The latest ‘Batman’ episode pelts you with the consequences of your actions
Man, Bruce Wayne just can’t catch a break. No one seems to like the billionaire philanthropist anymore. I can’t understand why. It’s not like his family basically screwed over everyone in Gotham who possibly could have gotten in its way of accumulating power and wealth. And it’s not like everyone found about this deceitful behavior at a live, citywide event, instantly destroying all the good will the Wayne name had been known for. It’s not like those decades-old thefts and lie lead to the rise of the city’s latest enemy, threatening to bring down the entire city for the sins of the Waynes. Really, it’s just unreasonable that anyone would have any complaint with the last living Wayne.
Which, by the way, is where we find ourselves at the start of the latest installment in “Batman: The Telltale Series,” “New World Order.” The third episode in this gritty tale of the Dark Knight lays is heavy in its exposition, showcasing the consequences of the weighty decisions we made in earlier episodes. At the same time, “New World Order” takes a decidedly early track in letting players know that while they can make certain choices that seem truly important and plot-changing, we’re basically along for the ride rather than in the driver’s seat.
“Episode 3” takes place as the Wayne name, once held in the highest esteem, is in a shocking free fall. Revelations from the previous two episodes have stripped away the good will Thomas and Martha Wayne had created. Basically, we’re one wrong statement away from become Gotham’s richest persona non grata.
Telltale plots, while exquisite in their storytelling, generally only offer an illusion of choice, but the games tend to hide that revelation until last in the final episode. The structure can visualized as a blooming flower that than closes its petals. Even if you think your choices matter, you generally only have two major outcomes that are determined during the final episode. (There are some exceptions, of course.) “Batman,” on the other hand, does away with the pretense early on, showing that while you get to make some heavy choices, you’re more or less going to come to the same point plot-wise no matter what you do. Nothing illustrates this better than following up in “Episode 3” what happened at the end of “Episode 2.” No spoilers, but it’s clear your choice doesn’t really matter in the end.
Still, the intricate story that Telltale is weaving is similar to its phenomenal “The Wolf Among Us”: gripping and compelling without giving too much away of what’s to come. Deepening character relationships, especially of those close to Bruce such as Vicki Vale and Selina Kyle, further cementing player connection. The melding and intertwining of separate storylines and plot elements allude to a powerful narrative conclusion in “Episode 5.” We may not have much sway with how we get to that point, but you’re going to be on the end of your edge while you watch it transpire.
As mentioned in previous Telltale game reviews, it’s not unusual to run into some performance issues, generally framerate drops that result in slight stutters. If only we were so lucky in “Episode 3.” We’re talking stutters so bad I almost missed entire conversation prompts. I’ve generally been lenient with Telltale because its games aren’t meant for action-based interactivity; instead, they’re story-centric, so a few dropped frames here or there doesn’t really matter. But once the game starts stuttering to the point that it shatters the immersion “Batman” is trying to create — basically the game’s bread and butter — it crosses the line from slight nuisance to actual hinderance. I’m not quite sure what could be behind the issue, but two things do stand out: The game’s visuals are stunning, and the environments themselves are too much for the game’s engine; or, it may stem from the episode’s quick release date (“Batman” episodes have been released faster than most past Telltale episodes), which would mean sloppy design.
Also as generally mentioned, for those who seek to control the Caped Crusader, you’re out of luck, especially in “New World Order.” This episode is less generous with its fight scenes this time, with the exception of one excellent sequence with a new enemy near the episode’s end. Again, it’s a visual treat to watch the scenes play out, but if would be disingenuous to say you have much control over them.
For the active “Batman” players, the investigative mode returns, charging Batman with discovering clues and sleuthing out possibilities Sherlock Holmes-style. It’s not particularly fun, but at least you have the chance to move around on your own and make our own conclusions (that the game will promptly correct if you’re wrong).
In the end, “Batman: The Telltale Series: Episode 3 — New World Order” reminds us that it’s all about Bruce: his relationship, his family name, his future as both Gotham’s prodigal son and its vigilante antihero. The episode’s compelling plot and focus on consequence yet again highlight Telltale’s deft skill at storytelling. It’s becoming ever more clear that we’re not going to be able to save everyone; to be honest, by the time everything is said and done, we may not even want to. And that’s a strong mark of engaging characters and their plight. And while the staggering performance issues in this episode are troubling, the intricate plot structure still keep your eyes glued to the screen. Let’s hope that’s enough.
Three “Money can’t buy friends” stars out of five.