Since its debut in August, Telltale Games’ Batman series has made a focused effort to bring players into a vision of Gotham that, while mostly familiar to longtime fans, also provides some radical (and much needed) “remixes” of the world of the Dark Knight, and largely to great effect.
With the series’ fourth episode, titled “Guardian of Gotham,” Telltale brings players into the very familiar setting of Arkham Asylum and also including some appearances from a few very familiar faces to Batman fans. While serving as an intriguing detour away from Gotham and the tension that has (so far) defined the series thanks to villains like the Penguin and the Children of Arkham, Episode 4 perhaps serves as a bit too much of a diversion as (arguably) the series’ weakest episode, though not without some great action and tension thrown into the mix.
Continuing right after a shocking twist at the end of Episode 3, “Guardian of Gotham” brings Bruce Wayne into the custody of Arkham Asylum as he wakes up inside a dingy, cramped cell in the infamous Gotham prison. From there, Bruce meets some unfriendly faces in the form of characters such as Victor Zsasz and a pale, green-haired man known only as “John Doe,” though players will surely know who I’m implying his “real” identity is.
Where the first two episodes of Telltale’s series brought us through conflicts both violent and politically through the eyes of Bruce Wayne and Batman as Gotham begins turning against the Wayne family legacy, Episode 4‘s introduction almost feels like the equivalent of a bottle episode as the series instead takes us deep into Arkham Asylum and meeting those that await inside.
Most of all, the episode takes a deeper look into the psyche of Bruce Wayne as only Arkham Asylum can do, with both the prison and the effects of a deadly toxin taking its effects on Bruce both mentally and emotionally. While the episode takes the action away from the main storyline of Bruce fighting to take down the Children of Arkham, the excursion to Arkham Asylum presents some interesting development and insight into the mind of Bruce in the wake of Gotham turning against him and his family. Even more so, “John Doe” bridges the gap between Bruce’s sanity and insanity, making for some mind-bending sequences that serve as the highlight of the episode.
However, the players’ time in Arkham Asylum in Episode 4 is rather brief, as Bruce is taken away from the confines of the prison near the midpoint and put back into the fight against the Children of Gotham soon after. With the time at Arkham Asylum being so brief compared to the rest of the episode (and series at large), the jump between locales so quickly contributes to some of Episode 4‘s larger issues, being that of pacing, character development, and a lack of focus between its most interesting components in service of the larger story. While the diversion to Arkham is enjoyable and adds some compelling new material to Telltale’s vision in Batman, ultimately it ends up feeling like a detour than a meaningful part of the larger story.
Despite some uneven pacing when it comes to transitioning between scenes and characters (in particular with Harvey Dent becoming his menacing alter-ego, Two Face), “Guardian of Gotham” still packs a punch when it comes to the core elements of Bruce Wayne and Batman and their alternate (but necessary) skills needed to fight back against corruption, greed, and the threats of Gotham City. In particular, the building tension between Bruce/Batman and the city of Gotham continues to be one of the series’ big highlights, as the episode explores the widening divide between Gotham’s savior and those that he attempts to protect, and the decline of the Wayne family image in the public eye.
Most of all, Episode 4 brings some genuinely challenging decisions for players to make throughout its run, with two in particular being some of the most difficult I’ve made yet in the series (and maybe in Telltale’s games ever). The final decision at the episode’s conclusion in particular offers a challenging course of action for both Bruce/Batman and the player, and is easily an episode I could see myself playing through twice to see how its outcome would affect the start of the last episode, even if only there was the illusion of choice at hand.
Batman: The Telltale Series has dabbled both in bringing players a faithful and familiar interpretation of Batman while at the same time subverting some of those expectations, and for the most part, that’s worked out to Telltale’s benefit in the previous three episodes. Coming after some shocking revelations in the game’s third act, the penultimate “Guardian of Gotham” attempts to bring some surprising new elements in the form of Arkham Asylum and a few new faces that (I’m sure) we’ll see around again down the line.
However, it also marks one of the series’ weaker installments at the hands of uneven pacing and character development, with the trip to Arkham Asylum, while intriguing and compelling in its own rights, feeling like a detour away from the main action in Gotham that has driven the series so far. While it may mark a slight bump in the road, Episode 4 nonetheless still offers plenty of great action and suspense that builds on what has been offered so far, and with only episode to go I’m still looking forward (more than ever) to see where the path leads in the finale to Bruce and Batman’s story.