It’s always a little weird writing about the end of a story arc. I’ve done it two other times with two other Telltale properties, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead: Michonne, but City of Light, the finale of Batman, has left me hoping that Telltale next dons the cowl sooner rather than later. A wonderfully different dive into the Caped Crusader’s past culminates in a worthy chapter that further defines his future, and small problems aside, I could not be happier with the way it all went down.
As always, I’ll try my damnedest to avoid spoilers, but, this being the 5th and final episode, you should know that in speaking about the series overall, there will be some slight reveals.
City of Light is really the end of two separate but conjoined stories, in much the same way that our hero is both a quickly maturing playboy and brooding bat bulwark. With Lady Arkham currently in the wind, Episode 5 begins with the end of Bruce’s major arc, a confrontation with Oswald Cobblepot. Based on the choices I had made previously, Bruce was forced to handle this particular threat sans batsuit, which made the situation not only tense, but revelatory, as it allowed Lieutenant Gordon to truly get a measure of Gotham’s First Son.
With such a large scene at the beginning, this episode felt more measured pace-wise then some of the earlier ones. It didn’t lead to any added suspense, as the catalyst that hastens Batman’s search for Lady Arkham is more than a bit contrived, but it allowed for a deeper dive into the motivations of Vicki Vale and her own alternate ego.
The light shed on her past forces both Batman and the player to come to grips with some hard truths regarding the Caped Crusader and his own broken past. Without getting into the exact details, the mirrored existence is not lost on Bruce, and more than a few times he’s forced to verbalize where he stands as Batman and where he draws the line. While this exploration would have been fine in a standard narrative, being able to define “Batman” through choice and action was impactful, and meant far more than I thought it would.
To me, one of Batman’s biggest faults is his inability to deal with his feeling for others within the strictures of the job. It’s a theme that’s constantly revisited in modern superhero stories, whether it be within the pages of comics or the small screen shipping of Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak (for the record, I am Team Olicity). Allowed to make the choices myself, I was able to not only feel the weight of that choice, but the happiness of choosing to feel rather than just brood and pine. My Bruce Wayne was not afraid to both confront Alfred on his knowledge of his parents’ crimes and love him for being his “dad,” and he was certainly not afraid of following his heart when it came to Selina Kyle. In fact that wrap up, which happens about ¾ of the way through the episode, felt real, as it felt like it allowed both characters to react in the moment and be true to their own motivations.
As with all things Dark Knight, the plot eventually leads us back to Arkham, and it’s only here where the finale begins to feel a little long, as though someone thought that the lack of BAT-action up until this point was bad thing. While Batman has done a stand-up job of stretching the technical limitations of Telltale’s engine, the QTE sequences are still the weak link in the chain. More than once I found myself at a game over screen because of a specific button selection, the dreaded SHIFT-Q, and it’s those abrupt failures that lead to instant doom that break the immersion. I can’t go as far as to say that they shouldn’t be in the game, but… Batman doesn’t get hit by those things. Even injured, hurting, he dodges the steel trap, gets around the spikes that are flying through the air. Or he doesn’t and continues to push on, because that’s just what Batman does.
The larger set pieces also show off the well-known jank of the Telltale engine. Punctuated by frame rate drops, some of the heavy action almost felt like a series of slides this episode. The inconsistency hurt, especially during the two big moments featuring Cobblepot and Arkham, and I can’t help wondering when, with the busy schedule they seem to be making for themselves, the engine will ever match up with the scope of their design. It does what it needs to now, sure, but how much better could things be if I didn’t have to worry about missing a QTE because the frame rate dropped to single digits.
The final fight is not bad, ends in a way that is 100% comic book, and is followed by a quaint bit of epilogue where Bruce/Batman is allowed to begin to either rebuild his name or silently support the GCPD from the shadows, but my absolute favorite part is the quick cut away, to some random dive bar. “John Doe,” the helpful inmate from Arkham Asylum that Bruce met in Episode 4, is smiling at the news report featuring either Bruce Wayne or the Caped Crusader, and promises to see “Brucie” soon. I know that everyone else is probably sick to death of Joker stories, but given the almost guest star-like appearance here, and the knowledge that Joker knows Batman’s identity while his own is still being established, makes me giddy with anticipation.
There was a big deal made, I remember it specifically at the end of the first season of The Walking Dead, as to how much choice the player actually has in this type of game. While I have gone back to read about the other side of the choices I made, if only to see what might have been, there is no part of me that wishes I would have made them differently. At the beginning of each chapter, as well as each game, Telltale makes the effort to tell you that the experience is “tailored” around your choices. I think tailored is an apt description, as in the end, you’re still making a suit, one with a cape and cowl this time, but a suit nonetheless. You can choose the color, and the cut, hell, maybe at some point we’ll even be able to choose the material, but when things are said and done, it’s still a suit.
Given their treatment of the character and his mythos, my worry at the beginning of this journey was valid, but misplaced. Telltale has shown not only a clear understanding of what makes Batman the Caped Crusader, but a deft hand at shifting the details around so that the suit you’re picturing at the beginning is not the same one you end up with at the end. Batman is, without a doubt, the best and most consistent outing for Telltale yet.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!