The third episode of Telltale Games’ Batman series, New World Order, is a substantial step forward in crafting the series’ own identity… with a few caveats.
New World Order immediately follows the bombastic events concluding the previous episode. Harvey is now stepping into the role of Gotham’s mayor, Bruce and Selina continue to advance their questionable romance, and the mysterious Children of Arkham are up to no good. Despite starting in familiar territory, it’s now clear how Telltale is shaping their Bat-universe.
The Children of Arkham emerging as an original villainous organization is particularly something to praise, especially noteworthy after Rocksteady’s somewhat failure to create their own original villain in Arkham Knight. Likewise, the directions of familiar characters are taking entertaining turns, but with a surprisingly unintentional side effect.
While Bruce and Selina’s relationship grows explicit, their affair takes its toll on his friendship with Harvey. As he slowly spirals into his Two-Face persona, it culminates in… a fight with Bruce in his boxers in Selina’s apartment. While it is unique in its highly grounded realism, it all nevertheless feels a little like a soap opera version of the mythos we’re all accustomed to. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does feel odd comparing this series more to the Gotham television show than the highly influential Batman: The Animated Series of the 90’s.
It’s also at this point where Telltale’s staple choice-making system has begun to confuse the plot and character motivations a little. While these options deliver a variety of branching paths, some do make more sense than others. My own storyline has Harvey’s transition into Two-Face feel a little too sudden and forced with the decisions I’ve made, and I even felt it necessary to restart a segment later in the episode when my chosen actions didn’t properly relate to other characters’ reactions. It’s a small and subjective criticism, but still a notable one when these adventure-style games offer so many options but little difference in resolutions.
Despite my confusion with some of the direction, New World Order still offers its share of great storytelling. Batman’s presence in Gotham and how he’s viewed by the public and police are fun to see play out and have control over. The Penguin is given a more personal enmity with Bruce, making him a more dangerous and intimate threat. The Children of Arkham and their connection to Bruce’s family still remains to be fully explored but is perhaps this series’ greatest narrative strength in re-contextualizing the Wayne family. And finally despite my nitpicks, it’s always a nerdy delight to see Harvey Dent slowly transform into one of Batman’s greatest foes. Regardless of any underwear boxing matches.
Thankfully, my problems with the previous episode’s performance are mostly improved. This episode didn’t run flawlessly though, with multiple scenes having their audio cut before they had fully played out, putting a dampening on the tension and drama. Gameplay felt more substantial, with the return of an investigative sequence and a thrilling action setpiece. While I feel these segments may not be everyone’s favourite parts in comparison to the engaging narrative and decision-making areas of the game, they do help to strengthen the pacing with either some necessary downtime or fast-paced action.
By now it’s becoming clear how this series is shaping up. While it doesn’t exactly capture the full comic book zaniness I had initially expected with the news of a Telltale Batman series, it instead straddles the line between that and realism. Sometimes that means we get inventive villains and twists, and other times that means falling into soap opera territory. It’s been a crazy and surprising ride so far, and we still have two more episodes to go!