Reviewed on PlayStation 4
This review does contain spoilers
After the disappointing previous episode of Batman: The Enemy Within, it was unclear whether the rest of the season would even be worth playing. Fractured Mask was an underwhelming third episode and at times even felt like a betrayal of fans who had loved Telltale’s take on Batman thus far. Luckily, episode four of The Enemy Within turns things around, finally quelling that age-old adage: “The fourth Telltale episode is always the worst.” What Ails You completely revitalizes The Enemy Within with outstanding action, choice, and storytelling, while crafting an expertly satisfying climax that left me wanting another episode as soon as credits rolled. There’s no doubt about it — the Bat is back.
In a series known for its action and puzzles, Fractured Mask was a major let-down. Thankfully, What Ails You took things back to its roots, even if it did take some bad decision-making to get there. I say “bad” decisions because I have never felt, in a Telltale game, that I have been able to screw things up more, even with an incredible payoff. But the choices episode four forced me to make were some of the most difficult moral dilemmas I’ve had to face in The Enemy Within thus far. Unfortunately, for those who haven’t played What Ails You, I have to dive into FULL SPOILER territory in order to adequately describe the brilliant storyline of this episode.
You have been warned.
Episode four finds us continuing Bruce Wayne’s journey alongside Gotham’s criminal underground, known as The Pact. Led by Harley Quinn, the evildoing gang heads to the Bodhi Spa to find the last remnants of the “Project LOTUS” virus, created by the recently deceased Riddler, which every baddie hopes to use for their own personal gains. Amid all this villainy Bruce, obviously, intends to sabotage the operation and steal the virus for The Agency, a federal organization tasked with ridding Gotham of crime. Every episode has led up to this heist, and it’s quite the spectacle.
The episode kicks off with a bang — literally. As The Pact travels deeper into the Spa, uncovering its secrets along the way, there is this captivating blend of choice-making, puzzle solving, and quick-time events that just bleeds everything that Telltale’s Batman is all about. This first act alone is one of the greatest Telltale moments I have ever played, and if someone ever asked me “what is a Telltale game like?” I would cue this up, hand them the controller, and set them loose. My eyes were absolutely glued to the screen as I took part in the action. From walking in and deciding if I should bribe the guard or murder him, to confiding in John Doe and suggesting we sabotage the heist together, I can’t remember the last time a “level” — if you can call it that — was so much fun to simultaneously play, experience, and shape the outcome of.
I have always praised Telltale for using Batman’s world as a way to experiment and create new methods of quick-time events and puzzles. In What Ails You’s opening moments, some of these methods are put to good use, including my favorite new option which allows the player to choose where to take the fight (i.e. Bruce could either “leap over” or “slide under” Bane to attack an enemy). Every time this comes up it’s surprising and tension building, always drawing my focus to the action. There’s never any boredom in the flow of things, because Telltale seamlessly combines decision-making with quick-time events, adding a deeper sense of realism to the action. Allowing freedom of choice in battle is so crucial to a Batman game. We’ve seen it in everything from the Arkham games to Injustice. Batman is nothing without his combat techniques, and it’s just so cool to see Telltale put his repertoire to good use in its games as well.
Alongside combat are the aforementioned puzzles that Telltale usually excels at; however, in episode four, there weren’t a whole lot of puzzles to solve. The biggest one involved matching a connect-the-dots style image to an existing shape, and doing so a few times would release the “Project LOTUS” virus from its protective cell. It seems that gone are the days where Riddler puzzles were these multi-step, frantic conundrums with room for error and even failure in death. Now puzzles are few and far between, but it was still nice in this episode to take a break from boring dialogue and do some detective work again. Said detective work came in handy later as well when sleuthing was involved. The Enemy Within‘s exploration scenes aren’t as good as, say, Guardians of the Galaxy’s, where hover boots were used to solve puzzles as well as get around an expansive level. Here things are played old school in terms of exploration, which can sometimes feel like a breath of fresh air, getting to stretch your legs, while at other times, it just feels like a waste. Exploration in What Ails You straddled the line, for the most part.
Batman: The Enemy Within has brought its plot back to the forefront with some stellar dialogue and choices to make in its most recent episode. Here’s where we’ll really delve into spoiler territory, especially regarding a character who may no longer be known as “John Doe.” John has been Bruce’s self-proclaimed “best friend” since Season One, in which they endured a stay at Arkham Asylum together. Now having both been released, they met again as members of The Pact, and their friendship has flourished in Season Two. John obviously invokes qualities of a familiar Batman villain known as The Joker, what with his flashy sense of style, wide grin, and his newfound affection for Harley Quinn. In episode four, this side of him finally makes itself clear, and depending on the decisions you make, the clown king of crime may rise to power in the end.
I mentioned earlier this “bad” decision-making, and it’s necessary to note due to my final statistics as the credits rolled on Episode Four. According to Telltale, me and 33.4% of people “led John Doe down the path of being a villain.” Obviously somewhere along the way, I made a huge mistake. Looking back on it, though, I wouldn’t change a thing. There were choices in What Ails You that I sat there and questioned for a while; I found myself putting the controller down, sitting back, and thinking “what should I do?” These moments are rare, but they are the lifeblood of Telltale, the backbone of one of my favorite game companies on the planet. Moments that leave the player staring at the screen thinking “This is real. I have an impact on this world. One wrong move could change everything.” I’ve even blasted The Enemy Within occasionally for not providing the player with enough consequence for their actions, but seeing these stats and thinking “What have I done?” That was quite the wake-up call, and I loved it.
Every character in What Ails You underwent a change, and this really shifted the game to set up an interesting finale. Bane turned back into a monster and got himself captured. Mr. Freeze shared a moment with Bruce over the tragedy of his wife, a constant foil for the frozen baddie, that really brought an emotional pull to the episode. Amanda Waller began taking matters into her own hands, which creates a problem for both Bruce and Batman. Tiffany and Alfred are establishing a connection much like Bruce and Alfred once did, as she begins to be a valuable member of the team. In the episode’s final act, Batman is even able to break down Harley’s power trip by mentioning her father, proving she still has a heart deep inside. Unfortunately, it took that same moment to bring out John’s final form, a genuine Joker in the flesh, and from now on Gotham will never be the same.
Thrilling combat, moral complexities, and emotionally impactful choices made for without a doubt the best episode by far of Telltale’s Batman: The Enemy Within. What makes this so surprising is the fact that this is indeed the shortest episode, clocking in at under an hour and a half for me. So much was jam-packed into one short burst, but it somehow provided players with a refreshing climax, with quite a significant challenge ahead. I’m expecting a lot less Bruce in episode five, with Batman taking on The Agency and The Joker simultaneously with some help from Tiffany, Gordon, and maybe Catwoman (depending on how she felt about that whole murder box incident). Whatever lies ahead, I once again trust Telltale will do what’s right, and deliver a satisfying conclusion to its topsy-turvy emotional roller coaster of a season. Here’s hoping that roller coaster isn’t in Jokerland, and the cart makes it back to the station in one piece.