Everyone has their favorite version of Batman. Over the decades the Dark Knight has gone through multiple iterations, and though the core of the character remains constant, you get a very different vibe from the likes of the animated series or Tim Burton’s films or the Arkham game trilogy. The more I play of Telltale’s new Batman series, though, the more it’s turning into my personal favorite take. Not only does it make you feel more invested in the character through the power of choice, but it’s full of fresh twists that subvert the Dark Knight mythos in clever and startling ways. And the third episode, which launched this week, might just be the best so far.
The new episode, dubbed “New World Order,” finds Bruce Wayne in a difficult situation. Following the events of episode two, both he and the public at large have learned that the Wayne family was involved in organized crime, a fact that helped them build their massive empire throughout Gotham. And early on in the episode Bruce is forced to give up his role as CEO at Wayne Enterprises to preserve the company’s image. While all of this is happening, an anarchic group known as the Children of Arkham is plotting ways to terrorize the city with an experimental drug that has the power to turn people into crazed killers.
There’s a lot going on, and one the best aspects of the series is how it not only shows both sides of the character, but ties them together in satisfying ways. For instance, at one point you learn that communications technology developed by the Wayne Corporation in secret for Batman is being used by the Children of Arkham to spy on just about everyone in the city.
But perhaps my favorite part of Telltale’s take on Batman is how it takes familiar places, characters, and moments and subverts them in ways you don’t expect. Up until now the best example has been Bruce’s parents. Their inherent good nature has long been an important part of Bruce’s character and what pushed him to become Batman in the first place, so seeing this completely different side of them is shocking. “New World Order” builds on this by changing the relationship between Bruce and his company — it’s not just a piggy bank, it’s also a source of Batman’s problems — and introducing the Children of Arkham, who are led by a mysterious and dangerous villain who feels like a cross between Scarecrow and Darth Maul. The episode also touches on the growing relationship between Bruce and Catwoman, while following Harvey Dent’s tragic and challenging descent into Two-Face. Everyone in the game, even the villains, feels like a character with depth.
Many of these moments are ones that have happened in some form or another in past Batman comics, movies, or games. But here they still feel distinct. And it’s not just the smart writing that provides a different take; it’s your involvement in the experience. Like all Telltale games, Batman is essentially an interactive drama, where you make tough decisions at key moments to help shape the story. (There are some action and investigation sequences, but they’re fairly lightweight.) You can choose to try and help Harvey even though you know where his future lies. You can choose to get close to Catwoman even though she’s likely untrustworthy. You can choose whether or not you want to step down from Wayne Enterprises gracefully. These decisions don’t alter the end of the story, but they shape your journey to that destination, and make you feel more invested in the outcome.
There are still two episodes to go in Telltale’s Batman, but — at least so far — it’s turning into my most memorable experience with the character. It adds depth and intrigue to the familiar, while also introducing brand new twists that I did not see coming. In fact, the episode is worth playing for its cliffhanger alone — though it makes the wait for episode four even harder.