Review: Batman: The Enemy Within

On the back of their successful first season of Batman, Telltale Games brings the Dark Knight back in a fuller and more fleshed out experience, adding The Enemy Within to their ever increasing catalogue of licensed adventure games. With a longer roster of characters on display and a more nuanced performance from the world’s greatest detective, there is something here for everyone.

Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also Available On: PlayStation 4, PC, iOS, Android
Release Date: Available Now

Straight off the bat, Telltale have done an OK job personifying some of the more creative and larger than life characters in Gotham’s rouge gallery. Compared to Season 1’s different interpretation of The Penguin and the introduction of a newly conceived villain, season 2 is playing it straight down the line with more standard and recognisable adaptions of a loosely cobbled together Suicide Squad, otherwise known as The Pact, that includes Harley Quinn, Bane and Mr. Freeze, with The Joker aka John Doe tagging along for good measure.

This is not the best back-story or introduction to who and what The Joker is. Over 5 episodes, Telltale would like you to believe that The Enemy Within shows a truly emotive tale of how John Doe becomes The Joker, however this is largely left till the final act in Episode 5, with the previous 4 episodes doing little except to expose a snivelling, groveling fan-boy Joker who is both highly immature and perhaps, as the game allows, the nicest version of the character to date.

This allows for you as the player & Batman/Bruce Wayne to have some influence over how The Joker turns out, and compared to more traditional medium as in the comics and TV, this is a unique twist in the cannon as The Enemy Within gives way to the ‘frenemy’ and potential ally that will become an anarchist, or terrorist or some mix of the two in the larger world.

Ironically, it’s the TV show Gotham that, in the same month has revealed and created one of the most watchable and interesting versions of the Joker or proto-Joker to date, that has callbacks to the original 1960’s series right through to the modern comics that have themselves revealed to have 3 different Jokers in the DC Universe cannon.

On the other side, Telltale have fleshed out the story somewhat from the first season with less twists and turns but more choices within the gray to bounce back and forth with in regards to dialogue and actions.

As a ‘text based’ adventure with quick time actions and a lot of dialogue, The Enemy Within places Bruce Wayne as Batman within a few different triangles to navigate. The Agency, led by Amanda Waller, is introduced to lock Gotham City down in the wake of a terrorist attack by The Riddler. Bruce is sent in undercover to align himself with The Riddler’s cohorts and figure out what is going on. Add to this juggling act, your relationship with Commissioner Gordon versus Waller, Lucius Fox’s daughter and whatever is going on with Alfred in the Bat Cave plus the return of Selina Kyle and suddenly there is a lot going on!

This is perhaps where Telltale have faltered in creating an episodic game over so many months, stuffed with so many tropes. While in season 1, it literally felt like freshman year of college with a basic love triangle of Cat Woman, Harvey Dent and Bruce framed around the relationship with The Penguin – The Enemy Within is all over the place. Telltale suffers still from having 5 episodes that feel overly long, especially when released over two different years, and yet each individually: episodes feels rushed, on rails and rather short to complete.

 

In the intervening years, other developers have come along with episodic games including Life is Strange, setting a new benchmark for how to tell an adult story within only 3 or so episodes that are each longer but more interactive, defined and coherent. The Enemy Within, in this regard, is par for the course for Telltale.

The first and last episodes The Enigma and Same Stitch are arguably the best, with most of the revelations and resetting of character arcs, cannon and resolutions. The middle 3 could have been easily resolved into 2 or even one longer episode as Bruce Wayne, not Batman, navigates the seedy underbelly of Harley Quinn’s intentions, and as the ever present playboy persona, a really awkward love…square; between a dominating, sex-teased Quinn, doe-eyed John Doe, Cat Woman and himself.

Graphically, Telltale continue the tone set with Season 1, with clean edges, cell shaded graphics and flat colourful textures. If players are familiar with the other series, specifically Guardian of The Galaxy and Tales of the Borderlands, then there aren’t many surprises. The game runs smoothly, with minimal issues or frame-rate drops as would be expected, although has not always been the case, with Telltale notoriously churning out so many episodes in such little time.

While the cartoon visuals, darker shadows and neon highlights are suitable for a Batman and cartoon property, it is a shame that Telltale doesn’t double down on the potential of violence, blood or grittiness that pervades most of the comics and Gotham in general. Season 1 felt very similar to The Wolf Among Us, except with less noir elements and it only compounded the feeling that this version of Batman is a post-teenager/early 20’s inexperienced vigilante. The lack of seriousness in some of the story, the over-reliance on sexual attraction and love triangles is not changed much in The Enemy Within.

Further to this, Telltale have upped the details in regards to the modelling of characters and yet for a game based on quick decisions and emotional manipulation, the characters are hardly emotive. For The Joker and Harley Quinn especially, Telltale would do well to work on facial animation and inflection lest their characters become wooden and boring. Visually, all the familiar faces are on point, except for Harley Quinn and a much aged Riddler that has a contrived backstory and again, much like The Penguin, is changed for no reason. Quinn in general is serviceable and yet lacks an edge or a seriousness, in fact any charm consistent with her character.

Similarly, the final reveal of The Joker is going to be divisive, if not somewhat silly and pretentious in its design, more akin to a cosplaying fanboy of Batman than their own character and person. It wouldn’t have hurt if Telltale borrowed from their own flagship franchise The Walking Dead which has proved over so many seasons that they can create a much darker, adult, mature and bloody game within their engine.

As a whole, Season 2 has felt dragged out, with some of the novel game-play from Season 1; such as the detective mode and finding and linking clues, reduced and replaced with more action oriented quick time battles and fights. If not, Bruce will now just wander around The Pacts den or the Bat Cave talking to people and generally trying to play them off each other. Controlling conversations, such as they are, still feels like being back in the school yard – talk to someone, get some information on them, then go to someone else and leverage that information to make them hate the first person before going back to the first person to watch it all play out, before changing your mind pretending you had nothing to do with it.

More Batman is always a good thing
A fresh take on the origins of The Joker
Graphics are clean and polished
Season feels overly long
Forgettable plot and writing is boring
Overly stuffed with too many competing storylines

Ultimately Batman is the flavour of the month over at Telltale Games, and if players don’t like it then there is no shortage of other titles and properties to play. Personally, there is enough interest in the franchise and the characters to keep me engaged and playing through all 5 chapters. Telltale haven’t done anything new in regards to the genre of game, but if you are looking for quick bite sized interactive stories on the go then The Enemy Within might be the one.

It would be biased to say, that I wish Telltale make a 3rd season when others like Game of Thrones and The Wolf Among Us are sitting on 1 each, but until the next licensing agreement is made, Batman is the definitive Telltale story for me.

The review copy of this title was purchased by the author.
Official Game Site

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