Review: Telltale's Batman: The Enemy Within could be their best game yet
One of the best takes on Batman since The Dark Knight Trilogy.
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, iOS, Android, and PC.
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
MSRP: $4.99 per episode, $24.99 for the full season.
Last year, Telltale Games blew us all away with one of the freshest, most original takes on one of the most iconic characters in fiction since Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight Trilogy’. Their Batman universe changed a lot of things, some elements that would have probably upset hardcore Batfans if done by anyone other than Telltale. Even though it changed a lot, it still kept some of the most important aspects of the character and the world the same. It still felt true to the character that Bill Finger and Bob Kane created in 1939 and it felt like a Batman worth telling.
Telltale is usually known for taking their sweet time with their projects but they weren’t about to let their hot streak for Batman end. Roughly 9 months after the final episode of season one, Telltale has released the first episode of their second season titled The Enemy Within. The first episode takes place a few months after the events of season one and crime is at an all-time low thanks to the collaboration between the GCPD and Batman. That is… until a particular criminal genius shows up in Gotham.
The game opens in a casino with Bruce Wayne doing some detective work in a place Batman can’t. We see him switch between the World’s Greatest Detective to sly billionaire playboy picking up chicks to the smart yet brutal Bat in a span of under 5 - 10 minutes. Things in the casino go awry when the Riddler is introduced, a former Gotham criminal who predates The Dark Knight himself. Bruce must think on his feet and switch into Batman mode and save the day while Riddler uses traps to torture hostages.
One of the most well-written Batman tales of all time with choices that really do matter:
By the end of the entire action-packed sequence, the iconic Batman villain flees the scene and it’s clear that Riddler is a threat that must be stopped. Episode one, titled The Enigma, proves that Telltale understands Batman even when they’re breaking away from tradition and creating their own unique world. The writing has some moments of questionable dialogue but other than that it’s absolutely superb.
The writers have a way of building stress and tension in almost every scene. Given the events of season one, people have begun to notice that a lot of very crazy people are attracted to Bruce Wayne and it’s spawning questions from various people. There are several scenes where people are pressing you for answers, bringing up incredibly incriminating evidence, and you’re trying to dance around all of it without getting yourself in trouble or revealing your true identity. It shows that Bruce Wayne and Batman are truly one in the same, even if they act differently, their lives are interconnected.
It should also be noted that Telltale has done a fantastic job of making your choices from the first season count, it impacts things that wouldn’t be expected and some of your choices can make your playthrough very hellish due to all of the stress it puts on you. Furthermore, the choices in season two are incredibly difficult, sometimes even emotionally painful. You can tell there are emotions like anger and sadness pent up in Bruce because you can feel it yourself. At times, it's difficult to know when you're making the right choice. Some choices will haunt you later on and leave you thinking, “Oh, this is really going to come back to screw me over, isn’t it?”
Telltale's Joker is a compelling and refreshingly original take on an iconic character:
Another testament to the writing is Telltale’s version of the Joker who is simply referred to as John Doe. In season one, we met him in Arkham Asylum and got a sense of how insane he was. The way it was set up, you could almost expect that Telltale would make the Joker the primary antagonist in Season Two, but at the moment he remains as a secondary character. They didn’t make the mistake of just using Joker because he’s a well-known and easy villain to do, there’s much content to pull from and he’s clearly an interesting character to write. Even though he’s used sparingly, he’s done incredibly well. He’s not a rip-off of Heath Ledger, Jared Leto, Mark Hamill, or Jack Nicholson, he’s his own entity.
In Season Two, it seems as though Telltale wanted players to feel empathetic for The Joker because he wants to befriend Bruce Wayne and you have to decide if that’s worth doing. You can see he wants to do the right thing and he struggles to be “normal”, he’s not trying to be a bad guy but he can’t help it at times. Joker doesn’t really understand how to be a regular human being in this game and it’s so perfect. There’s a lot of possibilities for this character and I do expect him to take the limelight later on in the season but right now, Telltale has done an incredible job of making a nearly 100-year-old character feel new again.
Telltale has gotten rid of almost every single technical issue that plagues their games:
One thing that caused concern for fans with the quick turnaround on season 2 was the technical issues the first season faced. It was REALLY messy, there was an entire fight scene where characters were missing faces, stuttering framerates plagued the entire game, and much more. Luckily, Telltale somehow managed to balance an incredible story while drastically improving the game’s technical shortcomings. The game is smooth as butter, it’s almost remarkable as chugging frame rates has become a staple of these games. Batman: The Enemy Within also features the best visuals in any Telltale game so far. Textures are much better, movements are more fast and fluid, and it all feels very cinematic.
To achieve this, it would appear that the game had to sacrifice quick loading screens for a better performance. The loading screens seem to be fairly lengthy, giving you enough time to open up your phone and browse Twitter for a minute. That said, it's a better performing game with enhanced visuals and that's worth the longer loading times. With time, Telltale will likely be able to fix the loading issues but this shows immense promise for upcoming titles like The Wolf Among Us season 2 and The Walking Dead’s final season.
Simple yet well-done mechanics that add to the experience:
The mechanics also feel surprisingly refined. Although the fights are still quick-time based, they’ve given more options to the player and put you in situations where you really have to think on your feet. Say if a sculpture hanging from the ceiling that’s typically held up by wires is on the verge of falling, potentially squashing innocent people below, you’ll have a QTE specific to that moment. It’s not just “press A to stop the thing from falling” 4 button prompts will come up all at the same time, 2 on said sculpture, 2 onto the ceiling. You must quickly press the buttons in a very particular order as to connect it back to the ceiling and prevent it from falling if you press them in the wrong order, game over. It’s very simple but it’s smart and appreciated.
Telltale also gives the player options during combat. Similar to the first game where you’d plan out your attack in a certain way and then execute, you’re deciding on the fly. Do you use gadget X or gadget Y, do you tell the police to storm into a hostage situation guns blazing or tell them to use tear gas, do you sucker punch an enemy or grapple them to you and knock them out as they fly through the air? These choices don’t have any major impact on the story but they offer variety and choice in combat since you are just limited to QTEs instead of Arkham-like fighting sections.
Batman: The Enemy Within - Episode One: The Enigma is incredibly impressive due to how fast Telltale managed to pump it out. Not only does it tell another fresh Batman story filled with shocking twists and unique, well-written takes on characters that have been done to death but it also has little to no technical gripes. Telltale is finally really listening to fans and critics and improving on their weaknesses and it shows incredible promise for both the future of their version of the Caped Crusader and the studio.