The same Telltale, not the same Batman.
The following is a review of Episode One of Batman: The Enemy Within, called ‘The Enigma.’ Future episodes will be reviewed as they are released. Some minor spoilers for the previous season of Telltale’s Batman series follow.
The “Telltale Formula” is pretty familiar thing for a lot of people who play games on the regular since the studio Telltale games had a renaissance several years ago in The Walking Dead. Since that first season of Dead, we’ve had tons of episodic games set in all kinds of licensed worlds, with various levels of success. One more recent has been set in a retelling of Batman and his universe; and for me, more Batman is even less desired than the Telltale Formula. However, while not deviating from the Formula much, I found myself surprised at how the formula changed Batman when compared to other media interpretations of the character.
Picking up a year after the previous season, ‘The Enigma’ finds Bruce Wayne and Gotham as a whole recovered from the destruction brought down by villains like Two-Face and the revelation that Bruce’s father himself was the definitive crime lord over the city prior to the deaths that would create Batman. In the time between, the crime rate has gone down and the public has mostly accepted and embraced the existence of Batman. Into this comes The Riddler, recast as a being previously active during the years Bruce’s father ran the crime syndicate with a bone to pick with pretty much everyone.
Being a Telltale game, everything is pretty much story, related through conversations between characters. Players control Bruce/Batman’s responses, and as usual, silence is always an option. The entire first episode is dedicated to establishing who Bruce will need to interact with while trying to figure out what’s reactivated Riddler and what he’s up to and put a stop to it. We also see the cast expand as these season often go; notably with the appearance of Amanda Waller without her Suicide Squad, thank god. True to Telltale fashion as well, as more characters come in, one goes out in an attempt at shock value that actually managed to shock me.
Not the death, but that Batman cared about it.
As it turns out, the most interesting deviation from the Batman mythos is that for the first time in forever, Bruce Wayne has empathy for both his lost ally and the others impacted by that loss. Compared to other incarnations of the Dark Knight in modern media and even the comics more often than not, this is almost a revelation. This is almost assuredly because without emotional involvement, a lot of dialogue options would be moot, but it finally reminds me why I actually like Batman as a character-a desire to not see what happened to him happen to other people.
Ultimately, the Formula does take hold and you’re shuffled from event to event. Being the World’s Greatest Detective™, Batman is able to collect clues, but you won’t have trouble linking things up and progressing. In fact, things are too simple to put together, even without the onscreen indicators for interactions turned off. The ending also carries the requisite Hobson’s choice, and deciding to drag that process out doesn’t make the can’t win scenarios that always get presented in these games feel convoluted, especially in this episode. Furthermore, because of the episodic format, some of the more interesting story aspects – especially an incredibly curious change to an existing character revealed at the very end – are saved for future episodes. Episodic games are still a fun novelty, but that novelty tends to wear off when you consider how many of these games we’ve had in such a short time.
From a technical standpoint, things are all fine, but only just. I don’t have the same issue with the Telltale engine that others do, and it has always been better for comic adaptations visually. That said, you can see the gears grinding in certain points; especially when you actually need to navigate Batman to a point of interest. Twice, simply clicking on a point forced Batman to turn in a full 360 degree circle before walking to it.
Audio is much better, especially the voice acting. Everyone performs admirably, though it’s Anthony Ingruber who steals the show when he returns as the not-yet-realized Joker from Season One and tries to connect with Bruce. He plays off of Troy Baker (as Batman) well and really helps sell this new version of their relationship; one that grounds the nearly romantic affection one often reads in Joker in a believable desire to have a closeness to Bruce. Even so, I’d give a kidney for a Batman story not so reliant on Joker that isn’t All Star Batman.
When all is done, ‘The Enigma’ doesn’t make the case that Telltale has yet to find the new innovation to draw people back in droves, but I’m curious enough to see what else will change when other teased enemies make their appearances. I’ll be playing through though, if only for a way more tolerable version of Batman.
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games, WB Games
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, iOS, Android
Released: August 8th, 2017 (Episode One)
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