Say what you like about Telltale, they don’t rest on their laurels. Despite having an output that even Netflix might consider “a bit much” they do manage a certain consistent level of quality, at least in most cases. Their foray into the world of the Dark Knight marked something of a shift, away from taking original characters within properties (Borderlands, Minecraft), or IPs considered somewhat niche (Fables, the Walking Dead comic, which also had original characters in it). Batman is one of the most well-known, popular, well covered characters in fiction, something Telltale had fun with, playing with the non-canon nature of the story to have drastic choices and changes, which combined with a focus on Bruce Wayne made the whole thing an excellent Batman story, and one of Telltale’s better games. This second season, the aptly named Enemy Within, goes even further, starting with its premise: Bruce Wayne, undercover with a gang of Batman’s rogues gallery.
John Doe, the man who would be The Joker, is out of Arkham and looks up his newest, best and most likely only friend Bruce, whose time and concentration are spread thin by the death of a dear friend, the sudden re-appearance of The Riddler, who in this universe is an old school villain from before Batman’s time, and the subsequent arrival of Amanda Waller and her shadowy “Agency”, cutting Jim Gordon out and insisting on working with Bats directly. From there Waller forces Bruce to go undercover with “The Pact”, John Doe’s gang of mates consisting of Bane, Mr Freeze and their leader, Harley Quinn, an act that relies heavily on Bruce and John’s friendship. This runs parallel to Batman’s relationship with Gordon, and the increasing pressure from Waller. Continuing on from the first game’s pretty tasty shake up of established canon and characters, this one goes completely off the rails, especially given the amount of player choice. There can be no sitting on the fence here: Waller or Gordon, with John Doe or against him, commit to opening Bruce’s circle of trust to John, Selina Kyle and the like, or close Bruce off and continue down this road alone. The new addition to the game is the opinion system, in which choices and dialogue options change what people think of you, culminating in a mini emotional profile for key characters at the end of each episode. It’s not particularly detailed, but it’s nice to have a tangible grasp on what effect your behaviour has on those you interact with. Telltale’s flair for dramatic character beats and well-written interactions is on full display any time a principle character is on screen; the Waller-Gordon dynamic is tense and genuinely rewarding if you stick up for Jim, Selina and Bruce have some nice touching moments, and this is the best Bane I’ve ever seen; all the strength and brutality, readily available venom, and with the keen intelligence of his comic counterpart. There’s a fight with him early on that shows off A) how he treats his henchmen with care and respect and B) just how strong he actually is; it’s brutal. The stand-outs, however, are Harley and John Doe. Harley, far from her canon role of tragic, abused sidekick is the brains and steely edge of The Pact; shrewd, clever and putting her training as a Psychiatrist to good use. But it’s John who steals the show; a man desperately searching for his true self, an identity he can call his own, taking inspiration from multiple sources including, if the player so wishes, Batman. His story is certainly one of, if not the most interesting interpretation of The Joker I have ever seen, on par with Alan Moore’s iconic “one bad day” incarnation in The Killing Joke. When dealing with him and his personality one way leads to what must seem like, for those making that set of choices, an inevitable conclusion. The other leads to a tragedy that will haunt this Bruce for the rest of his life. It’s powerful stuff, and brilliant work on Telltale’s part; to conjure surprise and new ideas from a character that’s been around for nearly sixty eight years. It’s a dark Batman story, but one with a solid core of hope, if the player allows it, and as a result feels well-rounded and fleshed out.
Gameplay wise, it’s not really changed at all; standard Telltale conversations and QTE fights. The only real gameplay change here is that fights have more QTEs and more choices, often giving you two different ways to knock the absolute shite out of whatever poor sod decided to pick a fight with the world’s punchiest billionaire. The choices are as strong as they’ve ever been, and have that particular Telltale feel whereby whatever you pick always comes back to bite you in the arse, usually at the most awkward time imaginable. The game does have slight issues though, and they involve spoilers, so if you want to go in blind (which I recommend), skip down to the last paragraph. Still here? Right, The Riddler, a potentially interesting version of The Riddler who’s long in the tooth and thirsty for blood, lasts all of one episode before being iced. His death acts as a catalyst of sorts, forcing Bruce to go undercover with The Pact, but it still seems like a waste. Also the Bruce Wayne stuff, while placed into an interesting new context and having excellent moments involving Selina, as well as John Doe, who is adorable by the way, it lacks the schmoozing and being a total weapon at parties aspect of the character. I still enjoyed the Bruce Wayne stuff, because of the aforementioned strong character interactions, and it being where what Telltale does best gets to shine, but it feels less like being Bruce Wayne than those sections in the first season.
As a Telltale game, it’s up there with their best, particularly when combined with the excellent ground work in season 1, and particularly because of this version of The Joker, easily one of the most interesting and unique incarnations of the character ever. As a Batman game it takes risks that pay off and thanks to Telltale’s style is engaging in a way most other forays into the character can’t manage.
By James Lambert