When the credits on New World Order, the third episode of Telltale’s Batman series, ran, I was concerned that Telltale was heading into the same rut that normally befalls them around midway through one of their series; every episode feels like its only purpose is to build to the finale. I left with hope that Episode 4, Guardian of Gotham, would right the ship, presenting a strong story on its own while providing a platform for the fifth and final episode.
So what does Telltale do? They put out what I easily think is the strongest episode yet, chock-full of some truly interesting character building, some excellent story moments, and quite possibly the greatest character introduction ever.
Ok, that last part may be exaggeration on my part because of who is revealed, but it’s still one hell of a beautiful entrance. Light spoiler warning going forward, because it’s kind of impossible not to.
At the end of New World Order, the scene fades to black as Lady Arkham poisons Bruce and aims the rage missile at new Wayne Enterprises CEO, Oswald Cobblepot. Guardian picks up a few days after that, with Bruce, still affected by the drug when his heart rate quickens, in the confines of an Arkham Asylum cell. An orderly who opens the door is quick to inform him of what he did, before taking a bride and allowing two inmates to “integrate” the new guy.
What normally would be a quick fight between Bruce and two hacks leaves the drugged Wayne on the floor, hammered with kicks, until someone else enters the room and violently ends the melee. A hand is extended and…
The Joker helps Bruce Wayne to his feet.
I think I laughed out loud. I’m not 100% sure what the noise was that came out of my mouth, the reveal was so low key and so completely unexpected, though, thinking back on it, and how Telltale has used the rogues gallery, it really shouldn’t have been. Going by John Doe, because as the Doctor assigned to Bruce notes, he’s never told anyone his actual name, Mr. J. is assigned to be Bruce’s guide/liason into Arkham life.
I can’t stress enough how wonderfully this whole thing is played. Voiced by Anthony Ingruber, Telltale’s Joker manages to play both an expositional role and a menacing instigator all at once, and he steals every moment of every scene he’s in. There’s even a superb choice moment where John Doe offers Bruce information on Lady Arkham, because of course he knows her identity, in return for a promise that one day, when he gets out, and he will get out he stresses, Bruce will owe him a favor. It is a tense moment, not because Bruce needs the information, which he does, but because even the thought of promising the Joker anything, especially in the form of a blank check favor, is just incredibly disturbing. I won’t spoil the answer, nor his pitch perfect response when I turned him down, but this moment alone was a high point in the series for me.
Then, just like a nightmare you can’t quite shake upon waking, Bruce’s time in Arkham is up and he’s semi-back on the trail of the Lady and her Children. I’m not going to go deep into the rest, but a better portion of this episode is spent dealing with just how much of Harvey Dent is actually left inside of an ever-developing Mayor Two-Face. The relationship between both Harvey and Bruce is further fractured and eventually comes to a resolution, which seems to set things up nicely for a focused, tense dive into the final chapter against Lady Arkham and The Penguin.
While I spent an awful lot time on Bruce’s interaction with Mr. J., I think it’s important to point out that the rest of this chapter was just as strong. There are a number a great conversations between Bruce/Batman and Harvey, and plenty of opportunity to either try to find his goodness or treat him like the broken man he is. I was a tad disappointed with the dive into Vicki Vale’s family, but that was more due to a lack of information regarding their relationship given the scene that plays out, rather than the actual happenings. Like Batman though, who is also piecing this together as he goes, the scene itself was strong and allowed for more of the World’s Greatest Detective than Captain Crime Puncher.
Not only did Telltale hit their stride with the story of this episode, things were also technically on point with the presentation as well. Dealing with the effects of a drugged up Bruce were great visually, with the screen noticeably shaking, shuddering, and down right visually breaking the further it pulled him. I was also pleased to have all the slow downs and stuttering from the previous episode gone, though whether this is due to some kind of optimization on Telltale’s end, or just the luck of the draw with the engine this time around, is impossible to know.
In fact, there was only one point where things seemed to fail, and it had to do with some lip sync issues. There were numerous points where the sync was just off, which led to a hilarious interaction, where, during a rather emotional scene between Batman and a little boy, Batman telepathically delivered his lines, while the boy, eyes wide, seemed to stare unbelieving at the situation. The look fit what was going on in the scene, but it also really just seemed appropriate given that Batman was talking, but his lips just weren’t moving.
One weird bug aside, this was a tremendous episode. Telltale’s creative use of Batlore was on full display with their low key use of his most famous villain, and they created an episode that managed to stand on its own while also leaving a jumping off point for the season finale. Guardian of Gotham delivers on all fronts.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!