There’s an axiom for Batman stories: when Joker gets involved, things get real. Even with a relatively minor role, that rings true in Batman’s fourth installment. The Clown Prince of Crime’s menacing presence adds increased tension and chaos to an already tumultuous plot and shines as the main attraction in an otherwise middling episode that sets the table for the grand finale.
Bruce’s genuinely unnerving first encounter with his future archenemy opens the game on a high note. After awakening as an inmate of Arkham Asylum following his drug-induced beatdown of Oswald Cobblepot, Bruce finds an unlikely ally in the yet-to-be-named Joker. Known simply as “John Doe,” he eagerly helps Wayne in an escape attempt, but clearly has hidden motives for doing so. Cooperating with Joker feels uneasy and even chilling at times. I actually worried about upsetting the psychotic clown. My concern heightened after witnessing Joker’s trademark viciousness and talent for observation and perception – he knows a lot more than he presumably should. I loved the feeling of unease throughout the opening segment. Additionally, catching glimpses of other soon-to-be adversaries like Mr. Zsasz and Ventriloquist makes for cool teases of what might come in the future.
On another, perhaps more personal level, Joker creates an interesting dilemma in decision-making. Years of familiarity with the character taught me not to trust a single word he says, nor entertain any kind of partnership with him. Within the context of the story, though, Bruce lacks that insight. Choosing whether to roleplay an uninformed Wayne or to follow my instincts as an educated Batman fan created a stimulating (and maybe unintentional on Telltale’s part) inner conflict.
The lingering effects of the Children of Arkham’s rage drug add a twist to early conversations. Bruce flies off the handle at any moment, making his responses largely unreliable. Although a neat wrinkle that effectively sells the drug’s effect, the anger-induced dialogue may also annoy players aiming to maintain a “paragon” protagonist. During my “nice Batman” playthrough, I got into an altercation with angry citizens. I opted for the “I don’t want any trouble” line only for Wayne to violently threaten to run down the mob with his car, much to my horror. Unless you’re already playing the jerk, here’s my advice: keep your trap shut until you’re cured. Thankfully, that occurs sooner rather than later.
Major decision-making has highs and lows. On the latter spectrum, two of New World Order’s major choices - housing Lucius Fox/Catwoman at Wayne Manor or keeping him at Wayne Enterprises/shooing her out of Gotham - culminate into nothing of note. Fox’s role plays out practically the same regardless of where he’s situated. The difference lies in whether or not Lucius provides a new gadget, which merely acts as an alternative, yet insignificant, final blow in a brief skirmish later on. Catwoman’s surprisingly minor role renders the option for her to stay meaningless. Why open the mansion to Selina if nothing substantial comes out of it? On the positive side, a tense negotiation with a fully transformed Two-Face in a “Bruce or Batman?” moment provides sufficiently altered outcomes, including an entire conversation scene exclusive to one path.
The immediate follow-up to last episode’s big revelation regarding the identity of the Children of Arkham’s leader, Lady Arkham, results in another relative letdown. A grisly (and still ho-hum) investigation of her childhood home reveals little beyond “she’s a horrible person.” Neat story, but I gathered that much already. Players anxious to learn exactly how Lady Arkham amassed a personal army, a stockpile of chemical weapons, and combat skills to rival Batman’s (among other things) won’t get those answers just yet, unfortunately. Her absence here feels like a strange choice after such important character building. If nothing else, my favorite part of this section centers on Batman’s rescue of a young victim. Not only does it display Batman’s gentler side in a nice change of pace, but it potentially plants a tantalizing seed. Could Telltale be teasing a future Robin?
After spending three installments pushing against the crushing weight of Murphy’s Law, having an episode wrap up with a (somewhat) triumphant Dark Knight provides a refreshing change. Deciding which major antagonist to neutralize is yet another hard call, and both paths result in entertaining and intensely personal boss battles. The bittersweet cliffhangers do their job of making me question ignoring the opposite road, but Guardian of Gotham concludes too abruptly for my liking.
Batman’s penultimate episode continues to entertain, mostly due to the shot of intrigue Joker injects into the experience. However, between the lack of Lady Arkham, a few unexciting outcomes, and a seemingly shorter length, Guardian of Gotham feels a step below the previous two installments. The serviceable, bland gameplay I’ve harped about before remains such. A few technical hiccups also arose ranging from missing audio effects to hard crashes. My reservations about the hit and miss choices/aftermaths aside, the overall story continues to be a surprising and enjoyable spin on Batman lore. Telltale is doing something right since I’m very much looking forward to witnessing how everything weaves together in the final episode.
Batman Episode 4: Guardian of Gotham was reviewed on PlayStation 4 and is available for Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS, and Android