‘City of Light’ thrills with its story, but can’t execute technically
It’s a touch ironic that the final episode in “Batman: The Telltale Series” plays out as a tale of two games.
The first game earns the episode’s title, “City of Light,” with a lightning-paced plot, weighty decision-making and high-octane action sequences. It’s a stellar reminder of why Telltale Games’ style of storytelling is so powerful and compelling.
The second game, however, does its very best to shatter any tension, suspense or feeling of validation with shocking performance and stability issues, resulting in half-a-dozen crashes in the middle of what should have the episode’s most important moments. It reminds that while a game doesn’t have to be a technical masterpiece to be enjoyed, it still has to function.
“City of Light,” the fifth and final episode in Telltale’s latest series, comes quickly on the heels of the events in the last episode (both in in-game time and real-life time; the episode dropped just weeks after Episode 4, a rarity for Telltale). The Children of Arkham are wreaking havoc in Gotham, with Penguin having effectively crippling Bruce Wayne’s high-end tech gadgets – and therefore his ability to fight back as the masked vigilante.
The goal, then, is simple: To use Wayne’s resources and Batman’s reputation to last long enough until Wayne can regain control of his company from Penguin so he go after the real enemy: Lady Arkham. You’re given the chance to use both characters to progress, deciding on how you want to play. For instance, you face Penguin face to face early on; however, you choose whether to face him as his old friend, Bruce, or as his nemesis, Batman. Each option plays out differently, obviously, adding the now-expected dose of replayability in any Telltale game.
The episode also addresses both Selina Kyle and Harvey Dent (the former far more) during the 90-minute runtime, which is a bit surprising considering how Episode 4 more of less wrapped up their contributions to the overall story. Having sent Dent to Arkham Asylum in the previous episode, we find him there during one of the episode’s final sequences. As for Kyle, however, Wayne takes out a chunk of time from saving Gotham from murderous monsters to have a little chat with his love interest. (The reason he meets up with her is a bit contrived, but it’s clearly meant to establish a connection between the two characters, which may play out in future seasons.)
Although I’ve complained about the lack of actual choice throughout this game, I can’t complain about how the story finishes. Telltale’s writers have always been excellent, able to weave disparate emotions together to make a compelling story worth exploring. How Wayne comes to terms with his family’s history, his alter-ego and his own role in what’s happening in Gotham is on point. How the game handles the crazy that is Lady Arkham, illuminating an empathy-inducing backstory that was surprisingly and well done. (It easily could have missed the mark, either being overly gruesome or not powerful enough to matter in the end.) And the game even offers up a possible villain for a potential second season, though doing so does seem to add a plot hole that’s never explained. Either way, strong writing makes a phenomenal return in “City of Light.”
And when the game didn’t crash, the action sequences were chaotic in the best way. I’m not sure why we had to have a full-on fight in Arkham Asylum, but I’m not complaining. (I will say I don’t understand why the end brawl happens where it does; it’s kind of out of nowhere.)
But no matter how excellent the writing and story pacing is, it doesn’t matter if you can’t actually play the game. During this playthrough, the PlayStation 4 version crashed at least six times, both in heavy-processing moments (action sequences) and lighter ones (simple conversations). Framerate stuttering was severe at times, causing the game to run as if in stop-motion. Even character models went haywire, all but disappearing save eyes and teeth. (Seeing such character frames just floating around is terrifying and hilarious, though not in a good way; just remember “Assassin’s Creed: Unity.”) I’m generally forgiving when it comes to framerate issues when it comes to Telltale, as I’m all about the story rather than gameplay, but this went too far.
And just to make things worse, the ridiculous detective mode returns. Why, I don’t know, especially since this was the simplest and most inconsequential one yet. They offer almost nothing to the story, but they have a startling ability to destroy tension full stop. Enough, I say.
In the end, “Batman: The Telltale – Episode 5: City of Light” is a thematically satisfying end to the series. You connect to each character, having learned what makes that person tick, and it’s a thrill from start to finish (sans the detective sequence). That is, if you can play it. Telltale is no longer just some indie company; its third season of its acclaimed “Walking Dead” series comes out next week and it’s worked with major companies such as HBO, 2K Games and Microsoft. The technical issues that plagued “City of Light” are unacceptable, and I’m hoping that the problems were the result of wanting to be ready for “The Walking Dead,” though that’s no excuse. Still, I’d be excited to see a second season, and that’s more revealing about how I feel about the game than its final episode’s failed performance execution. To me, it’s still about the story.
Two “You know there’s going to be another season” stars out of five.