This may be a huge spoiler, but I feel you have to know off the err, bat. Batman faces an enemy at the start of episode two of this Telltale series that leaves The Joker cowering, The Riddler dumbfounded, and Ra’s Al Ghul wishing he was properly dead. This evil incarnate is like nothing Bruce Wayne has ever encountered, a foe that has taken down the likes of the Big Bad Wolf, Lee Everett, and even Game of Thrones pouting undead hunk Jon Snow. I’m of course talking about the deadly Telltale assassin; the Telltale Tool engine.
Batman: A Telltale Series: Episode 2 review
Yes, the engine, a common complaint with Telltale’s games, reared its ugly, juddering head once more, but this time it was taking the absolute piss. Harvey Dent would be taking Telltale to court for copyright infringement given its duality. For all the cool stories that get told, this engine is the dark side that holds every game back. It doesn’t help that it seems to be more prominent in creating issues for some series than it is for others. In Children of Arkham, there are a few, including dropped audio, glitches, and most damagingly the framerate practically dies on its backside for the opening minutes. Throw in a camera that can’t stay still and it starts to look like a time-lapse photography project by someone sitting on a dodgy dryer during an earthquake.. This is literally the worst-performing Telltale episode I’ve played to date, and that’s sad because there’s some really good Batman story beats in here (and some bad ones too mind).
Children of Arkham sees a continuation of the juggling act of Bruce Wayne and Batman during his formative years. Batman is still not set in stone on his ideals, and Bruce is caught up in a hot scandal that’s an intriguing hook to hang the series on, even if it does require the dredging up of the most tired and overwrought aspects of the character to get there. There’s a very familiar feel to the setup here. It’s a classic second episode in a Telltale game in that it continues to lay foundations for the shenanigans ahead without adding much to the overall story. Telltale’s remix of Batman’s genesis is the most refreshing thing going on here, but the Bruce Wayne scenes currently remain the stronger half, though this episode strikes a better balance with Bats getting some talky negotiation bits and Bruce getting to do some ass-kicking in the best action scene of the season so far.
Troy Baker continues to be a hit n’ miss affair with handling the dual role of Bruce and The Batman. His everyman voice (which sounds eerily identical to his Booker De Witt) for Bruce fits the character perfectly, bringing an intentional blandness to the delivery (Bruce is supposed to be generic rich man in the eyes of the public of course), but he does flesh Wayne out a little more as he learns some sinister secrets of his family’s past and becomes more conflicted.
Laura Bailey is just perfect for Selina/Catwoman. She just gets the right amount of eye-rolling derision and aggressive seduction into her performance, and is easily the standout.
Elsewhere, Alfred grows a little more spine after a wet nappy of a showing in Realm of Shadows, but it still pales compared to more recent portrayals of the character. Gordon is sadly a bit cardboard cutout, Falcone is, well, Falcone, and the revamped Penguin’s interesting lustre has faded somewhat as his Cockney accent becomes an ear-bleeding rendition of Russell Brand trying to impersonate Captain Jack Sparrow and Danny Dyer simultaneously. It seriously needs to be reined in a bit next time because it’s cringeworthy at times, painful the rest. I also can’t yet buy him as Penguin, as there’s not enough of the character’s history being channelled through this version to really qualify it. I’m wondering if it could have been better, braver maybe, to just create a whole new character for the role, because currently this is not Penguin.
As this episode’s story reaches a crescendo, the anticipation builds to what will be, but In the heat of the moment Children of Arkham goes from being grounded with a fantastical sheen to fully saturated by daft comic book nonsense. There’s room for that of course, but it should always be in keeping with the tone that’s already been established. Here it comes off a bit naff, and damages the potential for intrigue.
Thankfully there are enough strong moments of humanity and morality to carry the episode over the line, and hopefully the time between episodes can be used to balance the direction of the series again. It’s incredibly frustrating to see such promise mishandled like this. The game has enough issues to contend with on the technical side without the writing suffering as well.
So a familiar set of problems for a Telltale game in its infancy then. Some of the key alterations needed before the series is out will no doubt be addressed to some degree (the game was patched for performance after I’d finished this episode), but there will always be a pattern of disappointment if Telltale doesn’t shake things up soon.