Batman is no stranger to failures; they are the catalyst for his greatest triumphs. For that victorious moment where the Dark Knight rises, he must first be brought to his knees. Episode 3 of Batman: The Telltale Series does just this, but this time it's Bruce Wayne that's put through the wringer.
In "A New World Order," Gotham's golden boy is dragged through the mud by The Children of Arkham. At the end of Episode 2, the group's mysterious leader revealed that the Wayne empire was built on criminal activity. Bruce's father, Thomas Wayne, was not the saintly philanthropist everyone believed him to be.
With these revelations, Bruce's legacy is tarnished and the anarchic Children of Arkham have turned the city against him. By the end of Episode 3, Telltale has all the pieces in place for a compelling comeback arc. However, it also becomes clear that the player is more of an onlooker than a participant in this story.
Asking players to make a choice between two options carries an innate tension, even more so when you're mindful that Telltale likes to hit players with consequences down the line. Instead of pushing the narrative down new paths, however, the Batman series' decisions only branch briefly before reconnecting at predefined moments, shattering the illusion that the player has a hand in guiding the story.
During the climax of Episode 2, Batman was forced to make a choice that should have had a lasting impact on the world and fallout on his relationships. It was a moment in which the player is empowered to drastically change the course of events, but in Episode 3, this decision is completely voided. Instead, events play out as if you had no involvement at all. On the one hand, certain character arcs and plot points are pillars of the Batman mythos and thus can't be altered, But on the other, the fact that Telltale motions towards subverting these long-standing tropes before pulling a bait and switch is disappointing.
The dynamic between Bruce and Selina Kyle should be noticeably different in the aftermath of that decision, but in Episode 3 their relationship has barely changed. Sure, Selina Kyle is a strong, independent character that doesn't mope or complain about being snubbed, but the consequences of Batman's decision as they relate to her are quite severe, and it's not brought up as an issue, which further diminishes the player's agency.
The fact that Telltale motions towards subverting long-standing tropes but then pulls a bait and switch is disappointing.
The feeling that player input was inconsequential lingers, which is a shame because it can preclude enjoyment of other interesting decision-making moments in Episode 3. With Bruce Wayne's reputation in tatters, the Wayne Enterprises' board of directors decides to replace him. The player is placed in situations where they can choose to be diplomatic and secure an ally on the inside or act rashly to discredit his replacement. These moments are ultimatums filled with drama, but it can be difficult shake the feeling that it doesn't matter how you respond to them since the narrative course corrects.
It also feels like the deeper exploration of Bruce Wayne that Telltale began in Episode 1 has fallen by the wayside. He's still the focus of the series, but it feels like he's a bystander in his own story. Things happen around him and he acts in the moment, but there's no emotional connection between them. The events of each episode have no lasting effect on his characterization. Sure, this is classic Bruce Wayne stoicism, but he's been portrayed that way for years and there's very little value in seeing that again.
To its credit, Telltale makes a bold decision with its villain, the leader of the Children of Arkham, whose identity is finally revealed in Episode 3. It's an unexpected twist, but at the same time, the game didn't lay the foundations for it. As a result, it lands somewhere between shocking and bemusing. But perhaps this is casting judgment prematurely, given that two episodes remain in the series. That’s ample time to make good on the reveal. I'm ready and willing to be won over.
Although most of Episode 3 is spent in the shoes of Bruce Wayne, you also get to do some detective work as Batman. Investigation makes its return in Episode 3, having been omitted from the second episode. As in the first episode, the opportunity to comb through an environment and find clues to piece a story together is a welcome. It's an aspect of the character often diminished in the Caped Crusader's video games that is realised here in a faithful way. Having said that, the puzzles Telltale has constructed offer almost no challenge as the solutions are very obvious. Combat sequences are brief but enjoyable, leveraging drama between characters to create tension in nailing the timing of quick-time events. On PC, I did encounter some frame rate drops during these sequences, but it didn't have a big impact on my success.
Telltale's Batman series has passed the halfway point--and, unfortunately, Episode 3 fails to raise the stakes, present a fresh take on Bruce Wayne, or take the narrative in an interesting new direction. What started off as a series that had the potential to tell a more personal Bruce Wayne story is starting to feel like a missed opportunity. Nevertheless, Episode 3's twist does just enough to warrant seeing the series through to the end.