You'll not find many folks of reasonable sanity who would trumpet the first season of Batman: A Telltale Series as among one of the better efforts to come out of the long-time episodic adventure studio. Blighted by a largely uninspiring narrative, poor pacing and some absolutely unforgivable technical shortcomings, Batman felt like the first proper misstep Telltale had taken since their adaptation of The Walking Dead (Telltale’s Game of Thrones was alright and you know it).
Almost exactly a year on and now, somewhat surprisingly, we have a second season of Batman in front of us and I can happily report that on the evidence of its opening episode at least, Telltale's second bite of the DC apple is superior to their first in every way.
A better Batman in every way
Set directly after the events depicted in Batman: The Telltale Series, Enemy Within allows players to either start afresh, or, import their saves from that first season in order to preserve the choices that they made previously. From there, we’re introduced us in quick fashion to the Riddler, who in keeping with Telltale’s penchant for reimagining DC's classic baddies, is depicted as a much older and more aggressively violent take on the classic villain; an antagonist who existed in Gotham long before the Caped Crusader ever donned the cowl.
Voiced by the ultra-talented Robin Atkin Downes (attentive ears might recognise him as the nefarious Hector Alcazar from Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End), Telltale’s Riddler is absolutely dripping with venom and menace, but more than that, he has supplemented his vast intelligence with a substantial physical presence too, making him a proper threat to the Dark Knight when the talking stops and the fists start flying.
Rather than fashioning a newly generic villain out of one DC’s less interesting C-list characters as the developer did in the first reason (said individual shall naturally remain unnamed because spoilers), Telltale’s work in reimagining a classic foe proves to be the right play, as the writers arguably succeed in making a timeless baddie seem fresh, interesting and compelling without fundamentally altering the essence of the character.
Equally, the returning Troy Baker’s take on both Batman and Bruce Wayne feel more assured this time round, as the veteran voice actor now manages to effortlessly tap into the former with charismatic, non-growly nuance and the latter during more emotional moments with real verve and impressive delivery.
Away from the central performances, though Antony Ingruber’s deliberately awkward, crazy obsessed BFF take on The Joker still seems a touch at odds with the Prince of Crime that we know and love, he does have a couple of great moments during this opening episode (especially in the middle act). As the narrative developments suggest that the character will have a lot more to do as we go forward into this new season, I’m certainly looking forward to seeing where Telltale take this highly unusual version of Batman’s arch-rival.
Speaking of villains and face smackery, The Enemy Within now handles battle scenes a little differently than before. Pointedly, combat will now often prescribe a number of ways for you to deal with your enemies, and though the QTE based scraps can still feel too mechanical by virtue of their very nature, having a choice in how you dish out the violence, whether that’s using your bat-gadgets to knock the heads of two goons together or the ability to opt for a simple batarang to the mush, the extra freedom proves to be a welcome development all the same.
One of the biggest improvements that The Enemy Within sees over its predecessor however, are those belonging to its presentation. Seemingly unshackled by the lower spec of previous generation consoles, Telltale’s second stab at Batman is technically far superior to the uneven, disappointing effort of the first season as higher resolution visuals, rock solid framerate and a complete lack of stuttering and audio issues give us the level of polish that we really should have had in the previous season.
It’s not all rainbows and batarangs
After the initial blood-pumping opening act, things slow down a bit and though the pacing issues are nowhere near as severe as those glimpsed in the first season, the sandwiching of a dialog heavy middle between an action-packed opening act and finale can certainly feel uneven to say the least (though the sly sting in the tail at the end of the episode certainly helps to make up for some of this).
Likewise, another flaw that remains from the previous season is the fact that it often felt as if the decision making always seemed to resolve itself into a bad outcome regardless. Simply put, it always seems like you’re having to choose between a rock and a hard place without any sort of positive route out of a given situation, and as such, the notion of true player choice can arguably feel diluted as a result.
Further afield, not all of the changes that Telltale have made in this second season have been positive, either. Specifically, new to this season of Telltale's Batman are mood notifications that inform you when your relationship with a character changes based on the dialogue choices or actions that you choose to carry out. The thing is the whole system feels a touch superfluous as it simply seems to be stating the obvious (you don’t need a prompt to tell you that someone is upset with you if you’ve insulted them, for instance).
A marked improvement over the first season, Batman: The Enemy Within feels like the Telltale Caped Crusader adventure that we should have gotten first time around. Granted, though pacing issues remain and the degree to which you can escape grimdark decision making seems questionable at best, The Enemy Within still feels heads and shoulders above its predecessor.
Batman might not be the hero we deserve, but this is, at last, the Telltale adventure that both he and we deserve.
|Batman: The Enemy Within Episode One Review by John-Paul Jones|
-The Final Word-
The first episode of Batman: The Enemy Within marks a strong start for the second season of Telltale’s DC-centric series.