Note: This is the second episode of the ongoing Telltale series. I previously reviewed episode one, “Realm of Shadows,” here.
Also please be advised, this is your SPOILER WARNING
In the first episode of the Batman Telltale Series, I saw some potential with its gorgeous visual storytelling that was emblematic of the Batman mythos despite some cookie-cutter plot elements and technical hick-ups. The gameplay was also entertaining as it switched dynamically between building story with well-written dialogue choices as Bruce Wayne and knocking out goons with quick time events and building/investigating cases as the Batman.
Episode 2 begins in a familiar setting as we encounter Bruce Wayne at the scene of his parents’ death at the hands of Joe Chill. By his side is Alfred consoling him after the tumultuous revelations of Episode One with all the panache and presentation that we have seen in the previous installment. It’s a familiar feeling watching a dejected Bruce Wayne being humanised by his knowledgeable mentor, it’s also a little predictable that it would go through the motions of visualising the death of his parents’ in some way, even if it tries to tie in major key plot developments into that scene. It’s not a major gripe that I have with the game but it’s something that sits in the back of mind during the playthrough if you are familiar at all with the Batman lore. It’s hard to criticise a game for having the franchise’s characters acting the way you’d expect them to, Batman and Catwoman will have their moments, Harvey Dent will display some of the menace and aggression of Two-Face, Alfred will worry for Bruce Wayne when he spends too much time being Batman. It still feels fresh and interesting when its told in a Telltale game, the overall presentation and the storytelling mingled with the gameplay is a new, interesting medium for Batman that doesn’t disappoint in its second outing.
As the episode continues, it picks up on some major characters that we met from Realm of Shadows such as an incarcerated Carmine Falcone or the scheming Penguin whose plans we were hitherto unaware of. Episode 2 does enough overall to make the story holds its own and sound interesting despite the sometimes gratuitous cherry-picking of the Batman canon for plot ideas, thanks to, in large part, how Telltale can create a dynamic story infused with the player’s input. The story mechanics where the player can pick and choose certain lines of dialogue in conversations with character is still relevant as ever in a Telltale game and is where most of the enjoyment I had playing the game was. It’s in perfect pitch with the spirit of the comics, plus Bruce Wayne or Batman can respond to a given situation with different emotional undertones that still are befitting to the character and the current context of the story. The opening scene is pretty indicative of this where Bruce Wayne can cast anger at Alfred for concealing a dark secret or a sense of doubt or denial over the entire incident entirely neither of which are more right or wrong responses. It’s not a combination of emphatic of plot points and twists that dictates these player-led choices for the most part but smaller, more subtle ones that add a bit of flavour to the overall plot.
You can see how much weight there is to your decisions in the previous episodes as consequences will be shown. For example, I had chosen the more brutal path in apprehending Carmine Falcone in the last episode so he’s noticeable more incapacitated in this epiosde. As well as seeing the results of previous decisions, there are some in Children of Arkham that are tough to choose, with either decision more right or wrong than the other. There are some interesting moments that I’m intrigued to find out how they play, such as ones pertaining to the relationship between Bruce and Selina or Bruce’s involvement in Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign.
Besides the story mechanics and dialogue choices, gameplay feels varied while lacking any sort of complexity. There was one part where I could choose how to approach certain characters either as Bruce Wayne or Batman which creates two drastically different scenes. One would emphasise the use of guile and persuasion to coax secrets while the other uses fear and intimidation. Some little gameplay variants help to emulate the feeling of being a masked vigilante superhero such plotting the best way to ambush henchmen or using the Batcomputer to track down criminals but with little to no risk of failure or complexity, it feels like a minor increment towards the whole tone of embodiment of superhero this game tries to make the player achieve rather than something that has any fun gameplay depth or challenge.
Gameplay also feels pretty much like the the developers have made use of the mechanics introduced in the last episode once again. There is a noticeable amount of quick time events more so than the last episode and it feels like there’s considerable more action in favour of establishing plot points and stoylines compared to episode 1. These QTE’s look impressive when watching fight scenes break out and its still spare use keeps the game from not feeling diluted or tedious.
Episode 2 sets a precedent for future episodes, its conclusion the unveiling of a new shadowy cabal of insurgents wanting to wreck havoc on Gotham, the Children of Arkham, a group which the Penguin is also a member of. It’s an overarching plot, that affects different characters in their own unique ways, be it Bruce Wayne discovering his parents’ underhand dealings with corrupt characters or Selina Kyle who seems to be tangled precariously in a messy situation, unsure whether to help herself or others first. It balances the act well of juggling various stories at once, dealing with subplots of one particular episode while leaving enough space for an overarching story and certain characters for future episodes. The story sometimes might feel predictable but so far, each episode has managed to conclude themselves very well, giving a solid ending to their respective episode while still baiting players with open-ended plots.
On the PS4, Episode 2 still has its fair share of technical problems that disrupt the flow of the storytelling. For starters, my introduction was marred by some serious glitching and bugs before crashing. Then when I rebooted the game I had to replay the entire sequence once again.
In my review for the first Telltale Batman episode, “Realm of Shadows,” I stated that the game was let down by some technical glitches like screen tearing, frame rate drops which took me out of the moment. I didn’t notice these problems as much this time round (I might have just become accustomed to them anymore also). Loading screens also are jarring disrupting flow between transitioning scenes, taking up to ten seconds sometimes to load, while at certain times some lip sync issues were far too noticeable.
Children of Arkham is a satisfactory continuation of the story with some resounding and interesting moments such as Bruce’s meeting with Selina Kyle or Carmine’s interrogation scene. It feels like the story is only getting started in some aspects with the Children of Arkham only unveiling themselves now. At the same time there are some subplots such as Harvey’s mayoral campaign, Bruce’s parental misfortune or Selina’s encounters with the wrong kind of people that carry the story aptly forward despite the fact that I feel like I’ve witnessed before as a base for a Bat-tale but still remains intriguing thanks to the game’s presentation and writing. The story-based mechanics are certainly its main strength and keeps the player guessing what will happen in this episode or for the entire series.