Not clowning around.
The following is a review of Episode Two of Batman: The Enemy Within, called ‘The Pact.’ Future episodes will be reviewed as they are released. Spoilers for Episode One follow, you can read my review of that right here.
The first episode of Telltale’s Batman: The Enemy Within was a serviceable release with some lofty promises made at its end. Now, with the release of episode two, some of those promises have indeed come to roost, but others are made that I’m not sure can be delivered on.
Resuming exactly where episode one ended (though, the final lines of the script have been rewritten for some reason), Batman is still left reeling by the fact that Amanda Waller knows that Bruce Wayne is the one under the cowl. Waller beings to make the case that the Wayne persona might be just as useful as the Batman one to handle this issue, but before the issue can really be discussed, explosions rock Gotham proper. Discovering multiple attacks are happening at once, Batman leaves to deal with one on his own, leading to an encounter with that renders him less able to be Batman than he’d like.
This serves as the twist for the episode. Whereas Telltale’s take on Batman has been mostly about juggling the Batman identity with the Bruce Wayne one; “The Pact” takes the Batman option off the board. This severely reduces the dynamic action of the previous episode, but that would indicate that the tension modern Telltale is best known for, or so you would think. “The Pact” tries its best, but it doesn’t quite get there.
Forced to use his connection to John Doe, who we all know will eventually take the role of The Joker, Bruce finds himself entangled with Riddler’s partners and forced to prove himself to them. That proving happens across multiple situations that require decisions to be made that feel less about nuance as much as it feels like an excuse to give players the option to live out some of the revisionist take of Batman being more like his rogues. Every step of the way this comes off as more convoluted; especially since several incidents are meant to have longer lasting impact but Bruce isn’t allowed any dialog after choices are made to further expand on those choices.
However, almost all of this gets saved by the presence of Harleen Quinzel. Teased at the end of episode one, Harley makes her full debut in Telltale’s universe, and she’s brilliant. While Harley Quinn has become one of DC’s most popular characters, her backstory and characterization carries a lot of baggage. While source material has spent a lot of effort to disconnect Harley from her dangerous relationship to Joker, pretty much all versions of her eventually have to invoke it. But not Telltale, because Joker technically doesn’t exist here.
Instead Harley is completely self sufficient and (importantly) lucid. She’s chosen her life of villainy, and every action she takes is to further her own agenda. Dressed like a punk rock domme clown, she shows her satisfaction by expressing satisfaction by telling those who work with her that they’ve “made mama happy,” she steals the entire episode. The bonus catch is that this time around, it’s our proto-Joker that’s madly in love with her. Harley doesn’t exploit this as much as the Joker would in a classical version of this relationship (she seems to have genuine concern for his future), but she clearly is an influence on him. That gets way more complicated once Bruce enters the picture. Harley displays a clear desire to sleep with him, which bothers “John,” but given the already existing sexual tension between himself and Bruce it becomes hard to tell what bothers him – and so it’s pretty much impossible to not land on he wants both of them.
Unfortunately, all of this is just the finer details of a less than spectacular story. We don’t learn much more about Riddler’s group of rogues outside of who’s who; and what is meant to be the trademark shock end reveal is for some reason not the end of the episode. Instead, we mostly drag through some chances of angry Batman fantasy with the occasional tease of something more interesting. Except, now that most of the pieces are in place, it’s hard to not see how this ends up playing out thanks to the elephant in the room that dresses like The Joker. Harley makes this episode worth playing, but I’m hoping for a course correction in episode three.
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games, WB Games
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, iOS, Android
Released: October 3rd, 2017 (Episode Two)
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