Something that annoys me to no end are complaints against a story where supposedly ‘nothing happens’. Usually that’s not actually the case – the person involved just has difficulty separating their task-oriented personality from their leisure. The only obligation a story has is to be an experience – not to accommodate our obsession with performance and progress with a safe-playing three-act structure. A story about someone buried alive with nothing but a phone, is to my mind far more interesting. Otherwise you’re simply ruining the stories of your free-time with workplace thinking, while also putting limits on the creativity of a creative industry.
Batman – The Telltale Series: Episode 4 could be considered one of these stories – being a sort of scene-building episode. Bruce Wayne’s tumultuous life has finally quieted down to a point, after waking in Arkham Asylum with good-buddy Joker to give a guided tour. Albeit brief, (because nobody except me wants to spend two hours locked in conversational confusion with the inmates) this interaction gives the episode a different tone and pace, much akin to the capricious nature of Batman’s villains.
And because Bruce Wayne’s life has turned to macaroni, Batman gets to show up more. The dishonourably discharged CEO has attracted the ire of the public – hence there’s little he can now do without donning the cape. A rather blunt technique for escalation, but ‘Batman The Telltale Series’ does have to live up to its namesake at some point, and that might as well be now. Many of the tenets this series started, like Batman’s morning internet time and connect-the-dot crime scenes make reappearances (because they don’t always). So too does the intriguing crossroad allowing the player to tackle a situation as either the man or the monster; where his duality is never more evident.
Choosing what kind of Batman you want to be has consistently been explored throughout this series. Small decisions, like whether you incentivise that goon with a hearty helping of fist – or whether you prefer the diplomacy of Bruce Wayne’s playboy suave over Batman’s other kind of diplomacy. Though I would argue if you’re choosing the former then you’re sort of missing of the point of a Batman game. It wouldn’t be Batman without a little brutality, and it wouldn’t be a Batman story without Alfred scolding you for it.
When I reviewed Episode 1, I mentioned many of the ways Telltale of have adapted their formula to Batman, though I clumsily forgot to mention one of the less noticeable, but nevertheless clever alterations this episode brought into focus. Nothing breaks the atmosphere quite like a good ol’ button prompt to the foreground. So Telltale have taken the Batman-opportunity to include them, not as a fourth-wall, but part of the object models – and this was probably the best license to start doing so. Having a ‘square button’ prompt dimensionally attached to Batman’s grappling gun is technologically suitable and appropriately ‘gadgety.’
The best advice I’ve ever been given is to “stop trying, and just be.” Episode 4 doesn’t work for any particular goal in of itself – it’s justification is almost entirely self-existent. If anything it’s merely sweeping the paveway for the finale. It would have been possible to skip all this and end with four episodes, but then we wouldn’t have the chance for narrative relaxation – to simply sit in the shoes of the story more. It means I got to shoot the shit with Joker for no other reason than to enjoy it. It means I got to have more conversations for no other reason than to enjoy them. And it means I got to experience another two hours of game for no other reason than to enjoy it.