WARNING! This review may contain SPOILERS for previous episodes of this series.
Batman is broken. His gadgets are malfunctioning, his suit is a compromised mess, and the fortune he uses to fund his vigilantism is under the control of Penguin. How on earth does Bruce Wayne get out of this mess? If it were the camp 60s TV show, it’d be as simple as popping a “Bat-Undo All The Bad Things” pill from his utility belt. In City of Light, the fifth and final entry in Telltale’s series, it isn’t quite as simple as that. Almost...but not quite.
For a series that has tried to build up a succession of relationships between Wayne/Batman and his friends and enemies, the loose ends are not so much tied up neatly as savagely cut to the root. Penguin may have just been a pawn, but as a character he deserves a lot more than the poorly written climax he’s given at the beginning of this episode, jettisoned in favour of a far less interesting showdown with Lady Arkham. Of course, the massive blow dealt to Batman by Cobblepot in the last episode resulting in the lockdown of WayneTech’s resources is overcome in mere minutes, and diminishes any impact that could have been played upon here.
The biggest disappointment is the conclusion of Wayne and Selina Kyle’s story. Without doubt the best thing about this patchy series, even she is given precious little time here and what remains is an unsatisfying and inconsistent pivot on the previous eight hours of gameplay. The result is teeth-grinding frustration at what is clearly just a setup for a second season, in a similar disappointing manner to Game of Thrones, Telltale’s other lacklustre big name franchise. This permeates through to the final couple of scenes, a huge anticlimax which serves up another bundle of threads for round two without giving a fitting resolution to the first season’s story. We certainly learn about Vicki Vale’s reasons for becoming Lady Arkham, but they are sketchy at best and fail to elevate her above the status of pantomime villain.
It’s a real shame, since the brutal opening of City of Light holds much promise. Stripped of the technical wizardry that he is so reliant on, Batman should be forced to think and act a lot more cleverly; instead, he charges at bullets, uses his Batarang, and generally pummels the hell out of people. The same tropes then, but a bit less flashy. You would expect him to be far more reliant on his friends, and perhaps spend more time as Bruce Wayne as he works to reclaim his status. Instead, we get a replacement suit straight from Adam West’s wardrobe, and a “save the kidnap victim” plot which makes zero sense if you spend even a moment thinking about it.
Proceedings don’t get off to a great start, since graphical stuttering is present even before the game begins, with the “previously on” segment a jerky mess. An overly exuberant use of audio distortion in a key plot point also means that the way Penguin is tracked down is lost amongst static. These quirks aside, the soundtrack is as wonderfully sinister as ever whilst the serviceable Telltale engine renders the characters in a more muted fashion than previous episodes; greys, browns and blacks come to the fore, especially during the slightly predictable showdown.
As for the gameplay itself, a hotchpotch of everything seen in the last four chapters has been included. That means the linking crime scene makes an appearance again, and has more than worn out its initial introduction by refusing to become any less simplistic. Similarly, Batman’s predictive fight scenarios return for a last hurrah in Arkham Asylum, and whilst the animation is satisfyingly weighty as the caped one smashes through inmates, the overuse of quick time events once again neuters any excitement the player may feel. This continues to be an issue for Telltale, and one that will need a significant overhaul if it is to continue releasing stories that are currently little more than slightly different templates overlaid on creaking mechanics.
Yet, again, we need to return to the story as the the game’s biggest fault. It isn’t that simple continuity errors have slipped in - at one point the electronic eye of Batman’s cowl is smashed, a couple of scenes later it’s absolutely fine and usable for a “puzzle” - or that the flashback scene for Cobblepot feels horrible. It isn’t that Wayne starts shouting “Damn it!” multiple times in the same scene like he is channelling Jack Bauer, or that the CEO of a huge conglomerate is able to launder the company’s money for high-tech weaponry without any oversight by the board. The single biggest issue is that the entire story has been rushed, with little emphasis given to building up plausible motives for practically anyone other than Bruce Wayne (whose origin story we relived in multiple chapters). Comic books are far more talky affairs than video games, but around seventy percent of City of Light eschews that in favour of smashing people in the face or dodging traps ripped from Raiders of the Lost Ark. This would be forgivable if the final third, which feels like one overlong chase scene, offered up anything of interest outside of a set of motives rehashed from a thousand action films. Tacking on a confusing final QTE is the ultimate gut punch, and ends the series on a bitter note. Oh, and the super important key from the start of the previous episode? Don’t worry about it, it isn’t given any mention here. It feels entirely like the fifth episode just needed to be kicked out of the door as quickly as possible, and it shows in every line of clichéd dialogue.
With Batman, Telltale took a huge gamble by reimagining established heroes and villains, and skewing the comic’s plot in a different direction. It could have been a tremendous success but, lacking the foundations of a story worthy of its characters, the end result is storied and often incohesive, even within individual chapters. Gotham deserved better.