Batman Episode 2: Children of Arkham’s final action sequence challenges players to make what feels like an impossible choice: Prevent Harvey Dent from facing the wrath of the villainous leader of the Children of Arkham or rescue your adversary-turned-crucial ally Catwoman from being overwhelmed by a gang of thugs. Two significantly different conclusions result from this fork in the road, creating potential for two unique storylines in the third act. Unfortunately, though New World Order features its fair share of captivating moments, seeing these two roads wind back together into the same, basic outcome is disappointing.
This narrative setback lies with Harvey Dent, who takes a starring role in the latest chapter. Players with even a casual knowledge of Batman lore likely know of the terrible fate that awaits the Mayoral candidate, and I’d wager few expected him to survive the series with his sanity (and good looks) intact. I’m bummed out that he didn’t. While Harvey’s destined trip to the dark side makes sense in the scenario where players choose to value Catwoman’s well-being over his, seeing him still go down that same road in the opposite outcome feels shoehorned and illogical.
Harvey appears perfectly sane in the previous episodes, but even after saving him, he goes completely off the deep end and it feels mostly out of nowhere. Telltale’s explains this away as the stresses of his recent near-death experiences taking their toll, but speaking in third-person with a monstrous voice seems like one heck of a mental leap in just a couple of scenes – especially when, again, he didn’t get hurt! That stinks because prior to going full crazy, Dent’s increased paranoia and his admiration of Batman causes him to believe that brutal justice may be the only method of remedying Gotham’s woes. I wish Telltale had just left him with that fascinating and, more importantly, unexpected state of mind instead. Still, even though I was dissatisfied with how Harvey evolved into his new role over the course of that particular playthrough, I have to praise Telltale for making me feel sorry to witness his downfall – a sympathy which is a crucial element of the character.
Dent’s woes add yet another misfortune in the towering pile of them for Bruce Wayne/Batman. “Can things get any worse for him?” becomes a question you’ll regularly ask throughout the episode and you won’t like the answer. After the atrocities committed by his father were exposed to the city, Bruce’s position at Wayne Enterprises is in serious jeopardy. The Children of Akrham, along with their mysterious leader, plot a city-wide disaster. Telltale does a great job of painting the group as a nigh unstoppable threat after revealing the scope of their reach. Penguin continues to tear apart Bruce’s family legacy, easily becoming one of the most despicable villains of any game this year. The way his unbearably smug, confident demeanor masks a remorseless psychopath show shades of Game of Thrones’ Ramsay Bolton (except with an actual backstory to validate his actions), and after the stunt he pulls in New World Order, I genuinely cannot wait for Batman to finally beat the tar out of him.
New World Order isn’t the rapid-paced bloodbath that the second installment was, and it’s a slower-paced entry in general, although not to the degree Realm of Shadows was. Only one segment, a meeting with Lucius Fox, felt close to dud. A few important story splits present themselves; some feel inconsequential (for example, choosing to assist Dent or a police officer), others are seeds that won’t see a larger payoff until later episodes.
Even so, the decision-making feels increasingly tense thanks to the twists and turns that have occurred thus far. I’m second-guessing several of my actions here thanks to options that feel like necessary risks or lesser evils in no-win situations. Based on Dent’s arc, these differing paths will likely weave back together into the same limited aftermaths, but at least I’m enjoying the act of deciding. New World Order wraps up with the most jarring shocker in the series yet – a conclusion that also makes me nervous going forward. Batman’s story could reach new heights of intrigue or run off the rails depending on how Telltale explains this left-field revelation.
Telltale mostly nails the storytelling aspect of Batman, but the studio continues to struggle with making the actual gameplay fun and engaging. The clue-connecting detective mini-game returns with Batman investigating a criminal lair, requiring slightly more critical thinking than in its first appearance (i.e. not very much). Sadly, living in the boots of the World’s Greatest Detective doesn’t get any more robust than that. Outside of the straightforward combat, the only noteworthy activities worth mentioning are staring at a table of equipment and eating Catwoman’s bagels. Those aren’t exactly riveting diversions. Narrative content has always been the entire appeal of Telltale titles, but it’s frustrating to witness the bright gameplay potential for a Batman story go underwhelm so far.
New World Order isn’t quite the rollercoaster that Children of Arkham was, but it acts as an exceptional midpoint that does a fine job of advancing Telltale’s gripping Batman narrative. Bruce Wayne’s life hangs by a thread, making the more numerous branching options feel like crucial decisions. The plot sits on a potentially slippery slope between Harvey Dent’s arc and the surprising conclusion, but if Telltale can pull these threads off, players could be in for fantastic developments in the chapters to come. While I gave it a pass in Children of Arkham, gameplay needs to step up in a huge way. Thus far it feels largely forgotten and/or overlooked, failing to live up to the vision Telltale painted for it when the series was announced.
Telltale’s Batman Episode 3: New World Order was reviewed on PlayStation 4, and is now available for Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS, and Android