Telltale Games has made a name for itself by taking existing universes, carving out their own section, and telling a unique story within it. They’ve done this successfully in some of the biggest franchises of today, such as The Walking Dead and Borderlands, though they’ve also faltered in this method as of late, like with Game of Thrones. While they’ve tackled major, AAA franchises before, Batman: The Telltale Series likely represents their biggest yet, having to tell a story with one of the most recognized characters of all time. Thankfully, they do so quite successfully over the first two episodes, but technical issues mar an otherwise stellar experience.
Telling even a halfway original Batman story is practically impossible. The character has been around for decades and has been rebooted so many times that few can keep count. There are also tons of side stories that take place in sort of pocket universes, allowing creators to take the character in whatever direction they wish. Some have been successful, while others were disasters. Telltale has so far remained on the successful side of this delicate balance.
Batman: The Telltale Series makes the very brilliant decision to focus almost the same amount of time on Bruce Wayne as it does Batman. This was true in the first episode, and it is true once again in Episode 2 – “Children of Arkham”. In fact, the first episode had the majority of its most important and dramatic moments centered around Bruce Wayne, and this continues into Episode 2.
This series has already shown that it can live up to the Caped Crusader’s best adventures
The mysteries surrounding the Wayne family take center stage in Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 2 “Children of Arkham”. Bruce has just learned what seems like a dark family secret, tainting his past, and reshaping his conception of himself and his entire family. Digging deeper into this, he meets up with Catwoman, with your decisions shaping how their relationship forms and plays out over the episode. After some detective work, the real villain of the series seems to take shape, but as danger gets closer and Gotham is thrown into chaos, Bruce will have to confront his past, as well as a powerful new foe.
Fitting nicely into the mythos that surrounds the Batman, this series has already shown that it can live up to the Caped Crusader’s best adventures. We, of course, need to wait for the whole thing for a true assessment, but if there was any doubt that Telltale could take on the Dark Knight, it was squashed in Episode 1 and forgotten in this second iteration. They simply get the character, understanding how his past has shaped him, and how his dual personalities play off against each other. One of the best moment in Episode 2 is when you have to decide whether to confront someone as Batman or as Bruce Wayne, with the interaction playing out very differently depending on this choice.
Surprisingly, I found myself much more entertained by the Bruce segments, as they rely more on the dialogue choices that Telltale does so well. Sure, they might not reshape the story in significant ways, but they do allow you to craft your own version of Bruce and Batman, making them tougher, nicer, or more subtle in whatever way you wish. Conversely, Batman sections relied on the quicktime events that work well with the narrative structure, but are still not all that gripping or entertaining. At best they present you with situations that get your pulse pounding, but failures usually just result in a quick restart, and retry.
Salvaging this is the fantastic direction of the action sequences, with really cool setpieces delivering enjoyable moments. The big addition that Batman: The Telltale Series adds to the usual formula is that Batman can plan out his attacks, setting up action sequences that take out multiple foes at the same time. It’s cool to plan out, but most choices are pretty limited, and inconsequential. Still, the action here is better than in most Telltale games, so an overall improvement.
What doesn’t really work is the new engine. Batman: The Telltale Series debuted the updated engine that Telltale had been touting for some time. If you’ve read our review of previous games from the developer, you know that the engine had been straining to keep up with modern expectations. The new engine helps a lot, with significantly improved visual quality, but there’s still a long way to go here.
First off, the PC port is a bit of a mess. Vsync was a huge issue, with screen tearing becoming quite jarring. I eventually worked around this and got it to clear up, but it required fiddling with my machine’s settings outside of the game itself. More universal, the Xbox One controller settings have been broken for a while now. The triggers are somehow swapped, and some actions that require specific button combos simply don’t work. I actually had to switch between my controller and my mouse/keyboard setup just to avoid dying at a couple of spots. On top of this are some of the usual animation and audio glitches that have become all too common in Telltale’s games. They seem less common than before, but they do still come up and are always disruptive to the immersion of the game.
These technical issues are a problem, but they are less so than before thanks to the updated engine. Fans of the developer will be pleased with the improvements overall, while lamenting that more should have been done. The game looks great at least, though animation hasn’t been upgraded as much as the textures and effects have been. Telltale has a ways to go, but this is a nice first step.
Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 2 “Children of Arkham” continues perfectly off of the stellar first episode. The action is tight, the dialogue is engaging, and the characters are all fantastically acted and scripted. Fans of Batman and/or Telltale will be very pleased with the direction that this series is going. However, technical problems still create headaches, though they might be lesser for some players depending on the system they play on and the setup they have. Hopefully Telltale can clear those up soon, so that Batman: The Telltale Series can truly live up to its already great potential.