Telltale Batman: The Enemy Within
Telltale Games is back again with the second installment (or season as they like to call it) of their Batman series entitled The Enemy Within. The season finished up back in March and I finally got a chance to sit down and play through all five episodes.The big question was whether or not this season was able to hold up against the excellent first season in the series (and if you need a little refresher on that season catch up with that review here). The answer is a resounding sort of. Because the events of this season are resultant on the player’s choices from the first season, beware some potential spoilers for the first season throughout. Heavy season two spoilers come later on.
This season begins with the return of a long thought dead threat to Gotham in the form of the Riddler. While doing recon at a casino, Bruce witnesses the Riddler bust in and begin strong-arming a local mob boss. He is able to slip away to don the Batman suit and begin kicking ass in the casino. After a brief combat sequence, Riddler escapes and government agents beginning swarming the building. It is revealed that these agents work for a clandestine organization known as The Agency which is headed up by none other than Amanda Waller. Throughout the first episode, Bruce/Batman and Gordon continuously butt heads with Waller as they investigate the Riddler and try to stop him from taking over Gotham. During this investigation you uncover another secret organization known as The Pact which is a gang of supervillains plotting something dastardly. This Pact comprises Riddler, Harley Quinn, Bane, Mr Freeze, and John Doe (aka pre-Joker). As the season progresses the player guides both Batman and Bruce Wayne through the struggles of keeping the people of Gotham safe as Batman and keeping his personal life under control as Bruce.
Gameplay for this season is almost identical to that from the previous season. During interactions with other characters players choose what Bruce or Batman says and how to respond to different situations. Almost every dialogue choice poses three options, usually the strong/callous (read: bad) response, the heroic response, and the neutral response. There is always the option to simply remain silent which I found myself using slightly more than the previous season as I didn’t always like the options presented to me. As per the last season, these dialogue options are on a timer so players must make their decision quickly. And, as Telltale is well known for, player’s decisions have consequences on the story to come.
The game isn’t all dialogue though (although it’s about 75% dialogue); there are some action sequences sprinkled throughout. These action scenes come in the form of, and I say this was a heavy sigh, quick-time events. Although QTE’s are pretty awful in video games, changing what should be a test of skill to a test of reflexes, for a game like this it’s allowable. Telltale games are about the story, not the action, so it gets a pass. But, as like the first game, there’s so much going on during action sequences that I feel like I’m missing a big chunk of what’s happening in the scene because I’m busy looking out for the next button prompt instead of enjoying watching Batman beat the shit out of some criminals.
Telltale also added some extra combat options where every once in a while the player will have the option about how to dispatch an enemy. For instance, during the casino scene I had the option to either grab the roulette wheel and smash it over someone’s head or I could have knocked him into table or something (I clearly went with the roulette wheel). While not a massive addition, it was a welcome one as it made it feel like the player had a little more say in just what was happening and allowed them to roleplay as Batman with a little more depth.
It becomes clear as the game unfolds that Telltale does an amazing job at using these characters we know and love and twisting and warping them just enough that it gives the player a new, refreshing perspective. For instance, the Riddler is revealed to have been a close associate of Thomas Wayne back when Thomas ruled Gotham as a crime lord. This makes the Riddler much older and experienced than fans have been accustomed to. They also do amazing jobs with new characters to the series as well. Lady Arkham last season was fantastic and while none of the original characters from this season quite measure up to her, characters like Agent Avesta are still endearing and well fleshed out.
Compared to the first season, the story in this season is not nearly as strong and at times seemed really stretched out. I found myself at points during the second episode almost bored. Even the massive action sequence at the end of the episode seemed lackluster. At times it seemed like Telltale knew the story they wanted to tell, and knew that they wanted to tell it over the course of five episodes, but they realized that they only had enough content to fill four episodes. Because of this there seemed to be a lot more filler content compared to the first season.
The spoilers are going to slowly start ramping up now as there’s not much I can discuss about the characters and story without including some later game content.
During the first episode we are greeted with two major deaths that set various parts of the overarching story into motion. About halfway through the episode, Lucius Fox is killed by Riddler while trying to solve a puzzle box that Riddler gave Batman at the casino. This sets into motion Tiffany Fox’s story, Lucius’ daughter, as she sets out to uncover the truth and expose all the shady stuff that Bruce is involved in. Eventually this comes to a head when you have to explain to Tiffany what Lucius was doing and, ultimately, whether or not you tell her that you’re Batman. And this is where Telltale succeeds; they are masters at creating situations where one small dialogue option can change the outcome of events three episodes down the line which forces players to really think through their options. The other major death that sets the rest of the story into motion is the assassination of the Riddler. He was built up to be such a major threat in the first episode that his death came as a total shock. His death, however, leaves an opening in The Pact which allows Bruce to enter undercover to uncover what it is they’re planning.
One thing that becomes apparent as the story progresses is that the game is slowly training the player to think about the long game. There was one scene where Batman is talking with John Doe behind The Stacked Deck. John is a huge fan of Batman and he asks if he can throw a batarang. Knowing that John would eventually turn into the Joker and how unhinged he was I was hesitant to let him. But then the thought occurred to me that if I taught him how to throw the batarang, maybe it will come back and help me later on in the story. So I let him practice. And sure enough in episode four while fighting in the SANCTUS labs John throws a batarang at Bane, stopping him from killing me, because he said he had been practicing what I taught him. The unanticipated consequence of this, however, was that when John turned into vigilante Joker he was using his own special ‘Joker-rangs’ which deadly accuracy.
Season one of the series was all around excellent, but arguably the most interesting aspect was seeing how Bruce and Batman’s actions slowly led Harvey Dent down a dark path and ultimately becoming Two Face. It gave the player this knowledge that their decisions truly carried weighted. Telltale doubled down on that concept as one of the largest plot points in this season was Bruce’s interactions with John Doe and seeing how I was slowly causing him to turn into the Joker. During the early episodes I used John to gain information and influence in The Pact, all the while building up his trust with me. As the story progressed, I slowly began to screw up more and more by giving him well-intentioned but poor advice, like when he asked me for flirting tips for Harley. On top of it, as Batman I instilled a sense of purpose and justice in the character which ultimately led him to donning the mantle of the Joker as a ruthless vigilante akin to Red Hood. Fighting side by side with Joker, Batman tries to keep him under control until I made the ultimate betrayal to hand over Joker to Waller to save Catwoman. This eventually causes John to snap and become the Joker that we all know and love. Watching this slow transformation, knowing full well where the character would eventually end up, was so unnerving and tense and I knew that any wrong move at any moment could send him spiraling off the edge and speed along the transformation. But I also knew that I was the reason why he turned into the Joker as I slowly manipulated him for my own gain which forces the player to really assess their choices and reflect on what it truly means to be a hero.
I don’t want to give away all the spoilers in the game as it is still a game that is worth checking out and I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of discovering all the secrets on their own. Ultimately this game is not as strong as the first season, but it does pose a lot more moral conundrums and asks far more serious questions of the player. Knowing the decisions I’ve made I’m very intrigued to see where this series goes in its next season and just how Bruce will be able to pick up the shattered pieces of his life.