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Sunday, 13 August 2017

Telltale Games' Batman: The Enemy Within E1: The Enigma

Telltale Games' Batman: The Enemy Within
Episode 1
The Enigma.

It's no secret that Telltale Games' first Batman-related outing failed to impress me: Not only was it aggressively more of the same (if you've played one Telltale series, you really have played them all), but its story was horribly mishandled and had a terrible tendency towards trampling over canon -- and not in a cool, transformative way, but in a 'rakish, ex-prizefighter Penguin' sort of way.

Well, the bad news is that I'm already predisposed towards not liking this series, either, largely because it was released alongside the reveal that another Tales from the Borderlands isn't on the cards right now. Still, let's do our best to put that aside and, with eyes unclouded by hate, take a good look at Telltale's second Batman series.

Taking place some time after the end of the first series, The Enigma sees Batman contending with Gotham's first super-criminal, who was active back when Bruce was just a child -- the Riddler. With Amanda Waller breathing down his neck, his relationship with Commissioner Gordan strained, and John Doe (the mysterious, white-faced man who helped him at Arkham) released from Arkham, Batman's deadly cat-and-mouse game with the Riddler becomes personal when Lucius Fox is murdered. The game between the two takes Batman through one of Riddler's death traps, and eventually to a boat from which the criminal is planning on launching homing missiles into the city.

Riddler, why do you need a hook-cane.

The gameplay really hasn't changed at all: It's the same smattering of half-hearted point-and-click elements, conversations with choices that don't really matter, and quicktime events. The only major change is that there's now a character relationship system: Your choices shift characters between two relationship states that determine how they act towards Bruce, and which may have story implications later down the line.

(Although not major storyline changes, since it's still Telltale Games.)

Essentially, it's the same consequence system dressed up slightly differently, and maybe with a slightly bigger influence on the game's not-really-branching storyline -- we'll see, I suppose.

Batman's in an -- alliance triangle, I guess? With Gordon and Amanda Waller.

The story, meanwhile, is actually pretty nicely self-contained, while still setting up a longer arc to cover the entire series. The Riddler is introduced in basically the very first scene, and the entire story is about Bruce trying to track down and stop him -- and for all that, it actually feels pretty well-paced, with there being a genuine sense of cat and mouse afoot. I did actually buy that the Riddler was a genuine threat to Bruce, and their climactic confrontation at the end felt well-earned.

There were arc elements brewing in the background, of course: John Doe returns, and is directly implicated in scheming to take the Riddler down; there's a rivalry between Amanda Waller and Jim Gordon; and the end of the episode introduces the crime gang the Riddler founded, led by Harley Quinn, who appears to be less madcap Joker sidekick and more viciously cunning doctor crime lord, with the Joker as her sidekick.

That's actually a change I can get behind, to be honest. It plays with the canon in an interesting way -- certainly more interestingly than rakish ex-prizefighter Penguin, at least.

It was a pretty solid episode, even if Telltale is still sticking firmly in its safe zone of 'basically creating television shows with quicktime events.' Honestly, I know they're never going to change that formula at this point, but I still find myself disappointed every time.

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