Reviewed on PlayStation 4
This review contains some light spoilers
The first season of Telltale’s Batman began with a literal bang. The second season opens with a combat sequence that completely reinvents The Dark Knight’s fighting techniques through the use of complex quick time events—as well as conceiving a thoughtful, original storyline that immediately had me hooked. Fortunately, Episode Two: The Pact continues this season’s streak of edge-of-your-seat excitement, all the while continuing the gripping narrative set in place by its predecessor. While the episode may have fallen flat in some parts, most notably the lack of exploration and development of certain relationships, the majority of The Pact was a thrilling ride full of uneasy decisions that left me questioning my own actions.
The Pact picks up right where The Enigma left off, wherein The Riddler has been killed by an unknown assassin’s poison dart following a harrowing battle on board The Lady of Dublin. Amanda Waller, having revealed her knowledge of Batman’s true identity, has taken over the Gotham City Police Department, stripped Commissioner Gordon of his status, and is now in charge of the entire Riddler case. This makes splits Batman’s morals and allegiance between both Waller and Gordon, the former having both the law and the secretive Agency on her side, and the latter being more trustworthy and understanding of Batman’s views and principles.
Throughout Episode Two, Batman is constantly forced to choose between these two confidants, setting the season up for an extremely anxious tone overall. It’s apparent that both Batman and Bruce Wayne will be met with difficult decisions in forthcoming episodes, which will make them question their relationships, and definitely burn some bridges along the way. Thanks to Telltale’s expert storytelling, this makes things just as nerve-racking for the player, who must make these apprehensive decisions while being aware of the possible devastating outcomes.
Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on however one may look at it—The Pact quickly throws the player into an uneasy situation with the introduction of Harley Quinn, the latest baddie in Gotham. Not only is she as brash and unsettling as she’s typically portrayed, but this time it seems she calls the shots, rather than following the Joker’s (or rather, “John Doe’s”) orders. This new depiction of Harley makes every second with her some of the most tense moments I have ever played in a Telltale game. Not only that, but Bruce Wayne’s forced involvement in her criminal activities this episode made me truly uncomfortable. There’s an interesting emotional feeling that overcame me while playing this episode, like I was doing something wrong while trying to maintain the good in me, and it was the hardest Telltale plot line I’ve ever had to endure. That didn’t make it any less fun, though.
On the contrary, this almost tactical approach to gameplay was a breath of fresh air for the Telltale formula. I must applaud the developer for continuing to establish new ways to catch my interest while playing each episode. Not since The Wolf Among Us have I felt like I needed to think long and hard about my choices before making them. Batman is, ultimately, about forming relationships that can be warped to one’s advantage, under the right circumstances. So in The Pact, it was nice to have a more malleable storyline focusing on each individual character, and then seeing how they were affected once I was given my results at the end of the episode. It’s such a compelling mechanic; being able to get a rundown of how Tiffany felt about my Bruce’s decisions, or how I left Waller feeling after agreeing to follow her orders as Batman. This provides an even greater sense of depth to the already nicely fleshed out characters.
Never before have minor characters felt so pivotal to a series as they do in Batman Season Two. Every character, no matter how small, comes across as living, breathing person with their own actions and reactions. Even “goons” feel like they impact any scene they’re in, and it’s small details like these that make Telltale’s Gotham seem as though it’s a real city, brought to life by the people within it. Goons aside, more important side characters like Waller and Gordon play their own roles incredibly well. Chalk it up to the superb voice acting of the cast—which continues to shine in Episode Two—or perhaps it’s just the way Telltale expertly crafts their characters’ emotions. Whatever it is, there’s a certain magic to every performance in this Batman season that draws me in more than most other Telltale series have. Looking back on it, even Season One gave some standout moments of raw emotion, such as the fight with Harvey Dent in Selina Kyle’s apartment, or the revelation that the Waynes were deeply rooted in Gotham’s criminal underbelly. It’s apparent that extra care has been utilized to provide a gripping, comic-book-style narrative that leaves the reader, or in this case the player, wanting more. Telltale knows their comics, and partnering with DC turned out to be a brilliant choice.
In Episode Two, Batman is forced to develop new relationships with a multitude of new cast members. We’re finally given a deeper glimpse into Batman’s “Rogues Gallery” of villains, whom we all know and love. However I’ve found myself getting a bit perturbed by the constant inclusion of every Batman villain at once, no matter what the medium. Whether it be Arkham City introducing a swath of villains in one game, or the television show Gotham allowing every villain to roam around the city at the same time, it just seems exhausting to consistently have to face every bad guy at once. Nevertheless, The Pact sees the introduction of Bane, Harley Quinn, and Mr. Freeze, all of which are working together as an underground crime syndicate. As usual, Telltale puts their own spin on every character. As stated before, Harley is now the most persuasive one, and acts as the leader of her group. Bane actually looks like a luchador this time around, which was an interesting change of pace from the classic hulking monster we usually confront. This made him seem a bit more grounded, more realistic. In fact, all of the characters are handled in quite a unique way that gives them all a fair sense of realism. Even the Joker is just a regular guy from an insane asylum. Everything feels believable in the Telltale Batman realm, which can arguably make things more unsettling.
The focus on relationships in Episode Two goes hand in hand with Telltale’s new and improved methods of storytelling. The “your relationship with ___ has changed” system returns to keep the player on their toes no matter what decision they make. You never know which choice could be the one that turns the tides for the worse. Making choices was especially painful when working alongside the “Rogues Gallery”, as one wrong move could’ve set the whole thing off, altering the story completely and drastically affecting every character relationship negatively. As I mentioned before, being able to see how the choices you made affected each individual person is an awesome concept, and it helps shape the player’s actions going forward, in future episodes. I just wish there was a “Next time on” feature following every episode, so I could get a sense of what I’d be dealing with next month, and have some time to plan. It may seem like an unnecessary complaint, but with the way this season works, a request such as this seems pretty reasonable. Never before have I felt the need to know what’s coming next, in fact I usually don’t look so I don’t get any spoilers for the next episode. But Batman does something to me that no other Telltale series has before. This season keeps me guessing, and it makes me analyze every situation. I’m anticipating the next episode; whatever choices may come my way, I want to be ready for them in advance.
Episode One: The Enigma displayed many different upcoming gameplay aspects for Season Two. As stated in my review of said episode, I was blown away by the thrilling new combat system, an increased focus on exploration, even some light puzzle solving. While there were some combat sequences in Episode Two—including a pretty cool fight with Bane the drugged-up professional wrestler—fighting took a bit of a back seat to allow the narrative to shine through. Normally a strong focus on narrative would be fully welcome in a Telltale series, especially one as solid as The Pact‘s. However, much like my complaints with Guardians of the Galaxy in its pilot episode, the perfect Telltale series is ideally able to blend every aspect together, driven by an epic plot that weaves together everything that property is best known for. So unfortunately, while The Enigma established every facet of gameplay and delivered on them perfectly, The Pact failed to do much except introduce new characters and expand on some preexisting plot points. There is no detective work in Episode Two, in fact there is barely any Batman usage at all. There’s one section that tasks Bruce with scanning five objects to recreate a fingerprint, but even this is pushing it in terms of “exploration”. I was left disappointed, as I have seen what Telltale can do to make a nearly perfect episode, and with what I was given in The Pact, all I learned was how uneventful Bruce Wayne’s life is, without the ability to kick butt and solve crime as the world’s greatest detective. I never would’ve guessed life as a billionaire would be so…blasé.
Fortunately, Episode Two: The Pact was not filled with as many performance issues as its predecessor, which barely had any to begin with. It was basically flawless in terms of functionality, and the story continues to be as stimulating as ever, with deeper relationships and more characters to impress (or depress). While I had fun making new “friends” as Bruce Wayne and taking my own emotions on a roller coaster—something that has rarely happened before while playing a game—I did miss stepping into the shoes of the Batman and solving some crime; a feature that is exclusive to Telltale’s Batman series that I would like to utilize as often as possible. Hopefully the next episode can bring back the jarring excitement of the first, and there will once again be an even amount of Bruce and Batman screen time. As long as the story continues down the direction it’s going after The Pact, it honestly can’t go wrong. Just sprinkle some ass-kicking and detective work on this current narrative, and Telltale’s got another winner on their hands.