Release Date: November 22, 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
With a series that already feels like it’s bursting with tension and extremely high stakes, how do you push the envelope farther? What will it take to make the outcome feel even more unreachable when it’s already a tall order to climb? That’s the problem that Episode 4: Guardian of Gotham tries to determine: with Bruce Wayne and Batman almost irredeemable, what comes next? Unfortunately, Guardian of Gotham feels every bit like a pre-finale TellTale experience; an episode crammed too full of new information with little-to-no payoff and a torridly uneven experience. In particular, the newest episode of Batman: A TellTale Series does the already tense story a disservice with its unnecessary first arc that tries to add a new element to the story way too late in the game. The slowed-down pacing not only undermines that atmosphere the previous three episodes build up, but also feels uncharacteristic of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Even when the game decides to pick up the pace, the damage is already done. Unfortunately, Episode 4: Guardian of Gotham provides the ultimate TellTale Games paradox: a game that is chock full of great ideas but destined to fail.
A Tale of Two Bruces
After a series of flashbacks alluding to what happens in between Episode 3: New World Order and Episode 4: Guardians of Gotham, Bruce Wayne wakes up uncertain of where he is. However, upon being told to get dressed, he discovers he’s in Arkham Asylum. A guard comes in, and after being slipped a bribe, allows 3 inmates to enter the cell to get revenge for Thomas Wayne’s illegal incarcerations. Thanks to the drug injected into him by the Children of Arkham, Bruce begins to lose the fight only to be saved by “John Doe”…
Upon being rescued, Bruce and John Doe begin to hang out in the recreation room of Arkham Asylum. It’s here we meet some future villains of Batman like the Ventriloquist and Victor Zsasz. At the same time, this is where we see John Doe’s true colors come out underneath the mask he wears. Of course, this is done to in order to help Bruce “make his phone call” to get out of the Asylum.
When the altercation is over, Bruce is eventually released from the Asylum and picked up by Alfred. It is here we learn that Gotham is no longer under siege from the Children of Gotham alone, but by Harvey Dent as well. Deep inside, there was always something dark in Harvey Dent, and it seems like the drugs injected into him in Episode 2: Children of Arkham are breaking the gates holding it back more and more. Even worse, both Batman and Bruce Wayne are just as much of a threat with the drugs running through his veins.
Children of Arkham are still gaining ground in their plan, Harvey Dent is unraveling, and Bruce Wayne has become the shame of Gotham. Can Batman still save Gotham, or is the city irredeemable all on its own? That is the question that Episode 4: Guardian of Gotham tries to set up…and ultimately detracts from a series already trying to answer that.
My biggest complaint of this episode in particular is just how much new information is presented to the player in order to set up potential future story lines. Certainly placing Bruce Wayne in Arkham Asylum was a risky storytelling choice that I think had plenty of potential payoff, but not as a plot device to introduce future major villains like Zsasz, the Ventriloquist, or my “favorite” “John Doe”. I understand why these characters are important, and why they might feel necessary, but given the current stakes of the story their addition to it feels forced and unnecessary. Not only is it unnecessary, but their induction into TellTale’s world of Gotham feels both forced and like a caricature.
Zsasz and the Ventriloquist feel more like plot devices and less like their respective characters. In the case of Zsasz, his only lines point to a man with two extremes that lack a odd complexity to his character. The Ventriloquist feels like he’s added just for the sake of implying just how mad Arkham Asylum is. John Doe feels less of the maniacal strategist that he is and more like a badly forced psychopath. Worse, Bruce Wayne feels completely out of character, and almost acts as if not totally affected by the events of the last few episodes. All of this culminates into additional information that doesn’t feel crucial to the story AND creates a disjointed, unnecessary plot for the first arc of the episode.
That said, when the game realizes it has to get back to the main story line, there are some great story moments driven by both the current choice the players make as well as their previous decisions. Most of my favorite moments involved examining the relationships between Bruce Wayne/Batman with Catwoman, Harvey Dent, and Jim Gordon. For example, depending on how players approach their conversation with Harvey Dent (Batman or Bruce Wayne) not only shows just how strained the dynamics may be, but sheds light on where Gordon stands with Bruce Wayne or Batman. It wasn’t the madness occurring around Batman and Bruce Wayne’s desperate attempt to save Gotham, but in the dialogue examining where things went right and wrong in each relationship.
And that’s the problem I have consistently had with this series — Batman: A TellTale Series is a game chock full of great, risky moments overpowered by the technical and story design flaws all across the board.
At Least the Descent into Madness is Smooth
Unlike the Episode 3: New World Order and Episode 1: Realm of Shadows, Guardian of Gotham is the smoothest gameplay the series has to offer. Normally, my experiences in the Batman: A TellTale Series comprise of screen tears, frame glitches, severe frame drops and even game-ending freezing. Sometimes this would happen at an alarming rate, and other times it’d be peppered across the overall experience. Episode 4: Guardian of Gotham is a welcome departure from that trend: I experienced no framerate drops, no screen tearing, or any other sort of problem. My biggest gripe is that this perfectly smooth playthrough wasn’t for a much stronger episode like Episode 3: New World Order.
Yet, I feel like I have to go a bit of a rant on here in regards to what this implies about TellTale Games for me. Maybe I am the only one, or maybe there are many who might agree with me, but having continually experienced this yo-yo of technical issues to perfectly competent playthroughs from TellTale Games is unacceptable.
TellTale Games, while I still think your studio has some of the sharpest writing out there still, it’s inexcusable and unacceptable that your games continually get bogged down by technical mishaps that should have been hammered out in the QA session before releasing the content. Regardless of whether or not a game has a strict, arduous release schedule for its episodic content, the QUALITY of the episode should outweigh the QUANTITY of work produced. I love the ambition your studio displays by taking on so many projects, but this also is a major letdown for someone who’s enjoyed your work for some time.
Genuinely, it’s getting harder and harder to defend the quality of your games being released, when what I think would be simple technical issues continue to be a problem. I feel like you should really listen to the concerns of your audience, because they are the reason for your success. When you ignore what your customers have to say, you send the message that their feedback isn’t important to you.
Hopefully with Walking Dead Season 3: A New Frontier releasing soon, TellTale will be better at fixing their mistakes. If not, I think Walking Dead: Season 3 might be the last tale I delve into from the studio.
A Great Story that’s Undone By its Mistakes
Ultimately, Episode 4: Guardian of Gotham is a further reminder that while Batman: A TellTale Series is shaping up to be a great series, I cannot recommend it unless players are either a fan of Batman or TellTale Games. With the inconsistent technical performance of the series, the sometime uneven pacing of the story and out of character moments, it’s shaping to be a series that’s best recommended based on the whole experience. Otherwise, players should save their money until the complete game is out and the reviews go up.