Spread Thin – “Batman Episode Four” Review

TellTale’s Batman series stumbles in its penultimate episode.

TellTale’s fourth Batman installment, Guardian of Gotham, is a mixed bag. On one hand, player choice feels like it makes a big difference, on the other, pacing makes the plot feel spread thin.

Based on tough choices made throughout episode three, Guardian of Gotham kicks off in a few different ways. In my playthrough, Bruce Wayne starts off in Arkham Asylum under the protection of calmer-than-usual-but-still-batshit-crazy Joker. TellTale’s Joker isn’t the same character we’re used to; at least not completely. Here, Joker or John Smith as Arkham employees call him, is much younger and behaves more like an impulsive teen. Players can choose to work with Joker or against him to leverage an early release from Arkham.

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Oddly enough, episode four has players in and out of Arkham within 20 minutes. It’s more like a narrative detour to say “hey, we haven’t forgotten your favorite character,” but at least it does enough to avoid series cliché.

The brief visit to Arkham is a pretty honest metaphor for TellTale’s series so far. There’s a lot going on in the short amount of time with a huge swath of characters. All the episode’s scenes feel essential, but they also feel rushed. Instead of taking the time to really let a scene run on and give Bruce Wayne or Batman any sort of emotional depth, you’re rushed to go put out another fire. Honestly, I can’t tell you who’s the central villain in this series or episode in particular. This isn’t because I haven’t been paying attention, it’s because TellTale wants to feature as many iconic faces as possible.

This determination to show the player as much as possible in each episode ultimately makes the narrative feel shallow. Early on in my reviews, I said this could possibly be the best TellTale’s ever done with storytelling. I was mistaken. Batman is a very well told game, but the series that deserves longer than two hours once a month; one that gives a damn about character depth and motivations.

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One theme that came up a lot in the previous episodes is Wayne realizing that his parents were corrupt billionaires that ruled Gotham in secret. This revelation crushed Bruce and added a layer of redemption to his character. Now in its penultimate episode, TellTale instead waters down those emotions into off-hand comments about Wayne making up for his family’s sins in his “own way.”

Combat is as visceral and violent as ever. Batman snaps limbs and can wipe out rooms all on his own. This episode has a particularly gruesome fight between Batman and the Penguin that is a delight to play. In these moments, you feel like you’re in the batsuit exacting your revenge.

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As usual, there’s a scene where Batman does his detective vision to put together a grisly crime scene. Looking around the room in TellTale style feels a little tiresome at times, but the way scenes are reproduced still manages to mitigate the familiar gameplay loop. The detective scene also leads to a great moment between Batman and a traumatized child. If you’re playing the game like me, there are a couple dialogue choices that let you play the brooding bat with heart of gold. It’s odd the most touching scene in the episode is done as Batman instead of Bruce Wayne, but it works quite well.

As par for the course with reviewing any TellTale game, there’s some discussion to be had about optimization. While this episode didn’t have the irritating frame drops that broke immersion in previous episodes, there are still several moments where audio and visuals break sync and things get jarring. While I love that TellTale has released four episodes in three months, a little more time in the cooker would do each episode wonders.

The Verdict

Pacing and minor performance headaches aside, Guardian of Gotham starts to close things up on season one of TellTale’s Batman series. While another villain is introduced; another exits. It’s not clear if TellTale will turn this into a franchise like the Walking Dead or let the single season stand alone like Wolf Among Us. As of right now, there’s no obvious groundwork for a sequel.

Bruce Wayne and Batman might not offer the same emotional storytelling as TellTale’s other series, but the twists, turns and lore revisions combined with reinvigorated exploration tropes makes Guardians of Gotham well worth visiting.

3:5

Batman was reviewed on a Xbox One press copy courtesy of TellTale.

Interested in Bear Claw Gaming’s review process? Check out the official scoring FAQ!

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