it still did well to at least wrap up some of the loose ends of the plot. What the episode really does is introduce what is likely to be a key player in the second season, should we get to that point. Hopefully Telltale can end this season on a high note and give people a reason to want this Batman universe to continue thriving.
Final Score: 7 out of 10