Release Date: October 25, 2016
Developer: TellTale Games
Publisher: TellTale Games
Genre: Third Person Perspective, Platformer, Action-Adventure
System: Xbox One (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, PC, Mac, Android, iPhone
“When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.” – Aang, The Legend of Korra
Everyone knows that, in order to tell a great Batman story, he has to hit that proverbial rock bottom. Batman has to have the odds stacked against him and face his greatest challenges in order to stand tall. Without that, Batman isn’t as compelling; he wouldn’t be flawed or human enough. Yet, amidst the chaos around him, he’s rarely been broken beyond his mental threshold. In New World Order, the third Episode of Batman: A TellTale Series, players are treated to a new way to take him down: through his mask, Bruce Wayne. What this series has done so well, and has made it very compelling, is the fact that this is the story of Bruce Wayne fighting to stay above water amidst being engulfed by it. For once, the resources he’s relied on for so long can’t help him.
This is Bruce Wayne hitting rock bottom, and the question remains: just how will he rise above it?
Three episodes in, Batman: A TellTale Series seems like it’s finally finding its own identity and escaping the confines of typical Batman story formulas. In fact, the story feels much more engaging and refreshing by giving both Bruce Wayne and Batman their fair share of character exploration and story. Each character’s story is different in tone, pacing, and arc but are working towards the same goal; at the end of this tale they will become stronger and more inseparable. Unfortunately, like every TellTale game, the experience gets bogged down heavily by terrible technical issues that get harder to look away from with each new game.
The Fire Only Continues to Grow
With Episode 2: Children of Arkham introducing a new villain, and continually destroying Bruce Wayne by tarnishing his family’s legacy, players can see the fire has only begun. Episode 3: New World Order is the tipping point: the crux of Bruce Wayne’s rock bottom and the chaos engulfing Gotham. Even Batman and Bruce Wayne’s allies, Catwoman and Harvey Dent, are beginning to show the cracks and limits of their defined relationships. The Children of Arkham are stronger, fiercer, and much more organized than anyone could have anticipated. It’s also a villainous force unlike anything Batman has faced before.
In fact, Children of Arkham has had huge effects on Gotham as we know it. Harvey Dent, the once proud and confident man who would change Gotham for the better as Mayor is now the shell of his former self. Now, Dent is a paranoid man who’s experiencing permanent side effects that even a psychological therapist might not be able to undo.
Even worse, the Children of Arkham seem very organized and focused. Streetside, the Gotham City Police Department can’t seem to get a step ahead of the Children of Arkham’s operations. It seems each time they deploy police towards a crime scene, the Children of Arkham are well prepared for them. Yet all of these crimes seem to be a distraction from something far bigger. The question is; how are they able to anticipate the GCPD? What is their real intent?
While all of this is happening, life isn’t getting any easier for Bruce Wayne and the legacy of his parents. There’s an all too real chance that not only he’ll be asked to step down as CEO of Wayne Enterprises, but he’ll be replaced by someone wronged by his family: Oswald Cobblepot. This doesn’t just affect Bruce, but it affects Batman as well; it means Lucius Fox will not be able to create upgrades for Batman’s gadgets, or even fix the suit when damaged.
Now, Batman has to rely on what are considered questionable friendships that could either be unravelling or barely holding on. Is Catwoman going to be able to help Batman take down the Children of Arkham, or is she only going to look out for herself? Will the truce between Batman and Jim hold on in the face of a police force that despises Batman? Can Batman defeat the Children of Arkham now he’s been cut off from his supplies? At what point will Bruce Wayne hit rock bottom?
Worst of all, who are the Children of Arkham?
Episode 3: New World Order is the breaking point for Batman and Bruce. Everything players and Bruce have learned all culminate into the end of the episode. How Bruce and Batman rise up from here determines will determine what Gotham City will become.
TellTale’s biggest strength in any of their games has been the ability to tap into the human element and fleshing out characters. Relationships are examined closely, and given dynamics that oftentimes feel rushed or simplified into atypical video. Batman: A TellTale Series has been strong in its ability to tell a story with characters that feel relatable and human. They also do so without marginalizing what fans that are familiar without the lore. They’ve found a delicate balance between taking the path the characters normally take versus adding their own elements.
The perfect example of this is the dynamic between both Batman, Bruce Wayne, and Selina Kyle, Catwoman. Bruce and Selina are aware of each other’s masked identities, which adds a heightened element to their discussions without the outfits. In these moments, we see two people who could very well be together had it not been for their masked counterparts. In Selina, we see someone who hides behind the identity she’s established herself as a Catwoman; a thief. Yet, when the mask is off, and she’s with Bruce, there’s a glimmer of hope that seems to say maybe she can change but she’s resigned to hiding behind her persona. Or at least, that’s what it seems to be.
As the episodes have gone on, and depending on the dialogue choices players make as Bruce, there are subtle changes in Selina’s dialogue, personality, and even body language. By New World Order, It looks as if she’s learning to break away from hiding behind the reputation she’s built and become more the hero Bruce Wayne can see. It’s characterization like this that draws me into the story and keeps me hooked.
More importantly, I’m enjoying the exploration of Bruce Wayne and Batman. This is a Bruce Wayne that is being pinned against the wall by his parent’s past and learning how to overcome it. However, what makes it so compelling is seeing how the discovery of his parent’s legacy alters his motivation as Batman. Genuinely, it feels as if the death of his parents is no longer what fuels his actions as the lore teaches. In this particular case, it’s to undo what his parents have done and controlling the anger rising from that. The legacy of his parents also accentuates the fact that Batman and Bruce Wayne are inseparable from each other. They are the same person, and neither hides behind the other. Neither one is a comfort zone or safe haven to hide behind because it’s impossible.
I also love that TellTale is creating a villain that has not been seen before in any Batman story. Children of Arkham is a surprising character that is full of surprises and shocks you when it’s revealed who they are at the end of the episode. Realizing that they’ve been there in plain sight makes for a great reveal and the story so far worth it.
TellTale is also doing a good job making the decisions feels like they’re going to have lasting impacts throughout the story, especially the accentuated decisions. For example, depending on what players chose to do at the end of Episode 2 creates certain dialogue between Selina and Bruce during episode 3. Or seeing how players handle certain actions at Batman affects how Jim Gordon and many others see him. Even though the decisions in New World Order doesn’t seem to have an immediate impact, there’s a sense that they will have an effect on the last two episodes of the season.
Gotham is a Technical Mess, and it’s Unacceptable
If there’s anything that’s been super frustrating, and inexcusable, is TellTale’s continual problem with technical hiccups. New World Order suffers heavy from freeze frames, lagging frames, and consistent screen tears. It feels like New World Order took a huge step back from how smooth Children of Arkham ran. I remember within the first five minutes of the episode, I was already ready to quit because of how badly the game was running. Overall, all I can say is this. Telltale, it is supremely disappointing that you continually allow content to be released without fixing all of the technical hiccups experienced in your games. It’s disrespectful to you and to the fans that are purchasing these games. As a developer, you make great games that have captivated many people, but that are bogged down by bad technical problems.
And that’s the thing: I can’t recommend this game. Even if the story is done well, the voice acting is superb, and the game is genuinely a good game, I can’t recommend it because of the technical hiccups that continue to plague TellTale games. It’s a damn shame, because the story is picking up and turning into a great Batman story.