I have to admit that my excitement to play this episode was tempered by a bug that erased all my saved data. Jumping online confirmed that this was not a hardware issue; it was just Telltale releasing a buggy product. This pissed me off to no end, as all my choices had to be auto-generated for me, since as far as the game was concerned I had never played the previous episodes. Which means that I never slept with Catwoman, Harvey was suddenly Two-Face, I’d said some nasty stuff to Alfred and so on. In previous chapters I couldn’t use full-screen mode and I was pretty upset about it. This was something else entirely. With that said, on to the review.
Waking up in Arkham Asylum is never a good way to start the day. Waking up in Arkham Asylum with no idea how you got there, poison coursing through your veins and a couple of thugs getting ready to taze the hell out of you is even worse. Welcome to Arkham. Population: hundreds of murderous, psychotic killers and one very freaked out Bruce Wayne.
Episode 4 of Telltale’s Batman series continues the trend of seeing just how far billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne can fall. After discovering the true identity of the leader of the Children of Arkham, Bruce is poisoned and tricked into attacking Oswald Cobblepot. To make matters worse, Bruce attacks him in front of a crowd of reporters with their cameras rolling. After being deemed mentally unstable, Bruce is shipped to Arkham, where the episode begins.
After waking up in Arkham, you promptly encounter Telltale’s version of the Joker, Arkham’s “most improved patient”. You spend the bulk of the early parts of the episode walking around with the Joker and meeting the more notorious patients of Arkham, which is basically a handful of Batman’s rogue’s gallery. You find out that Harvey is responsible for your admission to Arkham, meaning you have almost no friends on the outside. Things are not looking good for Bruce, but they are looking great for gamers, as you wonder just how the hell Telltale is going to get Batman out of this one.
Unfortunately, the answer is quickly given, and in the most boring way possible. A quick distraction and a phone call later, you spring yourself from Arkham and all the suspense and tension that was built up in the previous episode just sort of fades away. It was a major disappointment to have the status quo so quickly restored, especially when you consider the myriad scenarios that could have played out in Arkham, what with Bruce encountering all these classic villains for the first time. Instead, you get a couple token words with a few characters, some rather sane conversation with the Joker and not much else. Bruce walks out of Arkham, cures himself of the poison coursing through his veins and everything is mostly back to normal. It was a disappointing miss, and really killed the head of steam built up in the previous episode.
Batman’s detective work makes an appearance again and it’s a little more streamlined in this episode than the last. Then again, the crimes you are solving still have very obvious answers and it doesn’t take much to figure the “puzzle” out. I keep hoping that Telltale will throw some kind of a curveball at gamers, or come up with a different way to showcase Batman’s detective skills. For a game that is 80% dialogue, it seems like a missed opportunity to keep soft-balling it with these simplistic puzzles.
One of the main themes of this series continues to be tech, and it’s no different in this episode. Telltale’s portrayal of the Penguin still works well, blending his new, slimmer physique and fighting skills with the old-school Penguin’s penchant for finding other ways to beat Batman besides physical strength. Cobblepot uses an electronic version of his classic monocle to hack Batman’s tech, his car and his computer to great effect, raising the question of just how effective Batman actually is when he’s been stripped of his gear and reduced to “a man in a pointy-eared suit”.
The answer is brutally effective. Batman takes his lumps, but it turns out that the “man in the pointy eared-suit” is all kinds of savage. Just in case you forgot how bloody Batman can get, here you beat the everlasting hell out of Cobblepot, use a wrench to smash his face and ribs and you even get the option to stomp on Penguin’s face to knock him out, which I definitely took advantage of. Between beating Penguin to a bloody pulp (twice!) and destroying his henchmen with big, nasty hooks, you see that Batman is more than a fast car and a handful of gizmos; he’s also a wrecking ball of violence. The brutality is a bit excessive, but it’s effective in showing that although Batman still won’t kill, he will absolutely match his enemies in terms of ferocity and then some.
The plot as a whole in this episode was a bit of a letdown. It definitely has the feeling of a “filler” chapter and contains some of the most stilted dialogue I’ve seen in the series thus far. Telltale manages to escalate things towards the end of the episode, but it feels phoned in and a bit unbelievable. Especially after the cliff-hanger ending in the previous episode, this one feels much less dramatic. Once it was all over and I was reflecting on what had transpired plot-wise, I realized that nothing much had happened at all. Bruce/Batman’s relationships with the other characters all stayed about the same, the overall threat to Bruce and Gotham didn’t escalate much and it just felt like the entire episode was treading water. The Arkham Asylum bit in the beginning was by far the best part of the episode, and it ended way too soon in a rather unsatisfying way.
Technically this episode also had some problems. I had the worst slow-down in this episode than all the others, and as usual, I had problems getting the full-screen to work. In addition, the game losing my save data was a real blow. It’s hard to rate this episode, since all of a sudden it was like I was playing someone else’s saved game data. It’s hard to overstate what a big deal this is and how much it affected my excitement and my enjoyment of this episode overall. I felt ambivalent to most of my choices and decisions since it didn’t really feel like “my” game anyways. Disappointing to say the least.