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Batman: The Telltale Series Episode Two: Children Of Arkham Review

“There are no angels in Gotham” admits Alfred Pennyworth as Bruce Wayne learns that his illustrious family fortune was built on a foundation of lies. In the second episode of Telltale’s choose your own adventure Batman series, a conspiracy threaded throughout Bruce Wayne’s life comes realised through the decisions of us, well Batman, but mostly us.

Where the Arkham games had you controlling the fists and gadgets of a Batman reminiscent of Christian Nolan’s brutish and verbally limited caped crusader, the Telltale series gives you everything you’ve ever wanted from a Batman game - a semblance of agency.

As the game’s title sequence of comic covers through the ages suggests, Batman’s character has undergone some serious transformations over the last 70 years. From the camp adventures of Bob Kane’s original creations through the more disturbing Keaton years and the more recent emotionally damaged and wrought storylines, depending on your age, you’ll have a very clear idea of who and what Batman is.

Telltale’s series puts you at the helm of the cowl and, with clear references to each era of Wayne’s characters, gives you the ability to make decisions according to what Batman you want to play.

For me, Bruce Wayne is Batman. His drive for righteousness overrules any emotional attachments and is willing to die for the city that acted as ward to him, for better or worse. The game, for the most part, allows me to exercise my somewhat callous version of Bruce that, by my forcing, uses the word ‘justice’ as much as humanly possible. It fails, however, to fully capture the foresight and detective omniscience that gives Batman his edge as a non-super super.

The story makes up for this character fault with its portrayal of Gotham. Visually, the harbour city is painted in a bleak palette we’ve come to know, rife in criminal activity and corruption. Helplessness grows organically throughout the story because, like every other person in Gotham, Bruce is just a pawn in a much larger skirmish of betrayal and historical conflict.

To avoid spoilers I’ll be as vague as I can about the events in both episode one and this installment. The story (at least my version of the story) finds Bruce stripped of his public reputation and the Wayne legacy unravelling fast as the mayoral election between Harvey Dent and Hamilton Hill reaches a precipice.

For Batman fans, this isn’t a story we haven’t read or seen before. Bruce, too involved for his own good, is required to make choices that either compromise his family’s name or his Batman moniker.

What Telltale do with this story is give the continuity serious malleability while maintaining that Batman flair. The episode even contains a sequence of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s death in Crime Alley, pearls dropping and all, without it feeling played out. In fact, this twist on the events we’ve seen a hundred times before tactilely opens the door for some seriously intriguing Batman storylines that Telltale will hopefully take full advantage of in future installments.

So let’s talk combat. The series uses simple quicktime events combining a lenient timing system with directional cues to drive fight scenes forward but the simplicity is for good reason.

The choreographing behind these fights is sublime. As Bruce or Batman whip through reams of hired goons, the tactility and realism pops with adrenaline I haven’t felt since the 90s Batman The Animated Series.

Unlike the Arkham games where Bats can effortlessly hurl his body across 20ft gaps, roundhousing bad guys in the neck, Telltale depicts brawls with a keen sense of spacial awareness and smooth physicality. So much so that it forgives the constipated walking animations most characters suffer from - maybe there’s something tainting Gotham’s water supply?

One particular highlight sees an unmasked Bruce and Selina Kyle take down a dive-bar worth of grunts with orchestrated ease. It feels theatrical but the churlish joy of watching a Bruce Wayne in joggers unleash some justice on bikers will never fail to satisfy. Even if stuttering frame rates distract from the immersion.

Where the episode does falter is in the occasional and brief remote technology sequences. One drone-based segment has you tracking down the source of a radio signal on a virtual map of Gotham from the Batcave. Not only is this a menial task but it closes the door on the potential for the fantastic crime-scene analysis sections that we saw in the first episode.

But rest assured, all paths inevitably lead to the cowl. That is, if you favour the more aggressive option to getting your questions answered. The episode does, at one point, give you the option to either suit up or take the more diplomatic approach as Bruce Wayne. These choices hugely affect not only how the story unfolds from that point on, but the intelligent interactions between characters independent of Bruce.

Episode Two lacks the major action sequences of the first installment but sets the table for some really diverse storytelling coming in Episode Three. For any comic readers, there have already been numerous callbacks to Scott Snyder’s ‘Court of Owls’ storyline but with the option of exploring some darker routes in Bruce’s backstory, it’d be shortsighted for the Telltale writers to settle entirely for the ‘Gotham Illuminati’ plotline.

In terms of replay value, the crowd-play feature where you and your friends can control Bruce’s choices via your smart-devices is a fun novelty but doesn’t offer the quality experience of placing your own consciousness behind the mask. In most it cases, it’ll result in people dropping off halfway through and talking about how much they hated Batman V Superman since, for all its dramatic moments, Episode Two is a slow-burner until the last chapter.

Personally, I’m steering clear of reviewing my choices for further content and to see how the events could have turned out. I plan to bear the burden of my decisions and all the horrors that may be in store for me, like the real Batman would.


Will Butler | @QuesaWilla

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