Well, I didn’t see that one coming. As I settled into third episode of Telltale’s take on Batman, I thought I knew roughly where they were heading with the story. They definitely caught me out with one hell of a twist, and now I have absolutely no idea what’s coming next.
The Children of Arkham dramatically came out of the shadows at the end of last week’s episode, announcing themselves to the world, tearing down the establishment and setting the stage for the quick fire start to New World Order.
It’s the next day and the Children of Arkham are causing all kinds of mayhem, forcing Batman to cover a handful of threats in quick succession. It’s kind of loose and messy, as he’s called to the Batsignal for the first time and then rushes from one scene to another in quick succession, and it feels like some important points get glossed over or are left as mere suggestions, but it works. It’s almost unexpected when things suddenly slow down. I wanted to keep haring after those pesky kids, but other pressing concerns soon came to the fore for Bruce Wayne’s side of the character.
One of the nice things about Telltale’s series is that they’ve been able to delve into Bruce Wayne much more than more than other games. He’s still a fairly boring goodie two shoes at heart – or at least that’s how I play him – but the revelations surrounding his family have his back to the wall, trying to save his reputation and potentially rescue his family’s honour somehow. The longer it goes on, the less likely that second goal seems to be.
These aren’t things that Bruce can tackle by putting on his suit and punching things, though. You have to think about who you can trust, who’s out to get you, and how best to navigate a conversation while throwing as many thinly veiled barbs at your verbal sparring partner as possible. Cobblepot slithers his way back into the picture, following on from his menacing appearances in the first two episodes, but the climactic events of last time out have also had a major impact on Bruce’s relationships with Harvey Dent and Catwoman.
All of these develop nicely over the course of the episode. Anyone with half a clue about these characters will know the overarching story arcs that they take, but seeing how Telltale’s original story handles Dent’s slide into the character of Two Face is quite fascinating to see. Then there’s how much you get to play to the classic sexual tension between Batman/Bruce and Catwoman/Selina, in a scene where every perfectly placed camera angle tells you that Telltale clearly wanted to, ahem, nail it.
The dialogue options sometimes couldn’t quite keep up with my expectations though. If I went a little off piste, trying to add a certain nuance to what Bruce was saying about the situation, it tended to come out as more of a threat, or at least be taken that way by whoever he was speaking to.
With such a focus on these kinds of relationships, I had a feeling that this episode would be more filler than thriller. That’s not to say I wasn’t enjoying it, and a certain tension was definitely growing, but it felt like this was the eye of the storm. A dangerous plot by the Children of Arkham was foiled, Batman got to do some detective work, characters were developed, and I thought that was pretty much that.
As I said, I thought I knew where this was going. I didn’t, and I quite enjoyed the twist, but it also came way out of left field. I’m not sure how long term fans of the comics are going to react when they see this, but at the same time, I have to applaud Telltale for taking this series’ story in new an unexpected directions. It would have been too easy to play to the Batman tropes throughout. There’s enough of that in there, when they’re dealing with characters that have decades of history, so throwing in a few curveballs isn’t a terrible thing. One thing’s for certain: the next episode will be an interesting one.
Unfortunately, this was also an episode that had a number of technical hitches throughout. It was played prior to release, granted, and there are always the vagaries of PC hardware, but even with the game on an SSD and a still decent GPU – a Radeon 280X, if you were wondering – the frame rate often plummeted during scene and camera angle changes. The audio went out of sync with the facial animation at times as well, which is jarring at the best of times. It smoothed out over the course of the episode, but the early moments were the ropiest I’ve seen in the series so far. Hopefully it’s not a widespread issue.
Telltale continue to forge their own path through the Batman mythos, picking and choosing how to stay faithful to the comics while also trying to catch people out with new and inventive takes on some characters. This episode was a little scattershot at times, but had it where it counts with some strong character progression and one almighty twist at the end.