Batman – Episode 5 Review: Turn Out the Lights
I started writing this right after the final episode of Telltale’s Batman was released. While et geekera may have have gone quiet, I still owe you, the reader, and Telltale this review. It is presented as originally written in December 2016.
For four episodes, Telltale has been struggling to bring Batman to life in their trademark take on games and Bruce Wayne’s world. Announced following two critically acclaimed seasons of The Walking Dead and a much-loved Tales from the Borderlands along with the award-winning Rocksteady Batman: Arkham trilogy, gamers were excited about Telltale doing a story-focused Batman experience. After all, their success with adapting TWD and Fables indicated that a dark Batman story was right in Telltale’s wheelhouse.
Batman’s first four episodes (along with The Walking Dead: Michonne and Game of Thrones) showed that Telltale is a company whose ambitions are bigger than their abilities. Critics responded with a decided “meh” to the game’s story, Telltale’s familiar narrative tricks, their same old gameplay and broken engine. The finale is an improvement but it doesn’t save the series.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for the early segments of Episode Five in addition to the rest of the series in this review. That’s a change of policy but necessary to properly explain my evaluation of this episode and series as a whole.
Let’s get this out of the way early: This might have been the least buggy of the previous episodes of Batman but it’s not exactly great. The “previously on” montage was a bit of a slideshow as the framerate didn’t so much stutter as stop when changing cameras. There was a bit of loading between scenes in there. That doesn’t mention that Lucius ended up in the Batcave in my montage when he was in Wayne Tower in the previous episode. I don’t know if this is a programming error for everyone or a problem with reading save files (like I experienced in TWD Season 1 which save the opposite of all my decisions).
On that note, I did have my first proper crash in a Telltale game. During an early scene with The Penguin (which is with Harvey if you made the choice to confront Oswald at the end of Episode 4), the game just crashed to desktop without warning. It actually ran fine after that but the cloud saving/loading and checking in with Telltale servers took an ice age after that. The issue there is that checking in with Telltale servers for updates functions as a sort of non-Steam DRM which just seemed to punish me for the game crashing. Then again, almost all DRM on top of DRM punishes the players who buy games legally.
And mentioning that early confrontation, I don’t think that Telltale went more than 20 minutes without resetting the decision of who to confront at the end of the last episode of Batman. Before the episode title, the story will come back together. If your decisions actually matter, why did this episode try to dispel that notion and give you a series of inconsequential decisions to work with?
In terms of gameplay, it’s the same as the rest of the episodes of Batman. You have quick-time events (that don’t stutter as badly as the early episodes), dialogue options and the detective mode. You get three rounds with detective mode in this episode. The first is an inconsequential one to find out how someone is kidnapped (duh, it was Lady Arkham and the Children). The other two were insultingly pointless. Both were tasking you to use the clues to determine where Lady Arkham and her hostage were. Even without the clues presented, paying attention to the story gave you all the info you needed to figure out where Lady Arkham was going.
There are complaints from some that this episode is a little too predictable but I’d prefer a logically built story rather than a random swerve like Vicky Vale being Lady Arkham. Telltale tried to add more motivation for Vicky and make her a sympathetic villain but she already had solid motivation so it served no purpose. I think the added background actually undermined Vicky as a villain as it changed her from someone whose desire for vengeance got out of hand to someone who you want to give a cup of tea, a hug and a series of visits to a therapist rather than someone who you feel compelled to stop. I see what they were trying but they completely missed the mark because they already had a villain who had what they believed were justifiable reasons for her actions. You need the villains to be able to justify themselves to themselves, not to the audience.
The ending was probably both the high and low notes of the episode. After Lady Arkham is dealt with (in a scene that seems like your decisions won’t matter so I would imagine that it will end the same every time), you make a speech to Gotham with Gordon. It’s just a means to setup Season Two. On the one hand, it’s the setup everyone was hoping for but the game ended once, kept going and ended again so you could get the fan service-y hype for Season Two. Telltale really needed that “second” enging to get people to come back for the next one.
Despite the issues I mentioned, the finale of Telltale’s Batman was the best episode of this series that they’ve done but we’re not talking about a high bar to clear. While it was a bit too keen to treat you and/or Batman like an idiot to stretch out the story, at least the story made sense given the lore that Telltale created on Earth-$25. With some luck, Telltale will be willing to take some chances with Season Two of Batman but the biggest chance they need to take is on a new game engine. I would recommend one that actually works.
On the whole, I was underwhelmed by Telltale’s Batman. The story wasn’t overly compelling. The detective elements are done better in Sherlock Holmes games. The QTEs are standard Telltale QTEs except apparently without a failure state. The decision and story structure are the standard for Telltale. They did something new with Batman’s origin but it really didn’t mean anything by the end of the series. Bruce never felt like he was up against a foe that could defeat him or undermine him. To their credit, Telltale leaned hard on Bruce’s relationships with Selina and Alfred to get character development across but I feel that Harvey was a wasted opportunity. He felt like another villain rather than Bruce’s long-time friend betraying him.
I will say that this series has done a good job of burning me out on Telltale and I think we could use a break from each other. Wait. The first two episodes of The Walking Dead: Season Three are out already? My poor sanity.
Batman – Episode Five: City of Light 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 thought this episode’s high point was the last ten seconds.