Loose Ends – “Batman Episode Five” Review

The season finale of TellTale’s Batman series narrows its focus and finishes strong.

The Batman season finale, City of Light, is easily the best episode in the series. While Bruce Wayne takes the backseat, much of City of Light follows Batman tries to put out the literal and figurative fires across Gotham. Thankfully, donning the cowl doesn’t prevent TellTale from wrapping up the overall narrative in a compelling and emotional way. At times, it felt good to lay into enemies, but there were also times when I wish I could talk villains down from the edge. This grey morality is often missing from Batman movies and games, so finding myself sympathizing and understanding villains was rather engrossing.

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Compared to the past two episodes in the season, City of Light has much more narrative focus. With a couple of characters no longer in play, the episode plays out slower. In fact, much of the episode is dialogue as TellTale closes (and opens) a few ends to wrap up the season. In fact, one of the best things about this episode is the developer’s ability to feature characters like Joker who are in scenes but aren’t the center of attention. While your brief interactions with Joker likely exist to establish a relationship between himself and Batman in the next season, it was great to see TellTale dodge the Joker crutch that marred Rocksteady’s Arkham games.

Without a doubt, this episode had two of the best action sequences in the game, one with Two-Face and the other with Lady Arkham. Both sequences have brutal (and buttery smooth) brawling scenes. The camera work during these fights is unique, and there were a few times where I let out and audible “whoa” during an action shot. Thankfully the brawn doesn’t mean TellTale sacrificed brain. Each sequence still had a fair amount of player choice when it came to how to fight and what to say to the villains. Because the decisions made in combat seem pretty substantial in the grand scheme of things, I had to think hard before hitting a button prompt.

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Following the focused story, the developer finally made time to develop Lady Arkham’s backstory further. Here, TellTale went much darker than anticipated to create a truly vile history. Her backstory worked so well, in fact, I felt legitimately sympathetic for her and understood how events in her life could compel her towards a life of villainy. Herein lies the best thing about TellTale’s Batman series: They put in the time to create believable character development. Of course, DC Comics have fleshed these characters out before, but films and other Batman games have portrayed evil characters as pure evil and Batman as the wronged child turned do-gooder. Thanks to TellTale, I felt like Bruce did owe the city a debt and that there was more to donning the cowl. Simply put, how characters, good and evil, behave in TellTale’s Gotham is believable.

Like every episode of the season, City of Light suffered from irritating frame rate drop throughout. In a somewhat bizarre manner, these drops are only during navigation or dialogue sections while combat runs at an acceptable 30fps on consoles. Why chatting or walking around a small room tanks TellTale’s engine more than fights with tons of effects is beyond me. If these games can run on mobile platforms, there’s no reason TellTale shouldn’t be able to put the time in to make its games run well on consoles and PC.

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As hinted above, TellTale lays the groundwork for more seasons via cliffhangers and a couple of unanswered questions. That’s welcome news, though, because the game boasts a memorable story with a fresh take on Batman lore. Thankfully, the voice acting is largely stellar. My only qualm comes from Troy Baker’s Batman. Unlike his mostly good Bruce Wayne performance Baker’s spends his time as the Dark Knight trying (poorly) to imitate Christian Bale’s performance. Baker’s Batman is particularly frustrating because the backstory differences between the two versions, so TellTale should have found a unique voice for Batman that better reflected their version of Wayne family lore.

The Verdict

City of Light is a great conclusion to TellTale’s first Batman season. It fixes the pacing issues that plagued the previous two episodes and narrows the focus. As a result, story arks soar while keeping action sequences frequent and engaging. I felt like decisions I made in the first four episodes definitely impacted the conclusion of the game, and there are moments where this season’s decisions will come into play in the next.

While there are some low points in TellTale’s Batman series overall, the developer’s unwavering confidence to break from comic lore when necessary made the experience fresh. If you’re looking for a TellTale game with believable characters and an engrossing story, there’s nothing better.

5:5

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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