Note: This will contain spoilers for Telltale’s Batman Season One. You have been warned.
Telltale’s Batman reminded me why I fell in love with the character. While many have become acclimated to the studio’s formula for storytelling–mostly cutscenes full of dialogue options, quick-time events, big decisions with lasting consequences, etc.–it is that very structure that helped breathe life into a character and universe that I believe has strayed too far away from its core in recent years. The entire first season was a great dressing down of Bruce Wayne’s motivations and his alliances, a devious twist to his origin story, brought in an original threat in the form of the Children of Arkham, and allowed for a version of the Dark Knight that could hold up against any of the prior incarnations
While Batman: The Enemy Within gets off to a decent start, continuing plot threads and character dynamics from before, I can’t help but shake the feeling that by adding in more iconic characters from the comics, things are becoming more predictable.
Who Do You Trust?
Episode One: The Enigma begins one year after the events of season one with the return of a deranged terrorist known as The Riddler. Originally part of the criminal empire lead by Bruce Wayne’s father, the enigmatic egotist has returned to Gotham City in order to re-establish himself as the head of the criminal empire with his own brand of puzzle-themed death traps.
Naturally, Batman and the GCPD are out to stop him but things become problematic with the introduction of The Agency, led by Amanda Waller, who appears to have a history with The Riddler. Things eventually come to the head with Batman having to solve the mystery of a puzzle box left behind that can have the secret to saving hundreds of lives, but in order to find answers, he may have to make uneasy alliances.
That last part is particularly dicey because it is the entire crux of the episode. Bruce Wayne loses trust with other characters, has his allegiance with friends tested and is tempted with making deals with devils he doesn’t know like the authoritarian Amanda Waller and the deranged but not entirely unhinged proto-Joker, John Doe.
Darker But Shallower
The spirit of what I loved about season one is still here. Bruce Wayne being more considerate of his actions both in and out of the batsuit, long-term decisions coming to roost like Alfred developing a form of post-traumatic stress, and the absolute confidence to not treat certain elements of the established Batman canon with delicate reverence all while retaining their fundamental core.
This is epitomized in a sequence halfway through the episode when a funeral takes place. Depending on how you choose to compose Bruce Wayne leaves multiple characters’ attitudes towards him and his alter ego dramatically changed for better and for worse.
But it is the sequences with the Riddler where things start to get dicey. On the one hand, Robin Atkin Downes’ portrayal of the character is fantastic. The Riddler is one of my favorite Batman villains and his version of the character is just the right combination of clever and narcissistic to be taken as both a physical and cerebral threat.
But in terms of tone, they basically turn him into a puzzle-themed riff on the Jigsaw killer. Solve my puzzles quickly or you’ll die horribly. Granted, it’s a more gruesome and visceral version of what Rocksteady could only imply from Batman: Arkham City, but it’s a dark change that could have easily been balanced out with some more head games and blackmail than just one-note manslaughter. This does lead to a pretty fantastic escape sequence involving Batman and Commissioner Gordon, but once the mysterious puzzle box is solved and the threat revealed, his part in the season is basically over. For a character seen as a great schemer and long-term planner, it just doesn’t sit right.
This concern also feeds into the overarching threat of Batman: The Enemy Within. As if the title hasn’t already alluded to it, it seems to be a combination of the more ruthless overbearing oversight by Amanda Waller’s Agency, and a secret cabal of other dangerous criminals that have returned to Gotham to fill the power vacuum left behind by the absence of the Falcones, Mayor Hill, and Bruce Wayne rejecting the family trade. On the one hand, this could lead to more dramatic encounters with both dialogue and fisticuffs and is a proper escalation of threats. But after the very personal and bold direction the first season took with the material, this change feels safer and less interesting. At least for now, there are four episodes left to go after all.
If you still enjoy Telltale Games’ style and loved their version of the Caped Crusader as much as I have, then you will find plenty to enjoy in Batman: The Enemy Within. The stakes are higher, your relationships and choices will be challenged, and while they’re mostly around for show, the Quick-Time Event action sequences are serviceable for moving the plot forward. Import your save, don the cowl, and see how you will protect Gotham.