August promises to be the most crowded month in an already crowded year for Telltale fans. The following weeks will bring about new episodes for both Minecraft: Story Mode and Guardians of the Galaxy, but the barrage is being kicked off with the second season premiere of their take on the Dark Knight.
Featuring the mouthful title Batman: The Enemy Within – Episode 1: The Enigma, this installment continues to do unusual things with the Batman mythos… and that’s about the only reason to play it. Telltale has been arguably treading water since their 2012 breakout The Walking Dead, latching onto whatever IPs it can find to keep its patented “social balancing act” gameplay afloat, and revisiting a previous setting like this shows just how stale the formula is becoming.
This franchise was always a perfect fit for Telltale’s methods – the title character has a built-in duality to play off of, and the usual complaints that the quick time event-laced gameplay is too easy are immediately quashed with the explanation that you’re the goddamn Batman. But thematically appropriate doesn’t mean entertaining, and the easy gameplay featured here is so easy that it would actually make for a better experience if it were removed entirely.
The detective sequences introduced in the debut season – wherein players link two found pieces of evidence together to form a complete scenario – return here, and one of them literally contains only two connectable nodes. Obviously, a puzzle that’s meant to actually stump the player would undermine their role as the World’s Greatest Detective, but mysteries with the complexity of a button press seem like wasted talent.
This fear of intellectual challenge makes the choice of the Riddler as a new antagonist rather baffling. The plot description for the series states outright that the villain is basically a prelude to the rest of the season, and it’s not kidding. The Riddler is woefully underused here, offering no character complexities, and only two actual riddles to be solved in the entire episode.
On the other hand, his impact on the plot and the Joker’s teased re-imagining are two of the most fascinating narrative shakeups to be found in comic book video games. Still, untapped potential is a recurring issue here; there’s a token stealth scene where players must time Batman’s movement to avoid the gaze of a guard…once. It feels as mechanical as it sounds.
It’s frustrating that The Enigma feels so stagnant and slapdash, because its foundation is more reliable than ever. It’s very clear that Telltale has spent several games honing their craft. Their trademark living comic book visuals look spectacular as always, and the cinematography and voice acting (two things that carry more weight in a game as film-like as this) are both excellent.
Most importantly, their ability to present agonizing choices with meaningful consequences hasn’t been dulled in the slightest. Of course, “meaningful consequences” is a bit of a loaded phrase. While it’s true that player decisions probably won’t seriously divert the plot of future episodes, the immediately sympathetic characters and the story’s demonstrated willingness to break the status quo make many of the branching options feelsignificant.
Given this, you likely won’t be surprised to hear that the script is very strong, especially since it needs to remain coherent regardless of player choices. Unfortunately, it’s also let down by frequent “as you know” dialogue and a habit of telling when it should be showing. The basic Telltale adventure game framework is also noticeably weaker from a technical perspective. Many of the quick-time events are clunky and immersion-breaking, often bringing back memories of the motion controls in third-party Wii titles, especially those that require mouse input or multiple simultaneous key presses. Still, I still prefer these instances to the pseudo-QTEs that demand a single key press in order to walk, as if the game doesn’t trust the audience to choose the right direction.
Telltale may have earned its following by introducing a sense of urgency and relevance to the point-and-click genre, but after countless reiterations of that sense over the last five years, it’s not enough on its own. Without a new setting or mechanics, Batman: The Enemy Within – Episode 1: The Enigma struggles to find a purpose, which doesn’t bode well for the remaining four episodes scheduled for release in the coming months. The drama that it presents and sets up for the future is enticing, but everything aside from that is too shallow to warrant a recommendation.