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Batman – New World Order: The Review

Batman Telltale Episode 3 New World Order Crop

Developers: Telltale Games

Publishers: Telltale Games

Plot: Bruce Wayne struggles to hold onto his business, Harvey Dent’s unexpected rise to power has serious consequences and the Children of Arkham plan their most devastating terrorist attack yet.

Ah, the middle chapter in Telltale’s saga. With most series, as soon as the narrative is introduced and the stakes raised high enough (which Episodes 1 and 2 arguably handled), the rest of the series is left trying to be innovative and not appear like it is killing time before the big finale. For example I said that Episode 2’s strength was the fact we have had time to settle into the game mechanics, but now we have to deal with the fact that perhaps we need something new to impress us rather than yet another episode. Telltale have mixed results in this era. Game of Thrones suffered from mid-act monotony, while the Walking Dead flourished with its third episode, smashing through shock reveal and twist. New World Order’s best feature is that it doesn’t feel like just another story. In fact, while the overall mystery ticks away in the background, there are enough meaty set-pieces to make the third episode feel like a worthwhile adventure in its own right.

After a quick introduction where we catch up with Harvey (who may or may not have horrific burn scars depending on how your play-through of the last episode went), we are given a tough call to make. Two characters are put into peril simultaneously and Batman has to decide which one to save first. It is Telltale 101, but with the world of Batman, it is especially hard-hitting. You are meant to be the hero who saves the day and the gradual realisation that Telltale won’t let us save everyone is a hard burden to bear. With Harvey, this is an especially difficult arc to watch. Dent’s character comes into his own here, his descent into the villain any Batman fan knows he will eventually become new and refreshing. As he replaces Mayor Hill, he lashes out, perhaps for the right reasons, but the consequences could have dramatic effects on the course of the series. Telltale have great fun, manipulating our opinions on the character list and juggling the dynamic cast we already have. It is great that everyone has something to do. Vicki Vale, the character who always threatens to get lost in the rush, gets an audience with the Children of Arkham, despite them threatening her life last episode. Oswald Cobblepot crops up in an unexpected place. Bruce and Selena Kyle get closer. The cynics will criticise Episode 3 for focusing too much on character development than gaming thrills, but as everyone transforms into more three-dimensional characters in front of you, it is hard to feel too cheated at the slow burning episode. Besides, this is Telltale Games and they know where their strengths lie. There is a grand fight scene buried away in the episode though. Following up on one of the leads, Batman tracks the Children of Arkham to the lair of the next terrorist attack. We get to play with the detective mode again, as well as a gripping punch-up between Batman and the masked villain. The fights still could be tighter, but they do thrill in their own way.

Perhaps the big problem here is that the shock finale of Episode Two isn’t as powerful as it feels like it could have been. The episode asked us to choose between Harvey and Catwoman. It felt like one choice would give birth to Two-Face and the other would pit our strongest ally against us, essentially giving us too separate villains to face off against for the rest of the series. In an ideal world, the Children of Arkham’s main henchman would be one of the two, giving players two different experiences for the rest of the game. Sadly, as Episode Three plays out, nothing seems to have changed. Harvey, scars or no scars, still begins a descent into villainy. Catwoman’s revenge is reduced to a few quips. It feels restrained and takes a lot of the power out of the series as a whole. Sadly, this is becoming a common occurrence with Telltale Games. I can see why the story is restricted to go down one path. The narrative is so rich and the characters so fine-tuned, opening the story up to interpretation would hurt a lot of the shocks. Would we still get the catalyst of Catwoman’s friendship with Batman (both the good and the bad), if the story was forced to nose dive down another road for a separate gamer? Would half of the gaming community miss out on Harvey Dent’s dark side, something that is bound to effect the closing stages of the series? And then there is the twist that sees this episode out. Would we still get that if the timing of the series was tinkered around with? That twist comes out of nowhere, the kind of sucker punch that audiences live for. It cruelly twists the narrative of Batman, like with the killing of Falcone or the re-reading of Penguin, but when the jaw-dropping reveal is that good who dares call Telltale’s manipulation of the source material a bad thing?

Final Verdict: Still more story than game, but as the characters develop and the story enters deep waters, it is harder to criticise.

Three Stars