Impressions of Batman The TellTale Series Episode 5

Impressions of Batman The TellTale Series Episode 5

We’ve come to the end of Batman: The TellTale Series with Episode 5. Although we avoided spoilers with Episode 1 and 2, we’ve had to mention some key ones in Episode 3. and 4. Naturally, because of that, this impressions piece will also contain spoilers, but I’ve tried to hold back on some because, despite the uneven storytelling that’s continued from Episode 4, some big things can happen in the climax of Batman The TellTale Series Episode 5.

A Tale of Two Beginnings

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I have to begin with a specific idea here: Batman: The TellTale Series seems like a fairly realistic take on the Bat-mythos, at least in terms of relationships. The drones we see make things a lot more believable since I doubt even the Bat computer can properly scan every newspaper and camera to get the amount of information Batman has on his own. The finger wave sensors that somehow get bio-data, including DNA, is a bridge too far. The modern aspects don’t always mix well with some of the almost fantasy-like tech that ungrounds the story, especially when emotional and social situations start to get away from the writers, and no episode shows that as much as Episode 5.

Now, depending on how Episode 4 ended (whether you choose to save Wayne Manor or Wayne Tech), Episode 5 starts out completely differently. I’ve played a few TellTale games and don’t recall any episodes feeling quite this different. It’s not just about who’s with you, but where and when everything takes place. Dealing with Harvey is immediate, while the Oz plot takes place 5 days later. It’s jarring in terms of plot timeline, but the Penguin path generally feels less satisfying. There are huge detail issues that stand out throughout the Penguin ordeal (cops rarely involve untrained, unarmed civilians in their operations, especially one that’s already being carried out and resulting in officer mortalities).

The flashback sequence is also hard to swallow, since if we see this story with a 30-year-old Batman (and that seems a bit old), that means you have two rich boys alone and well dressed in a public park in the 1980s. I lived in a pretty nice community during those days, in a safe neighborhood, but there was no hiding from adults long enough for kids to do the school-yard bully stuff without an adult swooping in. The little suits the boys wear would attract a lot of attention too, and not just from other kids, making the whole scene rely on what (to me) seems like something reserved for a plot for a different class of people in a different place and a different time. It’s jarring and combined the previously unbelievable scenario, the plot shows its seams in an ugly way. At the very least, choosing to kick Penguin when he’s down, in front of soon-to-be Commissioner Gordon, is satisfying.

The plotline with Harvey, which was my first choice, was much better. Dealing with the corrupt-cop situation with Gordon and the death of the Commissioner wasn’t an opening I was expecting. The loss of Commissioner Grogan, a character that never liked me, is difficult to tackle, since I don’t feel like we ever see what’s good about him, but everyone around us makes a big deal about it, not seemingly because of his rank, but him as a person, and as someone who he didn’t like, it puts me in a situation where it’s hard to empathize with those around me. It feels awkward, but I also recognize that I did do some extremely brutal things towards the start to kind of deserve that treatment, making the choice feel fair enough.

Fighting Two-Face, even unscarred, is pretty standard. His weakness, of course, is his coin. As I had my tech still, I wasn’t quite as worried about my safety as with the Penguin encounter, but Harvey is someone I always want to redeem. We all battle with our inner demons, and the way TellTale presents it is fairly relatable, filled some self-doubt, a desire to do good and be successful, but also grappling with the temptation to take shortcuts and being let down by people close to you. The whole situation is transparent before it begins, though Harvey’s attempt to take his own life to “release” himself and Gotham of his lesser half was an interesting twist I’d love to see developed.

The actual fight/situation with Harvey or Oz are both interesting in one aspect: it forces you to work as Bruce Wayne. This gives us a way for Bruce to help win his name back, something we all knew needed to happen. It’s just very, very hard to except with the Oz plot line, and I’d expect the people of Gotham to suspect foul play was involved. After all, Oz did take Bruce’s company and Bruce had previously attacked him. Suddenly getting called in to help deal with Penguin? And if people knew Wayne gave the Gotham police Oz’s rap sheet, it’d be even more suspicious. The scenario really wasn’t well thought out.

Either way, Alfred’s speech after the events, about the toll things have taken on Bruce and how it could change the way he feels about people in general, is well timed, good for reflection, and damn, something I wish I’d gotten at certain points in my life. The foster father-son aspect is leaned on hard in this iteration of Batman, and it’s a welcomed addition that makes Bruce more human, and more vulnerable.

If also why Alfred blaming himself for, well, Batman, is only mildly surprising but a fair payoff. He did know about Thomas Wayne’s criminal activities and did nothing to stop them. Seeing Alfred like this is very out of character normally, but works in this particular situation. Helping Alfred of all people deal with demons is such a role reversal, it makes me feel a bit like a child and an adult at the same time. I’ve only recently started to need to help my own parents and grandparent learn things that may threaten their sense of self, sometimes even defending them against each other. It’s an odd feeling helping someone who raised you deal with problems you were too young to help with, and it’s good that it’s included in a game where younger players might be able to bring that experience with them as they grow older.

 

Cat’s Out of the Bag

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When Selina finally shows up in the story again, fans probably already know we’re bound for some heartache. She’s stolen from you and says you were just a job, and that’s very in line with her character. There seems to be a trace of regret at the very least, if you play your cards right, but the whole scenario builds up on how this is really a lesson in being Batman. Trust no one: not your friends, not your family, maybe not even Alfred.

While the sentiment is right, the actual scene is problematic. Who hired Selina? How did they know about the tech being at Bruce’s place? Did they specifically know about the item that was stolen? It doesn’t add up, and now that she’s failed, you’d think she’d say what was up, or that we’d have a chance to ask, but we don’t. Things can end decently enough, but true to her cat-like nature, you just have to accept that she’s going to do what she wants and only come back when that involves you. It’s not just a Batman lesson, but a life lesson.

Being the hero sucks. In some ways, I’m drawing parallels to Game of Thrones and John Snow: you do your best, and even those you let get close to you take you out or leave you. If anything, by this point in the game, it’s easier to understand why Bruce has Batman, why the secrecy is important, and why no matter how hard things get, reaching out to others for help is always, always, always a liability, especially in the long run.

 

Ending Lady Arkham

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Having taken a lot of her tools, Lady Arkham takes someone very important to Bruce. They’re smart and resourceful, and certain aspects work well, but not others. Using chalk to give hints about Vicki’s plans was good, but adjusting glasses because the Batcomputer can create a VR scenario from it is very hard to swallow. A simple scan and image recreation would have been more believable. The “VR” part feels a bit contrived, almost to make things feel modern and relevant/cutting edge, but unlike the drones, VR still has to do a lot to prove itself. I’ve had my own Oculus Rift Touch for days now but still haven’t used it since, well, most of the games still seem like tech demos (which are fun but almost feel more like something I have to demo for others rather than myself).

However, moving to the actual location and finding Vicki’s room where she was physically and mentally tortured by her foster parents changes things up. It’s horrible but believable. The only problem is that we needed more foreshadowing that this was an issue. The kid you saved should have dropped a hint that the Vales were abusive. The belt murder was perhaps too light and could have made it seem like only Mr. Vale was an issue.

When we eventually do find out her plan, it’s a bit tough to swallow. Why release all the inmates if she’s already done homework on who is and isn’t already sick? I already assume Vicki told Oz about what Thomas Wayne did to his parents since, in his flashback, he doesn’t seem angry with Bruce at all. But Zsasz is a very clear and present danger to any normal civilian, and other inmates are clearly ill as well. Arkham may also be out of date and corrupt, but putting those people on the streets seems like a huge mistake.

The computer-assisted combat linking scenario during the riot feels a bit too Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. It’s a bit cool, but feels out of place. There are clear and present dangers happening in real time, especially when a certain character model we took out in the previous room is recycled and used as someone who is somehow already ahead of us in the main riot room. Batman’s not hiding in the shadows watching a social affair or monologuing villain this time. It’s like what we experience in the pre-Episode 5 Penguin take-down scenario when we’re losing our tech. Saving people during a riot is not a tech moment, it’s a reaction moment, and TellTale’s choice to push “fun” over story here is a dangerous one for the company.

TellTale’s strength is the polar opposite of Blizzard’s: story. Blizzard can churn out camp, retcon to their heart’s delight, and just plain mess up their own lore because their specialty is refining mechanics for general audiences. TellTale is the polar opposite: they make great stories while trying to gamify narrative in a way very few other companies do. This is a mistake perhaps best felt in the final battle of the game.

It makes perfect sense for us to go back to Arkham, but we’re suddenly given this kind of occult thread to grab onto. The theme of hidden pasts runs real deep in this series, and it makes sense. That being said, to suddenly tell us Lady Arkham’s symbol is very old and to find some kind of temple or shrine under the Asylum is, again, a bridge too far. The parallels between Vale and Wayne are already set up. It seems like a constant Bat-them: the paths Bruce could have walked, or maybe still can, but refuses to. That’s all we need, and doing so in a mental hospital would have been very, very fitting. Doing it in some seemingly unrelated hidden shrine feels contrived.

What is important, however, is that a main character gets maimed no matter what you do. Your ally’s loss certainly can’t be ignored, but I feel they can recover. Maiming Bruce, though, is difficult. If Bruce gets scarred, your identity is harder to hide. Doing the Matches Malone thing is harder, and of course, people would wonder what happened to scar Bruce Wayne in such a way. It’s a brave move by TellTale and it should be interesting to see what’s done with it in the next series.

The End

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With everything said and done, Gordon gets a promotion and you get the chance to support him, either as Batman or Bruce Wayne, but logically, it’s hard to choose to attend as Batman. Batman out during the day is already an uncomfortable idea, but at a public event? Even TellTale has Gordon mention how odd it is, as Batman doesn’t seem like the press conference type.

The scene in general feels hollow, though Gordon’s line, “Commissioner Gordon… doesn’t sound right” made me laugh out loud. For example, at the end, no matter what you choose, an assassination attempt comes out of left field, as does the reveal of a certain character no one should be surprised to see free and set up for the next TellTale Batman series. Maybe we’re to believe that the two are related, but nothing about what happens seems to fit the villain’s general style.

Overall, it’s a good experience in being Batman. The plot feels like it got away from the writers at the end, but the build up was good. The choices we make are largely important feeling, and feel like they had lasting effects. I do wonder if some things could have been different- if being nicer to Harvey and not kissing Selina would have helped him, if pursuing her more from the start would have won her over. Most likely no, but there’s enough of an illusion of choice that it gets my imagination going, and that’s something a good story should do.

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About LagunaLevine

Laguna's a veteran Japanese teacher and former hardcore open world PvPer. When he's not exploring language and culture, he's applying his findings to games journalism, not because games need to be more than games, but because games rarely are the brainless entertainment mainstream media views them as.