Reviewed on PlayStation 4
Batman doesn’t have the best reputation in the realm of Telltale games. 2016 brought us the first season of Telltale’s Batman, and while it delivered a fairly entertaining and original story, it was plagued with performance issues that hindered its quality overall. Season One was full of some outstanding glitches and clunky animations, and to make matters worse, the game took forever to load in some sections. We gave Season One (in its entirety) a 6/10, calling its narrative “an enjoyable and memorable tale”, while its gameplay was “an inexcusable mess”. Fortunately, Season Two has already fixed nearly every problem from the first season, and provides a thoroughly captivating plot, with gameplay that’s just as enjoyable.
Batman Season Two: The Enemy Within opened with the best action sequence in any Telltale game to date, hands-down. Now before you grab your torches and pitchforks, let me provide some backstory on this season. Bruce Wayne is back in charge of Wayne Enterprises, with the Penguin and Harvey Dent officially incapacitated; Batman has strengthened his bond with the Gotham City Police Department now that Lady Arkham is supposedly dead; John Doe has been released from Arkham Asylum, apparently on good terms with the staff; and there’s a new big baddie in charge who goes by “The Riddler.”
Telltale’s Batman hasn’t shied away from unique twists before, with Vicki Vale being a terrorist leader and The Joker becoming Bruce Wayne’s ally in an insane asylum. Keeping with that spirit, this season kicks off with an interesting turn of events. The Riddler was once a crime boss in Gotham, dealing with the likes of Thomas Wayne. Now he has returned to the city, hopeful to destroy it further before it can rebuild. Unfortunately for him, Thomas’s son is now in charge of Gotham, and unlike his father, he doesn’t take too kindly to criminals. Throw in some controversy with the GCPD and a new organization known as The Agency – led by eventual founder of the Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller – and Season Two is already chock-full of conflict and hardship, just in the first act.
Exposition now aside, let’s talk about that opening scene. The Enemy Within begins with an enormous brawl in a casino, brought on by the Riddler’s sudden return to Gotham. This battle, while reminiscent of Batman Season One’s combat system, introduces some new mechanics as well. The first of which is a combination of button presses, akin to some puzzle solving mechanic you’d find in a standard action game. During specific quick time events, the player may be tasked with pressing a certain number of buttons to target individual enemies before they are subsequently attacked. This made for an interesting break in the monotony of simple QTE button presses.
Another unique QTE moment was the inclusion of choose your own adventure-like action sequences. Batman isn’t your average run-of-the-mill brawler; Batman is a classically trained superhero. His greatest weapons are his mind and agility, so he always plans out his movements before he acts. As such, in Season Two, Batman can plan his attacks before he makes them. For example, at one point I could choose to either tie down one of The Riddler’s goons, or taze him instead. Naturally I went for the taser. Whereas The Walking Dead Season 3 shook up Telltale’s formula in terms of storytelling, The Enemy Within overhauled combat in the same way. Gone are the days of simple QTE events to beat down baddies. Now players can finally choose how they want the battle to play out. I’ve never felt so in control of my character’s actions, and that sense of freedom helps set my story aside from the rest; it feels original. It’s just such a cool concept to shape the story even more by creating your own fighting style. Telltale’s Batman fights the way you want him to, and that is extremely badass.
Following the events of Season One, everyone is still a little shaken up by the attacks on Gotham, including the city itself. Violent criminals like Harvey Dent and Oswald Cobblepot have been put away in Arkham Asylum, and the Gotham City Police Department has teamed up with the Batman. Commissioner Gordon takes the spotlight in Season Two, in quite an interesting way. As he’s beginning to come into his own, and befriend Batman — albeit somewhat reluctantly — we see him occasionally struggle with his morals. Being the head of the GCPD, it’s not an easy decision to follow orders from a costumed vigilante who’s not very trusted by the people you’re sworn to protect. However, Gordon is obviously very open to the idea of trusting Batman; the problem is getting others — like Amanda Waller — to believe him.
Throughout this episode, it seemed as though Batman’s relationship with Gordon was the counterpart to Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Alfred, and I was thoroughly satisfied with this revelation. It seems as though Bruce and Batman use these men to bounce ideas off of, gain advice from, and above all, trust wholeheartedly. This intrigued me because in most depictions of Batman, it seems like Alfred and Commissioner Gordon are only seen as minor characters, and at most, “sidekicks.” Telltale, however, makes these characters into leading characters all on their own. Alfred, for example, is still reeling from the effects of Lady Arkham, left with nervous tremors and a new semi-negative outlook on the world around him. He tries to instill positivity in Bruce the best he can, but it’s obvious that the events of Season One, and even this episode, have begun to break down his strong disposition. Thanks to Telltale, we experience a different side of these men than we usually see.
However, that’s not where the dissimilarities end. On the opposite side of sanity and morality, we see John Doe, who is rapidly transforming into the Joker we all know and love. However, Telltale has produced a truly incredible storyline involving Bruce and John Doe, which brings the two together as actual buddies. Doe appears in Episode One to ask Bruce for that favor he owes him, and it involves meeting his new ragtag band of misfits (including Harley Quinn, perhaps?). John and Bruce’s chemistry, while uncomfortable and tense, is strangely captivating, because it gives us a unique look at Batman and the Joker’s relationship, while simultaneously establishing a fairly obvious endgame through a mostly overlooked side-story. Every time it comes up, though, I would get excited, being reminded that the Joker is somewhere in Gotham, and someday we’ll get to see him in all his glory, shaped by past choices I’ve made.
Yet another fascinating new character was Lucius Fox’s daughter, Tiffany, who comes to work at Wayne Enterprises. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say that through certain circumstances, it looks like Batman may need to recruit her assistance at some point, and with her father’s training under her belt, she seems like a worthy ally to have. However, it looks like that recruitment won’t come any time soon, as my Bruce Wayne made her quite upset, which brings me to my favorite part of Batman Season Two so far: meaningful relationships.
For the first time ever, I feel that Telltale has completely nailed their tagline “The story is tailored by how you play.” At the end of Batman Episode One, I was shown every character I encountered, and my relationship with each one. Every profile broke down into bullet points, which provided specific examples that changed their opinion of my Bruce Wayne or Batman. For once, every choice mattered, which was not only proven by the usual “___ will remember that” notification at the top left, but also a new “Your relationship with ___has changed” notification. Everything I do, say, or choose is analyzed, and it affects how every character views me. It’s brilliant, it’s thrilling, and best of all, it works.
What doesn’t work, though, is a lot of the gameplay. Where The Enemy Within fails is its performance, which should come as no surprise, considering Season One was the glitchiest mess of a Telltale game I have ever seen. While not as noticeable as some of the first season’s issues, I did notice quite a few bugs in the form of twitchy animations, such as one where The Riddler did a double-take for no reason, turning a fairly sinister scene into downright goofy. On top of that, a lot of mouth animations were off, making many dialogue scenes not as immersive as they could have been. I will admit, though, the loading times were not as unbearable as Season One‘s, and overall the performance has improved enough to make this season immensely tolerable compared to that janky mess. I just wish Telltale could produce one season of any game that isn’t brought down at some point by glitches.
Fairly minor performance issues aside, I had a really good time with Episode One: The Enigma. The story is already riveting, and the gameplay is fun, with cool puzzles to solve, thanks to The Riddler. I barely mentioned gameplay, aside from the combat sequences, because Episode One was mainly focused on story and character development, which I truly didn’t mind at all. There was one particular chapter that had you rebuilding a crime scene, like we did many times in Season One. Also, fans of the series will be happy to know you can once again choose Batman’s gear color to suit your particular style. Obviously I went with yellow, as I thought it provided a nice, colorful look to the world.
As for the visuals overall, The Enemy Within sticks with the classic comic book feel and color palette, which fits the Batman aesthetic perfectly. I did notice an awful lot of blood in this episode, which I found interesting due to Batman typically being more family-friendly than, say, Borderlands or The Walking Dead. But blood sure made for a more action-packed story, and that really drew me into what was happening onscreen. Add that action alongside stimulating characters and a gripping narrative, and I’m definitely excited for more Batman. It certainly seems like we’re due for a pretty thrilling and brutal season ahead.