For the past three months, game development studio Telltale has delivered shocking, clever twists in each episode of their Batman video game. But despite the appearance of the Dark Knight's archenemy, that doesn't happen in this week's episode four of Batman: The Telltale Series.
Episode Four of the newest Bat-game begins a short time after the last instalment's surprise twist. The chemically-induced rage that Bruce flew into during Episode Three's finale has landed him in Arkham Asylum. The infamous Gotham location only has a few supervillains inside but still has a heavy history attached to it. One of the series' biggest revelations has been that Thomas Wayne was part of a corrupt triumvirate that ruled Gotham for a generation. Batman's father used the asylum as a dumping ground for the victims that he, crime boss Carmine Falcone and former mayor Hamilton Hill took advantage of.
Thomas Wayne's criminal legacy surfaces early on in this new episode as his son runs afoul of inmates with a grudge against the deceased Wayne. The inmates start pounding on Bruce, who's still addled after being dosed with a chemical compound that screws with impulse control. He gets rescued in particularly vicious fashion by a white-skinned, green-haired patient only known as John Doe.
His dialogue with Bruce mostly consists of character observations and ominous portents, except for a piece of information vital to Batman's investigation into the Children of Arkham terrorists threatening Gotham. He makes mention of having watched Bruce for a while and, somehow, he knows the true identity of new supervillain Lady Arkham.
This version of the Joker is halfway between a mystery and a tease and neither of those elements is fleshed out enough to be a satisfying ingredient in Episode Four. Actor Anthony Ingruber does a passable Joker but nothing in the dialogue or the performance makes me want to see any more of this version of the killer clown.
After Bruce gets sprung from Arkham, the episode sees him reckoning with Mayor Harvey Dent's further descent into paranoid paramilitary authoritarianism and trying to figure out what Lady Arkham's next move is. The bulk of the new instalment plays out rather tamely and lacks the kind of tense confrontations that have made every other episode so delicious. Harvey's ranting at Batman (or Bruce, if you choose to face him as the billionaire playboy) feels like it's hitting overly familiar beats. The other threats that Batman, Alfred and Lucius Fox have to deal with never feel all that challenging and only one choice in the proceedings — whether to stop a WayneTech hack attack in the city or stop Dent's raid at Wayne Manor — felt like it had any weight.
The entire arc of Batman: The Telltale Series so far has been built on subversive surprises upending commonly-held Bat-canon, seemingly peaking with the "oh shit!" moment of last month's chapter. Maybe it's inevitable that the penultimate instalment of Telltale's Batman would feel like a bit of a letdown after that climax. Here's hoping that there's enough left in the story to make it finish with a bang and not a thud.
(Also, the game crashed on me three times in the final chapter of this episode. I know that Telltale games don't have the best track record in terms of software stability, but I typically haven't experienced jankiness like this while playing the publisher's games.)