TL; DR(eview) - Telltale continues to craft a unique take on Batman, his rogues, and the world of Gotham with exciting narrative results. And for the first time this series, the game design seemed to actively power through the notoriously outdated engine.
WARNING: In order to best put this episode into context, I will be discussing spoilers up through Episode 2. I will try to avoid spoiling key moments of this episode though.
Picking up immediately following the events of the last episode, New World Order continues to explore Bruce’s fall from grace as he is punished for the sins of his parents. Episode 2 ended with the reveal (amidst all of the chaos and murder of the debate) that Thomas Wayne effectively forced Oswald Cobblepott’s mother into Arkham Asylum as a power play to get her land for Wayne Enterprises. Combined with the revelations from earlier in the series that Thomas Wayne had shady dealings with the now-deceased Falcone and Mayor Hill, the value of the Wayne family name has fallen off a cliff. We saw that with Harvey trying to distance himself from Bruce and we continue to see that fallout in episode 3.
Bruce’s relationships are tested as well. The effects of the previous episode’s decision to save Harvey or Selina are immediately referenced. In my playthrough, for example, I decided to save Harvey, hoping Selina could handle herself in the situation. So my Harvey, while shaken from the attack, still passes as perfectly mayoral now that he’s won by default after Penguin shot Hill dead. It’s fascinating to see that version of Harvey while knowing (based on video trailers for this episode and exploring the results of alternate choices on YouTube) that Harvey could have just as easily been burned by the stage light Penguin threatened him with, leading to a more recognizable Two-Face appearance. Either way, Harvey is definitely changed after the debate and Bruce has to deal with that as well throughout a couple different scenes.
One of the best things the series has going for it has been its ability to take what we expect from the standard Batman mythos and subvert expectations. Thomas and Martha Wayne are often idealistic bastions of goodness cut down in their prime. Bruce takes up the mantle of Batman in an effort to honor their memory. So what would it look like if the Wayne’s were actually part of the corrupt underbelly of Gotham? How does Bruce reconcile that duality? Or what does it look like when Batman encounters one of his first masked rogues in Catwoman and the two are able to immediately deduce each other’s alter egos upon first meeting? These creative decisions and the innate “choose your own adventure” nature of the Telltale game design make for a continually surprising experience. The last episode set up the idea that Penguin might just be a pawn in somebody else’s revolution - namely the leader of the “Children of Arkham.” We get to see that role fleshed out a little bit more here, again through a great misdirect of preying on our own expectations.
And for the first time in this series, the janky old Telltale game engine didn’t feel like it was interfering with my enjoyment of the game. I jotted down a quick note during the “Previously On…” section at the start of the episode because I thought that part having framerate dips was probably a bad sign but there weren’t really any other notable instances. In fact, it felt like the team at Telltale even tried to account for this. Pretty much all of the fight sequences in this episode seemed to have time slow down with each move/prompt. This gives the sense of Batman being a master tactician that he can analyze and adjust his fighting in the moment but also probably helps prevent the stuttering that typically plagues the more fast-paced action sequences in Telltale. As someone who wrote at length about the buggy nature of the last episode, the relatively smooth experience I had felt great by comparison. Though that’s still damning with faint praise that it defied my expectations by not being a broken mess, technically-speaking.
All told, I continue to appreciate the story that Telltale is weaving. Stories that fight against the grain of predictability will always stand out in my mind. For example, last year’s Games of Thrones was entirely underwhelming to me as it so frequently felt like the “poor man’s” version of the actual novels or television show. But Batman continues to surprise me and that leaves me excited to see what comes next.