Batman – Episode 3 Review: The Dark Knight Swerves
It took me writing five paragraphs of this review to figure it out but I have come to the conclusion that Telltale’s Batman – Episode 3: New World Order is an alternate universe version of The Dark Knight Rises. Instead of Bane, Penguin is the face opposing Batman / Bruce Wayne and there is even a Talia Al Ghul-esque mastermind behind the whole operation. This revelation doesn’t detract from this episode so much as it explains what Telltale was attempting to do with this episode.
Spoiler Warning: As I am wont to do with Telltale games, story points from previous episodes may be brought up in this review. If you haven’t played the first two episodes of Telltale’s Batman, you are likely to have some of it spoiled.
Let’s start at the conclusion of the last episode. I mentioned that there was a decision that would be of consequence at the end of Episode 2. Listening to a recent episode of The Co-optional Podcast, it sounds like that decision doesn’t really impact the story. I keep saying that Telltale doesn’t design games with actual branching paths. All roads lead to Rome when you play a Telltale game.
Speaking of things I mentioned in the Episode Two review, I had a line about the story that’s extremely relevant when examining Episode Three. I wrote, “Sometimes, obvious is good. A swerve in the story for the sake of a random plot twist to keep you on your toes isn’t good storytelling.”
Most plot points and so-called plot twists were pretty obvious and generic. Any familiarity with the standard superhero story or watching The Dark Knight Rises would allow you to easily predict almost everything in the story from a mile away. Like I said, though, a smart but predictable story can be an enjoyable one.
However, the ending of this episode is a swerve for the sake of a swerve. Sure, it’s a “Holy sh*t! I didn’t see that coming!” moment but I almost immediately stopped being excited and interested out of confusion. The twist and reveal of the big bad didn’t make sense in the context of the established Batman lore of both DC and Telltale. It’s like the identity of the main villain is really just there for the shock value because the character has no motivation or ability to be this villain in Batman lore. The twist is Telltale doing something to put their own stamp on Batman rather than telling a smart and compelling Batman story. Or it’s trying to be The Dark Knight Rises. That was a pretty lame twist too and the movie is better without it.
It’s all a shame because Telltale set everything up so well and most of the episode was competently enough assembled because there was the story of Bruce Wayne’s life falling apart. Telltale might not have crafted too original a story with Bruce’s life unraveling but they didn’t have to in order to create an interesting story. Sometimes, a compelling story is the logical one which is why we know the story’s beats before they happen. It also makes the twist at the end less compelling than jarring and confusing.
Now that we’re three episodes into the game, I’m not seeing much evidence of the early promises and hype of being able to dictate your Batman’s personality. One Gotham police officer mentioned something to the effect of he not buying my Batman’s non-violent routine. I could think of one instance up to that point (with Carmine Falcone) when I had a choice to be more or less violent. Sure, there was another point at the end of the episode when I was given that choice but it sure doesn’t feel like it matters after the preview of the next episode.
Apart from not particularly caring much for the story, Batman continues to suffer from horrendous technical issues. Unlike the last episode which waited for the latter part of the first scene to fall apart, the recap of the last episode was already in troubled. The recap had framerate stuttering and a complete lack of lip syncing. Shouldn’t that be one of the easiest parts of the episode to put together?
Things don’t get much better from there though the stuttering and hitches that made me fail QTEs in Episode Two have largely been corrected for this episode. The animations all feel very herky-jerky, even by Telltale standards. They’re all very stiff and inhuman which is pretty standard for Telltale but combining this with the other issues that Batman has made the technical problems feel much worse than usual.
Therefore, it bears repeating that the Telltale Tool has long since passed its best before date and is now holding Telltale back. Its technical issues and limitations make the games less enjoyable than they can or should be and the engine likely limits what Telltale can do with its storytelling. They don’t have to develop something equivalently powered to Frostbite but they really need to go back to the drawing board to create something that actually works.
And since I’m always talking about running time. This episode of Batman comes in at about 90 to 95 minutes. That’s shorter than the 100 minutes that I logged for Episode One but 15 minutes longer than Episode Two so it’s an improvement. Episode Three didn’t feel padded out so that was also an improvement.
It’s a recurring theme in my Telltale Games reviews over the last few months but these games feel like the team is split too thin and their priority is getting games out in a timely fashion rather than putting a sufficient length of time building the story and crafting the game.
Telltale is in high demand with third parties looking for the Telltale treatment of their intellectual properties. DC is the latest in a group of willing IP licensers along with Skybound (The Walking Dead), Vertigo (The Wolf Among Us / Fables), Gearbox (Borderlands), Mojang (Minecraft) and HBO (Game of Thrones). As we go along, Telltale’s efforts feel more like your standard licensed cash-in rather than their early critically acclaimed games. The more time passes, the more Telltale feels like the Telltale of old.
Batman – Episode Three: New World Order was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Mac OS X, iOS and Android. The review code for this game was provided by Telltale Games. Your impressions of the game may change depending on platform played on, PC specs and if you’re NWO 4 life. Too sweet me.