Batman…. we need to just sit down and have a serious talk about your work with Telltale Games. I respect your journey into this new world with them, but there’s a few issues that keep cropping up. While I have great respect for the amazing character development, engaging storyline, and the tough choices made in Batman: The Telltale Series: Episode 3: New World Order, it hurts man. It really hurts me to have to bring up (once again) issues that mar would might have been an otherwise emotionally driven experience.
New World Order opens with Bruce Wayne and Selina (also Catwoman) visiting Harvey Dent, the newly-elected mayor who’s just beginning to inch his way towards becoming a certain iconic coin-flipping villain. Selina tells Bruce she can’t go into see him, leaving Bruce (i.e. the player) to choose whether he understands her feelings, or chide her for leaving Harvey at this desperate hour.
I’m a big fan of Batman, but the hints of seeing Harvey becoming Two-Face are well played out in this opening scene. I chose for Bruce to tease Harvey about “being beautiful on the inside” and the two share a heavy bromance conversation for a few turns. The conversation turned to Harvey talking about what happened at the debate (see Episode Two), and how he regrets the attack. I chose for Bruce to offer what comfort he could to him before being forced to leave due to an urgent call from Alfred.
Lucius Fox also comes into the picture and alerts Bruce to the Children of Arkaham tightening their grip on the city. They’ve managed to infiltrate the GCPD communications network so they can be aware of the authorities’ next move. Not only does the Batman have to deal with this growing threat, but Bruce also learns the same day he’s being forced to step down ‘temporarily’ as the CEO of Wayne Corporation. The man who steps up to take his place is another iconic villain in the Batman franchise…but I won’t give his identify away here because his introduction into the scene is (admittedly) pretty outstanding.
There’s also a wider exploration of Selina’s interest in Bruce Wayne and Batman. While in previous episodes she’s shown some interest, her relationship with the billionaire/superhero has always been on edge, often literally. I was pleased to see Selina Kyle come back strong in the last third of the episode so I could get a closer glimpse of who Catwoman truly was on the inside. Once again, it’s left up to the player how far the relationship between her and Bruce progresses, or to be buried in the litter box.
Still, choices made weren’t always as clear cut as in previous episodes. Sure, there are options to make Bruce either a complete jerk or offer support to those closest to him, but it wasn’t clear if these were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ choices. There was less focus to be ‘the good guy’ as choices seemed more like navigating a mysterious morality chessboard than I would’ve liked.
One of the pet peeves I’ve had with the series so far are the inconsistencies of player choices being applied to the storyline. In earlier episodes, I chose for Batman to go the non-violent route, yet once again he’s seen as a cutthroat villain who just wears the mantle of the bat to dispense his own brand of justice. While this didn’t ruin my experience that much, it was annoying having a GCPD cop telling Batman he didn’t believe in his ‘nice guy act’ when that had been my choice from the beginning.
Telltale appears to have made some improvements since the last episode, and these do help make actually playing the game (when you get to actually play) less frustrating. The battle system this time actually worked as I wasn’t struggling through the iconic fight scenes to progress the story. For what it’s worth, the mouse (on PC) was more stable and registered choices more accurately.
Visually, there are several amazing shots of Gotham City’s skyline I did have to admire. The attention to small details like lighting and shadows were spot-on in every scene were incredible. Even the facial expressions of each individual character translated their emotions in the moment rather than feeling faked or forced.
Little details like graffiti-painted walls, trash on the street, and even soft rain really help make this episodic world feel like, well, BATMAN! When everything comes together and works, this really does feel like a proper rendering of Gotham.
However, as impressive as the visuals can be, the main engine still needs work, especially on PC. Quite often, objects wouldn’t load or render correctly, causing blacklines appear on models like the Batmobile or entire buildings. Once again I had to sit through cinematic scenes playing out as characters slowed down abruptly, and I can’t count how many times I watched Bruce’s immobile lips as his voice continued speaking. Frequent crashes meant replaying portions, too, though save points helped ease the pain. While not a complete deal-killers, technical glitches like these made it difficult to enjoy the overall experience at times.
I’m also impressed with the voice-talent, especially Troy Baker (Batman) and Laura Bailey (Selina) handling the emotional aspects in the story. There were times I felt my heart wrenching when Harvey (Travis Willingham) would start talking to himself or Bruce protested he was nothing like his father. These characters didn’t sound fictional in the least, but real people facing the greatest challenges of their lives. Even knowing how many of these characters would evolve in the future, it still hurt seeing them suffer as they struggled to hold a world together that was falling to pieces around them.
I’m a sucker for a good story too, especially an emotionally driven one. Despite the glaring flaws present, I was struck by the relationships explored in Episode Three. A clear friendship between Harvey and Bruce is established from the start, and while Harvey doesn’t spend that much time talking, the scenes he’s in showcase a clear descent into madness. At times Harvey goes off his rocker and begins muttering to himself, only in a heart-wrenching voice to apologize profusely for his words or actions at the toss of a coin.
Even Selina suffers through emotional pain since she clearly cares for the new mayor on at least some level, but her heart is slowly going over to Batman. She too is faced with the choice of trying to better herself as a person or giving in completely to her persona as Catwoman.
When everything comes together in Batman: The Telltale Series: Episode 3: New World Order works and creates an immersive experience. The story continues to be well-designed, overall, with fast-paced action, romance, and emotional depth. I found myself time and again on the verge of tears seeing my favorite characters in pain, but inspired how they were overcoming these challenges despite the overwhelming odds. And yet…I still can’t give my full approval. Sadly, the series continues to suffer from unfortunate glitches, and inconsistent choice consequences prevent this episodic Batman from fully embracing its potential and possibly becoming one of his – or Telltale’s – greatest successes.