Reviewed on PlayStation 4
This review contains some light spoilers
Telltale’s Batman: The Enemy Within has so far proven to be a thrilling season, full of twists and turns capable of pleasing any Batman fan. A rich and entertaining narrative, as well as the action and exploration puzzles, have all been fairly consistent. Taken as a whole, things have been very exciting, and I’ve yet to feel unengaged at any point. With its third episode, however, Batman: The Enemy Within began to lose me a bit. While it was apparent that the writers intended to build more backstory with Fractured Mask, its overall flair pales in comparison to previous episodes.
Following on from episode two’s divisive conclusion, Catwoman has returned to Gotham, throwing a wrench into Bruce Wayne’s undercover plans involving The Pact. Having made a deal with Harley Quinn and her gang, Catwoman is after the same vigilante justice Bruce is, as well as being subjected to the same risks. Catwoman’s inclusion in this episode made for a semi-interesting, yet ultimately underwhelming storyline. As always, she confronts Bruce as a concerned friend and part-time lover; however, she never fails to put herself first, double-crossing him in the end. This plotline was entertaining in the first season, especially throughout the bizarre love triangle involving Harvey Dent, but having Catwoman return in The Enemy Within only to play the same role feels tedious.
While the narrative was brought down by Catwoman’s involvement, she also supplied the only real bout of action. Following a familiar puzzle sequence, a quick-time event battle ensued between Bruce Wayne and Catwoman that was fairly entertaining. It utilized all of the Batman staples, from simultaneous button presses to choosing which methods to stop your opponent (e.g. “Sweep the Leg” or “Strike from Above”). These quick-time prompts help make the combat more fluid and engaging, giving the player a feeling that every button they press is affecting the story at hand. This fight sequence was fun, but it’s unfortunate that it was the only one in Fractured Mask, and even worse, was one of the few times the player got to really engage with the game.
Fractured Mask does give other characters much more screen time — in particular, the fascinating John Doe. The-Joker-before-Joker and self-proclaimed best friend of Bruce Wayne, John Doe has always provided an air of humor and tragedy to Enemy Within. This woeful hilarity continues in Fractured Mask, as John begins to learn how to treat others, thanks to the advice of Bruce. They share quite a few heart-to-heart’s in this episode, revolving around Bruce’s feelings for Catwoman, and John’s feelings for Harley, but nothing ever comes of it. A scene where John begins to take control of his life in order to please Harley doesn’t feel as genuine as it should, and it’s unfortunate because John has always been a likable character. He’s dead-set in his ways and confident, but every now and then he needs a little… boost. But this episode made him seem like such a wishy-washy dude, and in a way, it broke his reputation with me. It’s hard to imagine him becoming The Joker at this point, especially with the way he lets Harley pull the strings. If anything, though, this uncertainty makes me more interested in where this storyline will go.
John Doe inconsistencies aside, I’m hoping this whole episode and its story-building won’t be tossed to the wayside going forward. While I put a lot of thought into my dialogue, it never felt like there was a payoff for anything I said. Allow me to mention an extremely draggy scene in which Catwoman accompanies Bruce to the Batcave. I allowed her to follow me, as I was trying to lure her in with emotional attachment and get my way regarding the deal at hand. However, I was treated to a lovey-dovey scene that felt so out-of-place amid the action that is Batman: The Enemy Within. As stated previously, this kind of romance plotline fit into Season One, where sexual tension and thin-ice decisions were the name of the game. But now, in a season that has cemented itself in more frantic scenarios and suspenseful action, having a love interest really brings everything to a crawl.
Beyond narrative inconsistencies, the overly trite romance of Fractured Mask steered the plot in such a different direction that the overarching narrative was almost overshadowed. Batman himself barely got any screen time, and with that, the entire Agency subplot took a back seat to love. Commissioner Gordon briefly returns, only to get yelled at by Amanda Waller and then welcomed in a nice scene with Bruce and Tiffany. This scene was basically the only thing that didn’t feel out-of-place in Fractured Mask: talking about her father’s life and subsequent death brought a sense of reality back to the season. It was a glimmer of hope to those of us who missed the previous episodes’ story, reminding us that there’s more to this iteration of Batman. Thanks to this, I feel hopeful about the future of The Enemy Within. Things may just turn around.
Something to be wary about, though, is the aforementioned feeling of “I have no control over what is happening.” This age-old Telltale issue was seemingly abolished in recent years, with games like The Walking Dead and Guardians of the Galaxy giving the player so many options that they essentially had full control over their progress. However, this season of Enemy Within has been a bit shaky. Aside from the unique new system in which the player is explicitly told that a relationship with a certain character has changed, there hasn’t been many times where it feels like this story is actually mine. We’ve yet to see the fun “choose your own adventure” moments of Season One, like being able to survey a hideout and meticulously plan an attack, or choosing to take on a situation as either Batman or Bruce Wayne – significantly changing the gameplay and the narrative as a whole. It’s little things like this that are missed in The Enemy Within, and because of that, this season feels very lackluster.
Telltale’s take on Batman has always excelled in exploration, especially when they involve puzzles put in place by The Riddler. Even in death, his puzzles are still a concern to the Dark Knight, and Fractured Mask sees the return of The Riddler’s hideout and the new traps within it. Catwoman, John Doe, and Bruce Wayne are tasked with solving a conundrum that utilizes pressure plates and, obviously, riddles. This scene was a little too short-lived and led into the combat sequence mentioned earlier, but it was a nice break from the monotonous story-building of Fractured Mask. The inclusion of Riddler and his puzzles in Season Two has made for a more unique Telltale experience. I’ve enjoyed remaking crime scenes and actually feeling like I’ve stepped into the shoes of Batman, the worlds greatest detective. It’s what I loved about The Wolf Among Us so much: gathering clues and solving mysteries. Fractured Mask, however, just briefly touched upon a Riddler puzzle, and I hope this isn’t foreshadowing the end of the Riddler arc going forward.
Perhaps the biggest misstep in Fractured Mask was the unintentional damaging of The Pact’s intrigue. The rogue’s gallery of Batman villains united against a common cause have felt truly fascinating up until this point. Harley was a strong leader, Mr. Freeze was a tragic genius, and Bane was the intimidating muscle of the group. However, the introduction of Catwoman seriously shifted the focus off of these enjoyable evildoers and onto the aforementioned boring love story. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Catwoman as a character and hoped she would return in Enemy Within but Telltale has handled her all wrong this time around, and it’s doing a great disservice to the story at hand. While there was enough interaction between Bruce and John Doe to continue their enticing relationship, the jarring inclusion of Catwoman was enough to make even Harley Quinn seem lifeless. Quinn is a terrifying crime boss who always brought a sinister air to any scene, putting even Bruce Wayne on eggshells with her maniacal presence. However, when Catwoman appeared she took a backseat and it wasn’t until Bruce let his guard down during Fractured Mask’s conclusion that Harley once again took the reins and showed her true terrifying self. Perhaps this was done by Telltale on purpose, to show the feeling of hopelessness that love can inflict, but by allowing Harley and her crew’s writing to dip in quality, the integrity of the solid plotline of The Enemy Within is lessened.
Fractured Mask took the series to a new low. The bar has been set incredibly high by previous episodes, so it hasn’t ruined my opinion of the season overall. It’s just a shame that Telltale had to rely on old characters — and frankly, old tropes — so much so that the quality of The Enemy Within was diminished. One would think that because Season Two was so strong out of the gate, it could only continue its winning streak. Luckily the Riddler puzzles and combat continue to be gripping (when they’re present), and there were still no glitches or graphical errors this time around. Alas, nearly everything else brought the episode down — from boring dialogue to a stagnant narrative — and simply put, Telltale had better turn this ship around before another mistake sinks it entirely, only to become Killer Croc fodder at the bottom of the sea.