Telltale's take on the Dark Knight is a tale of two games. Reaching exceptional and captivating highs, in which Telltale shows its mastery of story-telling and handling the small and intimate moments between characters. Yet, the story of the series has also been one of baffling narrative threads, a messy main story, and a bull in a china shop approach to dealing with the Batman mythos. Episode 3 is no exception to this, indeed it may be the episode thus far that best showcases it.
Right from the opening beats of the season I have loved the idea on focusing more on Bruce Wayne, of telling the story of the man behind the mask and it is here that the series has always shined brightest. Yet, even here problems arise. The early promise that episode 1 offered of telling a more grounded, year 2 style Batman story, more focused on regular crime then super-villains has largely faded away by the time episode 3 finishes up.
It's not that telling stories involving classic Batman villains and themes is a bad thing, far from it, it's simply that Telltale seems perfectly suited to weave a compelling narrative around those early days of Batman, when the focus was on tackling the ordinary and regular crime that got him involved to begin with. It's not so much that the Children of Arkham moments don't work, it's that they aren't nearly as interesting and exciting as the early teases at dealing with the mob.
Of course one aspect of the episode that doesn't hit at all for me is Bruce and Gotham's slow realization of the truth about the lives of Thomas and Martha Wayne. I'm never one to have problems with twisting aspects of a hero's story in retellings, in fact I often times welcome it. Yet, by fundamentally changing the deaths's of the Wayne's and the reasons behind it, much of the reasoning for Bruce to become Batman seems lacking. More than this though is the hard truths that have to be faced about their unsavory dealings with the mob and corrupt politicians.
Again, by dragging them down into the mud, you can argue that they become more real, more complicated figures, something Selina refers to, yet I've always viewed Bruce's parents as the ideal that he strives for. By knocking them down so far, and Telltale seems intent on knocking them down about as far as you can go, the image and ideals that Bruce strive for seem to get muddied. Batman has always wanted to be a beacon of hope, an example of good in a city with so much darkness, yet when you take away so much of what he relays on as his rock, it makes it harder to understand what he draws on.
So yeah, I don't like a lot of the game. But there are two wonderful exceptions to this, that make the entire thing worthwhile. The first and most tragic is Harvey's slow unraveling throughout the series that comes to a head during this episode. Watching Harvey slowly lose himself to his darker and angrier side is stunning and humazing and evolves the character into a classic tragic hero in a way few stories have done for him. The fateful snapping point between Harvey, Bruce, and Selina during the last act of the game is arguably the highpoint of the entire series thus far. Brutal to play through as my Bruce and Harvey have been very close, good friends from the opening their clash and the rawness of feelings that it sparked left a note long after the game continued. This leads me to my second aspect of the episode I loved, Selina.
Selina Kyle is the best part of any scene she's in. Honestly it's not even close. At first Cobblepot occupied this role, but very quickly as he descended into more of a cartoon and Selina and Bruce spent more time together, Selina has shined in the series. The entire chapter of the game set exclusively in her apartment from the opening seconds of her dragging a badly injured Bruce inside, to the closing conflict riddled moments with Harvey, Selina's apartment was the site of the the unquestioned high of the episode. Involving almost nothing but intimate character portraits involving Bruce, Harvey, and Selina and their various relationships and bonds, it is some of the best written, acted, and finest moments of humanity Telltale has ever produced and is particularly notable for how long and well paced it is.
Selina and Bruce's conversation about a range of topics, from what's next, to why they do what they do, to the kinds of the people they are, to more is a marvel and brilliantly builds up a wonderful, sparkling series of moments between the two. It's rare that games handle romance, connections, and what draws people to each other particularly well, but Selina and Bruce's conversation is a testament to it being done marvelously and provides the episode and larger series with a much needed dose of levity, real weight, and ultimately warmth.
Batman The Telltale series's third episode is in the odd position of having both the series unquestioned high points and also it's most disappointing and lackluster lows. Uneven, messy, meandering, while at the same time being spectacular, tragic, and beautiful it is a rollercoaster of a two hours, but ultimately despite its missteps a vividly memorable one. Even with it's lows, the fantastic highs Telltale reaches in this episode rank among the studios very best in any of their games. I wish a lot was fixed, but damn if it's not all an experience I'll long remember.