WARNING! This review may contain SPOILERS for previous episodes of this series.
New World Order feels like a game of two halves, which is appropriate given one of the main antagonists is the schizophrenic Two-Face. The first forty-five minutes revolves around the aftermath of Children of Arkham and your decision to aid either Harvey Dent or Catwoman during Penguin’s attack on the mayoral debate. If you didn’t help Dent, he will have been transformed into the disfigured monster you know and love/hate. If you did assist him, then the story still needs to go down the same path. It’s a choice which you would expect to have caused significant differences in the gameplay given the outcome. However, the limitations of having to make two separate narrative strands gel in the overall structure mean that Harvey’s descent into madness feels far more believable if you didn’t help him. This plagues the chapter throughout, making his fits of rage as a “normal” guy feel massively at odds with the rest of the story. Aside from Harvey’s predicament, you also spend a lot of time discussing the minutiae of Bruce Wayne’s fall from grace, and his replacement as CEO of Wayne Enterprises by … Oswald Cobblepot.
Here’s the issue. Cobblepot/Penguin is an already established bad egg, and the reasons for bringing him in (Wayne Enterprises ruined his family) just don’t make any sense. Aside from his criminality - apparently no-one does background checks when hiring - there’s no reason at all why he would be a good fit as CEO of a company. Moving from Penguin’s Mockney accent to a faux posh one grates almost as much as the ludicrously easy way he’s able to infiltrate Wayne’s company. Even more frustratingly, Bruce Wayne can’t do anything about it since revealing him as one of the Children of Arkham would shine a spotlight on his own identity. So, we’re given an hour of exposition about the Children spying on the police after hacking WayneTech radios, a story thread that doesn’t go anywhere satisfying. Lucius Fox says some wise words, Bruce Wayne gets to brood a bit and look at a table of gadgets, and not much else happens.
Then the second half kicks in, and things become a little more interesting. The relationship between Catwoman and Batman / Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle have consistently been the strongest thread in this off-canon re-imagining of the stories, mainly because their story actually feels more believable. Here you have two people with two identities, thrust together in intense situations with only each other to confide in. It’s a natural progression, unlike Harvey’s flipped switch which reduces him to a laughable caricature of a schizophrenic, at once growling and pleading in turn. Laura Bailey does sterling work as Catwoman, whilst everyone else appears to either be phoning it in or ramping up the ham to abattoir levels. You’re never entirely sure which side she’s playing, or who she’s truly aligned with. This is a woman who eats cheap takeaway food whilst having priceless jewellery and paintings stashed in her apartment - the money is clearly not as satisfying as the chase, which makes her flirtation with Wayne so believable.
That said, this is the weakest episode of the series so far. For all of the illusion of momentum in their depiction, the action sequences feel stale and rehashed from previous instalments. The “finishing move” still feels wildly out of place, like Telltale badly wanted something to differentiate from the other QTE button presses, and just created another QTE with a different label. The detective segment which was introduced in the first episode and ignored in the second makes a return, but it’s a rote inclusion. The linking system of lashing two related clues together couldn’t be more perfunctory if it colour-coded each item. Empty canisters of chemicals, and a discarded chemistry set...hmm, could they possibly be related? Given the modest running time of the chapter, a slightly more challenging puzzle isn’t really too much to ask for.
There are two bigger problems with the episode though. Firstly, the widely reported technical issues - which we’d luckily dodged in our previous reviews - came screaming to the fore here. The introduction was bad enough, as the camera twitched its way through the “previously on” segment. This was topped by an entire story section which saw Bruce driving and talking to Alfred, whilst the framerate jerked and stuttered, the audio cut in and out, and the majority of what was being said was lost in a confusing mess of bad lip synching and staccato animation. It’s some of the worst glitching we’ve seen in a Telltale game to date.
This is compounded by the gameplay itself. The decision-making in New World Order is trivial at best. No major choices are offered up, and the ones you do get given feel superficial. Coming off the back of Children of Arkham’s significant ending, this episode massively disappoints. The third episode is almost always going to bear the brunt of player expectation - at this stage, the characters are already established, but we’re not yet at the point of ramping up to a final crescendo. So it is here, with a final scene that removes pretty much all player agency from you, whilst chucking in a wildly off-canon character reveal that will astound and frustrate (or, if you’re a fan of the current plot trajectory, surprise and delight) in equal measure. Telltale clearly have a story to tell which is admirable, but the method of delivering it leaves much to be desired. In this episode, more so than any other to date, we felt more like a spectator than a player. Unfortunately, the episodic nature of the series means it doesn’t have the luxury of slowly teasing out a story like a visual novel. This isn’t the animated series - at some point, players need to be engaged, and they’re going to need to feel like their choices matter. New World Order fails on both counts.