From the beginning, Telltale set out to tell a story just as much about Bruce Wayne as it is about Batman. Coming in to the penultimate episode of series, it is fair to say they have succeeded in doing just that. More than simply putting Bruce in the spotlight, Telltale has used that unique approach to give fans an enticingly different take on the Dark Knight. Despite the excellent momentum and all the makings for a brilliant chapter at its onset however, Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 4 doesn’t live up to its predecessors.
Episode 3 left the story off at a cliffhanger as Bruce launched towards Oswald Cobblepot in a drug-induced rage. Picking up shortly after, Episode 4 opens with Bruce having been committed to Arkham Asylum. If there was ever a premise that could instantly make fans’ mouths water, this is it. Trapped without gadgets or any communication to the outside world, cut off from help, and surrounded on all sides by the most deranged criminals Gotham has to offer, Bruce has to fend for himself. The potential alone is intoxicating.
Telltale then proceeds to raise the ante in the very first scene as none other than the Joker himself walks through the door. The relationship between the Joker and Batman has become almost mythic over the decades, and by cleverly subverting that with a relationship between the Joker and Bruce instead, Telltale lays the ground work for what could have been the most intriguing episode of the series. With all of that in mind, it’s then impossible to not feel disappointed at how little Guardian of Gotham makes use of that initial setting and one of the most celebrated villains of all time.
Arkham Asylum, the Joker, and the circumstances of Bruce’s near immediate release make up only about 20 minutes of the episode’s 80-minute run-time. Aside from a couple single-note cameos from some of Batman’s lesser-known villains, and an out-of-nowhere exposition dump from the Joker, Arkham Asylum goes woefully unutilized. For those less attached to the Batman mythos, the opening will come off as a truncated, uneventful first act, while longtime fans will likely cringe at the magnitude of the missed opportunities.
Beyond the setting alone, the whole event seems to have very little overall effect on Bruce or the world. During his time in the asylum and directly after, Bruce continues to suffer from the effects of the mind-altering drug. Save for blurring the colors of the screen and occasionally making Bruce clutch his head in pain, being under the influence of a narcotic doesn’t actually affect the gameplay. Again, it’s not hard to see the potential inherent in the main character of a game all about making choices being under the sway of a judgment-impairing drug.
Likewise, instead of Gotham falling into chaos without Batman, little seems to actually happen in the city while Bruce is away. The Children of Gotham go quiet, and though we see a single police roadblock set up and Alfred laments that Harvey has turned Gotham into a police-state, nothing appears to have actually changed in the majority of the city. These elements make the shock and pivotal loss of control the player experiences in the final moments of Episode 3 feel hollow. It ends up as more of a speed bump along the way instead of a turning point in the narrative.
With the asylum-shaped detour quickly placed in the rear-view mirror, your actions unfortunately dictating whether or not you actually get an adequate explanation of why Bruce is being released, the rest of the episode again turns to the dual threat of Harvey Dent and Lady Arkham.
Much like previous episodes, you solve a quick mini-game in the cave, connect links between evidence at a crime scene, and engage in a few fights along the way. Aside from the returning audio glitches and the rare, but sadly still present, game crash, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with Guardian of Gotham. The content throughout the episode is good, but is also relatively standard fair.
Depending on your choices in the previous episode, Guardian of Gotham either features a quick texting conversation with Selina Kyle, or a short scene in which she tells Bruce she is leaving. And that’s it. While Selina leaving is an understandable step for the character and an interesting twist for those that had been pursuing a romance with her, the unfortunate affect is that Episode 4 effectively sidelines the single most engaging character of the series.
At the same time, where the earlier episodes explored Harvey’s transition into Two-Face, highlighting the nuance and tragedy of the character, Guardian of Gotham does away with such subtlety. Episode 4 showcases a fully criminal Harvey Dent, as dangerous and unhinged as any of Batman’s usual villains, losing much of the depth Telltale’s version of the character has managed so far.
The series thrived up to this point due to the dynamic Bruce and Batman have shared with Selina and Harvey. While there is nothing wrong with not relying solely on that dynamic, the fact that other characters don’t step forward and offer the same level of intrigue leaves the episode noticeably lacking. Save for one scene in particular between Bruce and two police officers, a scene that you can miss, few parts of the episode inspire much tension or awe.
Building towards the climax for the series, both Penguin and Harvey launch their final plans. To the episode’s credit, Guardian of Gotham offers a lot of choices, allowing you to really shape how things play out. The implications for Episode 5 could be massive, as the final moments of Episode 4 pick back up and deliver a solid cliffhanger, regardless of which path you take.
Even with that said, Penguin and Harvey’s plans both come with caveats. Penguin’s plan is poorly explained and a few too many assumptions and leaps of logic out of the gate. Meanwhile, as Harvey fully assumes his villain role, the ever-present media and general public that have played a substantial role in previous episodes are largely absent. Going from trying to manage public perception of Batman in Episodes 1-3 to suddenly seeing Two-Face operating in a relative vacuum is an unfortunately stark contrast.
Guardian of Gotham isn’t a bad episode. It moves the story forward, introduces Telltale’s take on the Clown Prince of Crime (with the promise of him returning), and sets things up beautifully for the season finale. But it also lacks the spark and depth of character we’ve seen in the previous episodes. Telltale’s version of the famed Arkham Asylum unfortunately leaves too much to be desired, and the rest of the episode does little to make up for it. With the stakes higher than ever though, and all the pieces moving into place, there is still plenty of reason to be excited for Episode 5.
This game was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 console, with a copy purchased by the reviewer.
- A new take on the Joker
- Plenty of choice
- Setting the stage for the finale
- Arkham Asylum feels under-utilized
- Less character depth and tension than previous episodes
- A few too many leaps of logic for the villains