‘Batman: The Telltale Series — Episode 4: Guardian of Gotham’ (PS4) review: What a Joke(r)

The penultimate episode in Telltale’s series a convoluted mess

I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, honestly. It’s not as if I haven’t played every Telltale game of note since its stunning portrayal of “The Walking Dead.” But now it’s becoming emblematic of this vaunted company: Without fail, the second-to-last installment in any of its episodic adventures just drops the ball. Such is the sad fate of Telltale’s fourth episode for its “Batman” series.

“Guardian of Gotham” (quite a title, right?) bugs me in a contradictory manner: It does both too much and too little, all during the course of its short 90-minute runtime. What it adds to its already complicated storyline doesn’t really seem to make any difference (at least not particularly clearly yet), and what it takes away makes the experience less “video game” and more “interactive movie” (which already is a major complaint for a lot of people when they think of Telltale).

“Episode 4” takes place after the shocking cliffhanger at the end of “Episode 3,” which finds Bruce Wayne in less-than-flattering attire and still suffering from the effects of a powerful drug. Oh, and Wayne is locked away in Arkham Asylum, the place where hope goes to die. The first half of the episode deals with his time in the hospital, while the second half deals with personal connections and the fallout from the previous episode.

The biggest addition the episode makes centers around the randomly introduced Joker. Excellently creepy and strange enough to cause me not to want to cross him while in his own environment (the asylum), I find it a shame to think that his introduction is little more than fan service. Yes, he’s an interesting character, and his knowledge about Lady Gotham, Cobblepot and Wayne’s alter-ego has me intrigued at a core level (like, just how did he come into possession of this super-secret information?), but the episode does little with him of consequence. It’s unnecessary padding, which isn’t how such an iconic character should be used. The Joker’s presence may portend something more sinister for the series’ last episode, but at the moment I have no reason to believe it’s going to make any material difference in Wayne’s quest to clear his family’s name and to regain his company.

The biggest lost in this episode is the consequence of choice. I made a similar complaint in the previous episode, but “Guardian of Gotham” does away with any remaining barrier between us and the game’s final chapter. Namely, the seemingly conclusive way the game deals with Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Harvey Dent/Two-Face. The end of “Episode 2” presented you with what seemed at the time to be a major choice: Who are you going to save? That decision manifested in “Episode 3” nicely enough, but “Episode 4” effectively removes both characters from the game, rendering that early choice basically useless.

And I’m not naive enough to think they both won’t have a part in the final episode, but it’s clear how the writers want the rest of the series to play out. And really, that’s depressing, because Wayne’s personal drama with these two served as a powerful source of motivation. Without them, these isn’t a tale of redemption so much as revenge.

The game’s highlight, however, is the final decision you have to make. I actually paused the game to take a moment to contemplate what my decision may mean for the last episode. In my book, a choice that makes you pause is a good thing.

Fans of the game’s visual style will continue to find plenty to enjoy here. The episode, especially while in Arkham Asylum, continues to employ the series’ cartoon-esque prowess while blending light and shadow to create a powerful contrast. It’s a nice allusion to Wayne’s inner near-psychosis. (I exaggerate about his mental state, but the asylum’s head of psychiatry makes a good point: Wayne could probably use some therapy.) And the fighting sequences still shine, showing how even choreographed moments can make for a worthwhile scene.

And at least the framerate issues weren’t as terrible as the last episode’s. (Though, to be honest, the fact that Telltale, no longer just a little, unknown company, has these types of issues with this technically low-grade program is starting to worry me. It’s one thing to have a hiccup now and then; these visual issues are starting to become a running joke.) The audio has dropped out at times, something I haven’t noticed in previous episodes. It not terrible, but it can break the immersion when you’re in the middle of a combat sequence and then everything goes silent.

And yes, you still have to play detective and (literally) connect the dots to solve some puzzles. It’s probably clear how I feel about this mechanic by this point. (Hint: I’m not a big fan.)

In the end, after playing “Episode 4: Guardian of Gotham,” I’m just waiting for “Episode 5.” I’m still unhealthily interested in the story I’m being told, even if the game is holding my hand rather than letting me make my own choices. (But what else is new, right?) “Episode 4” doesn’t add a whole lot of note other than clearing the way for our final battles with Cobblepot and Lady Arkham. Here’s hoping the final confrontation is worthy of our beaten-but-not-out hero (and maybe that the Joker actually has a worthwhile role to play).

Two “At least it wasn’t Jared Leto’s Joker” stars out of five.

“Episode 1: Realm of Shadows” review
“Episode 2: Children of Arkham” review
“Episode 3: New World Order” review

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