Throughout the run of Batman: A Telltale Series, I’ve been consistently disappointed. If not for the technical issues and constraints of an engine hobbling to the slaughterhouse, then it’s been for the hit and miss character work, writing, plot and delivery. I had hope however, that Telltale would tie up the loose ends for the finale, and deliver a big impact finish to make sense of the rest of the series. In short, this felt like a series that needed to be finished fully before proper judgement. Well now it is finished, with the fifth episode, City of Light, so was the hope justified?
Regrettably, no. Frustrating comes to mind.
City of Light does tie some bows up, and does deliver a climactic battle between Batman and his newfound nemesis, and even sets up for another season, but as a season finale goes, it packs all the weight of an Adam West-era Batman punch.
First though, the positives, because there are some. Disappointing as it may be, Telltale simply can’t fail to strike at least a little gold with a license as rich in characters and stories as Batman. Laura Bailey’s Catwoman, only briefly featured here, once again provides a highlight in a standoffish/ sentimental encounter with Bruce Wayne. It’s a dynamic that has pretty much saved this season from complete disaster, to the point where I wonder if a dual perspective format that heavily focused on the pair’s strained friendship/flirtation would have been the better route than fitting a rogues gallery of villains and side stories into pad the runtime.
Elsewhere, there’s mercifully little from Penguin, a pretty decent mid-episode fight sequence, a bit more depth to Bruce and Alfred’s relationship, and our big bad gets a well-reasoned backstory for their motivations.
These are glimpses of what this episode could have been, the rest is filed under infuriating, laughable, and most depressing of all, underwhelming.
For infuriating, read ‘the technical problems’. Yes, I know, I know, I’m banging on about it again, but having played every damn Telltale game to date, I can say with high confidence that Batman is easily one of the worst performing seasons the developer has created. This time we have some absolute doozies. Two crashes within minutes of each other, both occurring in a scene where you end up brawling with a pair of floating eyeballs (definitely not a villain, just a recurring glitch). The icing on the cake is that the jagged scene transitions are at an all time low during this time, and I went back later to check it wasn’t just a bad net connection, and my concerns were not allayed.
For laughable, read ‘the story,’ which has an ample amount of heritage to draw from, but flubs it with a confusing clash of moral choices (reactions, and conversations take place that clearly come from choices you never made). Characters long since annexed from your version of the story reappear with little reasoning beyond getting them into the finale. While the main villain’s motivations are understandable, the delivery for it is weak. Aside from Bailey’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman, and Troy Baker’s Bruce Wayne, there’s not much to write home about in the voice acting department. Baker’s Bruce may be good, and it is a commendable feat for a character usually described as the mask that hides Batman to be so empathetic and human for once, but his Batman has not been all that effective. Here, it continues to be that way. There’s one line delivery where the Dark Knight should be growling with rage, and Baker bafflingly (also a tad amusingly) goes for ‘frustrated teenage hissy fit’. Beyond them lies an irritating, if occasionally interesting, Harvey Dent, a vastly more likeable Alfred than we started with, a below-par Joker, and a rugged, formulaic Jim Gordon. I’ve not seen a Telltale cast this inconsistent in quality; it’s a sad step down from what is usually a highlight of the games the developer makes.
Underwhelming, then, is the ending itself. Where it should be energized, emotional, and meaningful, it instead ends up by the numbers, boring, and plain unenthusiastic. Even a great speech by Bruce in the final minutes isn’t enough to rouse the episode from its self-induced slumber, and the final tease for a second season is so insultingly predictable that you could have called it when the series started. I don’t mind where it’s going by the way, just the way we got there.
I desperately wanted to enjoy Batman: A Telltale Series, but it just hasn’t clicked for me. The highly-troubled game engine is its own problem, one that may still be here by the time season two inevitably rolls around, yet any future success for this particular series needs to come from a place of conviction for the story Telltale wishes to tell. Twists on established lore and characters are absolutely a-ok with me, but ensure they hold weight, and don’t fall back on safer ground anytime the new stuff struggles to get over. What should have been the final piece in the lame puzzle is just an extension of the problem, and the net result of that is a return to a dark time where Batman games just aren’t up to snuff.