Through its first three episodes, Telltale’s Batman game series has managed to carve out a niche, tackling very familiar territory in its own unique way. The Batman you control is a composite of the choices you’ve made in the game, while characters like the Penguin, Harvey Dent, and Catwoman all feel distinct from other takes on the Dark Knight. Even this version of Gotham City feels different, with a history largely its own. In episode four, called ”Guardian of Gotham,” this trend continues with the introduction of a compelling new take on the Joker.
Unfortunately, the rest of the episode doesn’t stand up to the lofty expectations set by the series as a whole.
"Guardian of Gotham" takes place not long after the end of episode three, with Bruce condemned to Arkham Asylum after his drug-induced attack on Oswald Cobblepot. Given his current public standing — spoiler: it’s not good — and the Wayne’s history with the institution, Bruce essentially finds himself with a big red target painted on his chest. The patients, the orderlies — everyone seems like they’re out to get him.
The only person who comes to his aid is a creepy patient known only as John Doe. He’s apparently never told anyone his real name, but his identity is clear: you don’t have to be a Batman expert to recognize that green hair and hideous smile.
Just like with other well-known characters like Harvey Dent and Lieutenant Gordon, Telltale smartly introduces an early version of the Joker, before he’s become the force of chaos we all know. This is Joker in a formative state, before he even has the moniker. He’s essentially a giant, scary question mark. But you can still see the core of the character.
Pretty much everything he does in the game is in the service of creating havoc, with no specific end goal in mind. And his fascination with Bruce creates an interesting dynamic; Bruce needs help to get out and get back to work stopping the Children of Arkham from terrorizing the city. But does he really want the kind of help the Joker will provide?
Outside of the early scenes with the Joker, episode four does a few other interesting things. There’s a dark and disturbing investigation scene involving an abused young child, and, like everyone else on the planet, Batman is ultimately forced to deal with the possibility that his huge arsenal of gadgets can be hacked. The episode also does a great job of continuing to develop characters like Two-Face and Gordon.
But outside of these highlights and a great opening, "Guardian of Gotham" doesn’t stand on its own as a thrilling adventure the way past episodes did. It feels lighter and more insubstantial. Instead of finishing up with a shocking moment, it just sort of ... ends, in a rather anticlimactic fashion.
Telltale’s take on Batman is clearly going to some dark and interesting places, but in order to get there you’ll have to breeze through the latest set-up-filled episode. But at least you have John Doe to keep you company.
“Guardian of Gotham” is available now on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, iOS, Android, and PC.