Telltale Games has made obvious strides to improving their Batman series since the release of first episode Realm of Shadows earlier this summer. Perhaps Episode Four: Guardian of Gotham is the calm before the storm, as unlike previous chapters there were few real surprises to be found. Apart from a truly iconic villain who make a brief appearance, they’re gone so quickly it’s hard to enjoy their madness.
Episode 4 opens with Bruce Wayne in Arkham Asylum, still under the effects of the drug made by the Children of Arkham as seen in Episode 3: New World Order. He’s been suffering from flashbacks of attacking Oswald Cobblepot during the conference when he’s ‘stepping down’ as CEO of Wayne Corporation. In short, life hasn’t been that kind for our billionaire hero.
He doesn’t have it easy in the madhouse; within a few minutes a guard arrives, demanding Bruce get dressed and telling him he’ll be meeting a few ‘friends’ who’ve deemed themselves Arkham’s welcoming committee. Two other patients come into Bruce’s cell, having bribed the guard to let them have a shot at inflicting real damage on the billionaire. The former CEO fights back, naturally, but he’s no match for the other two men in his weakened mental and physical state.
Color me surprised when none other than The Joker is the one to rush in and break up the fight, even expressing concern for his well-being. He calls in Dr. Leland who assures Bruce she’ll ‘look into the issue’ about the incident, but she gives no indication she believes the story. Joker sticks by Bruce with his reason he’s ‘looking out for the new guy’, even to the point of starting a fight so the Dark Knight can reach a phone to make a call and leave the Asylum.
Alfred shows up to take Bruce home, but it’s around this point where things start to go downhill. There’s a subtle shift from Harvey Dent, one of the Bruce’s best friends and staunchest supporters, to his transformation into Two-Face. He tells Bruce directly he’s turned the city against him and he blamed him for ‘stealing’ Selina from him. Other than Alfred, Bruce finds himself completely alone in the fight to protect Gotham City from itself.
The improvements Telltale has made since their first episode are phenomenal (at least in the PC version) in terms of performance and optimization. Fight sequences are easier to execute and don’t require constant mashing of one button to register a movement. While I did encounter a few hitches here and there during certain sequences, for the most part Batman was able to breeze through his fights with flying colors.
In previous episodes, I’ve come to appreciate how thoughtful the detective aspect of The Dark Knight’s work was utilized. Putting together the events of the crime scene to figure out how a victim was murdered and determining the motivation behind the violence. The problem solving was light and easy to solve in this chapter, only allowing Batman to move into two areas at most to connect the dots.
However, that’s not to say there still wasn’t plenty of regular action to enjoy. Fight sequences felt as if they had real weight to them, with Batman taking a hands-on approach to the situation rather than resorting to Bruce’s subtle technique of social graces and charm to accomplish his goals.
On the other hand, choices didn’t present a moral obligation to the player as before. The running theme seemed to be Batman seeking self-preservation or to focus on the greater good of protecting Gotham City. There was no urgency made beyond the consequences of each path and even those are presented to the player on a silver platter. Even though not every choice is going to carry its weight in gold, for a series that’s been so on point with making the player think and consider every route before going down a certain path it felt like a cop out in this chapter.
I was disappointed there wasn’t a whole lot of focus put into the atmosphere or the environment for this chapter. I became spoiled with seeing the impressive skyline of Gotham City, dank and rainy alleyways, trashed public parks that spoke of former glory, Batman lurking in the shadows. While the environments weren’t incomplete by any means, there wasn’t a chance to walk around to explore the areas more fully.
Certain parts like the Arkham Asylum sequence felt way too rushed as there’s plenty of potential there, not to mention the mystery of what Bruce’s father has been accused of. How cool would it have been if Bruce had to survive in the asylum as a patient while discovering the truth behind the accusations leveled against his father? It just felt like too many awesome story opportunities or sub-plots were let go in favor of rushing to the end. Maybe in the sequel, perhaps?
Despite my gripes, Telltale Games does deserve credit for tackling major issues many players have experience thus far, especially with the PC version. Performance drops have been reduced drastically, enough that it’s possible to now play without the constant jerkiness of a stop-motion animation. There still needs to be a focus on optimization at this point, but it’s certainly a good sign there are better things to come for Batman.
Even with all these shortcomings, Episode Four: Guardian of Gotham did turn out to be the highlight of Telltale’s episodic Batman series (so far). There’s plenty of action to enjoy and it’s certainly a treat to see famous Batman villains making their debut for the first time. I just wish it were longer; at barely an hour long (previous episodes all neared two hours), it’s just enough for a good presentation, sufficient buildup, and leaving the player eager for their next helping. A fairly solid from start to finish and could be building up to an epic conclusion of the series.