Note: This review covers both Episodes 4 and 5 of Batman: The Telltale Series.
After a stellar third installment, I had high hopes for what was shaping up to be a solid outing for both Telltale and the caped crusader. Some of you fine readers may already be familiar with the saying “hope is the first step on the road to disappointment.” Sadly, that optimistic nugget of wisdom rings very true for Telltale’s Batman. After a tasty entrée and a succulent main course, the dessert is — to say the least — underwhelming. What’s with the food references, you may ask? I’m currently on a diet, so this is bound to be a reoccurring theme until I inevitably cave and gorge on a bathtub’s worth of fried products, while dousing myself in maple syrup as my sugar-hungry pores suck it all up like quicksand. But, I digress…
Episode 4 opens with Bruce feeling the consequences of the previous installment’s behemoth finale. No longer in control of his business empire and locked away for a crime he actually did commit, the temporarily Batsh*t-crazy-man must fight off bouts of insanity while forging an uncomfortable alliance with the likes of “Jon Doe.” This brings me to a major gripe with how the final chapters are handled. While the identity of “Jon Doe” is never explicitly stated, anyone who knows even the least bit about Batman lore will know exactly who he is. Though his stint is nothing more than a cameo, he will still remember this and won’t forget that. So, is this really a problem? In theory, foreshadowing a second season of what has, so far, been an excellent series shouldn’t be a bad thing. However, this seems to come at a price.
All the momentum the narrative has built so far suddenly comes to a grinding halt. The main villain vanishes from the foreground and only makes small appearances in flashbacks right until the very final showdown at the end of the series. Yes, their motives and backstory are somewhat fleshed out, but it still feels very underwhelming. As this and other plot lines started to wrap up, an unfortunate realization began to creep in. Despite what the blurb at the beginning of every episode claimed, I felt like my choices didn’t actually matter. Don’t get me wrong, the story does reflect and reference some of these decisions with visual ques, dialog and an occasional branching path, but in the grand scheme of things, it all feels meaningless.
There’s a seemingly big decision at the end of Episode 4, but its ultimate consequence boils down to what type of pajamas Batman wears for his final encounter with one of the big bad villains. Taking down sub-villain A at the end of Episode 4 just means that our pointy-eared hero goes after sub-villain B in the opening act of Episode 5, and vice versa. Regardless of any choices made, it all seems to lead to the same finale. While playing through earlier episodes, I was very curious if Telltale would be bold enough to give me the means of changing a certain character’s fate. For a while, it really did seem plausible. Sadly, this is not meant to be, as said character’s fate is sealed regardless of your actions. Meanwhile, Catwoman — who up to this point seemed to be a major player in the series — is pretty much written out of the story.
All these complaints may make seem like I didn’t enjoy the game, but that isn’t actually the case. While it does feel like Telltale wrote themselves into a corner, the overall experience was an enjoyable, albeit ultimately disappointing, one.
The voice acting is top notch, mechanics are sound and the detective segments add some spice to what would otherwise be a string of quick time events. The game also dares to put the player into the shiny corporate shoes of Bruce Wayne, not just his masked alter ego. If there is a season 2 in the works, I hope to see Telltale take a bolder approach to crafting their narrative, offering real choice, rather than settling for an illusion.