If you read my review for Telltale’s Batman Episode One, or listened to our spoilercast, or saw me on Twitter, or whatever: you know I liked it. It goes without saying. I wanted to try something different with the serialized reviews for this series, so something to keep in mind: these reviews are best viewed if you’ve played the episode in question, as well as the previous episodes. I mean, it kind of goes without saying, but I may touch on some topics uncovered in the episode I’m reviewing, so just keep that in mind. I think it’s fair to give warning.
That being said… Review!
Coming off of catching Falcone in the last episode, Telltale had set up their year two Batman in an interesting light: are the Wayne’s really squeaky clean? How deep does this go? Where does The Penguin play into this? A lot of great questions for a cool setup, and I think it’ll be interesting where they go moving forward, but for now, Children of Arkham is making moves to be its own Batman story.
The main thrust of this episode was the reveal that the Wayne’s were by no means angels, and that the reality is there are no angels in Gotham. Opening the episode with a clever reenactment of the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne works here, because Telltale sets out to create their own Batman lore, with no compromises either. Thomas Wayne was murdered via mob hit because he was in bed with the wrong people.
I typically draw issue with making the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne not just an ordinary mugging. The point of it being a mugging means that no one is above a petty crime, and it affects everyone in Gotham. In a lot of ways, it gives Batman purpose, so as to prevent even the most brushed off crime, like a mugging. But hey, conspiracy and corruption is also a pretty big problem in Gotham, so I’m going in with an open mind. They justified it well with connections to characters like Mayor Hamilton Hill and Carmine Falcone, and specifically didn’t resolve it here in episode two. I imagine the thruline of the entire season will be how deep the Wayne corruption goes, and on face value, that’s super interesting and generally untreated water for Batman stories.
But there are two central focuses here, and aside from whether or not the Waynes were truly corrupt, the other is definitely Catwoman. Several decisions in this episode revolve around Bruce and Selina, both in their suits and out, and once again the non-Batman fight sequence in this episode turned out to be maybe the more compelling. Selina Kyle proves immediately engaging since there is no disconnect with her relationship with Bruce: she knows who he is, and he knows who she is. I loved all the interactions between the two, and as Troy Baker and Laura Bailey have proved in past Telltale Games, the on-screen chemistry is top notch.
But choices were really the highlight of Children of Arkham, particularly being given the ability to approach something as either Bruce Wayne or Batman. That dynamic, the different feel and nature of Bruce versus Batman, and how ultimately similar the two are is the cornerstone of the series. Where last episode succeeded in exhibiting pressure on Bruce in his personal life, not knowing if his secret was loose, the second episode pulls in the two directions in a completely different way, and that very same pressure is ever-present. It’s excellent, and feels like a natural escalation of the choices set before the player previously.
The culmination of the episode is a climactic “Batman” scene with The Penguin making his big move. Without entirely ruining it for those who still haven’t seen it, Telltale’s Penguin stands to be the absolute best he has ever been, with charisma and intimidation spilling out in spades, while also maintaining some remnant feeling of the Penguin of yore. It’s awesome, and the final scene here feels like, for Batman, the first real appearance of a Super Villain, and Batman being completely unprepared for that. It gets away from the gangster-centric vibe the initial episode introduced, but again felt like a very natural inclusion and escalation. It makes this a bread and butter Batman story.
As a general “is Telltale’s engine still a mess” update, the answer is a very general yes. The first quarter of the episode chugged like hell for me on PlayStation 4, and it definitely raises plenty of concerns. Anytime a cursor was on screen within that first section, the frame rate chugged down to a jittery mess. These issues faded out by the end of the episode, and didn’t really hinder my experience through any of the action scenes, but like I said, it raises concern. If it continues to be an issue, or more importantly, begins impacting the actual experience of the story, it’ll be reflected in future reviews.
Every move Telltale makes in Children of Arkham impresses. Telltale feels like their forming Batman in a unique and powerfully different direction. They care about their story, and the twists and turns really make the player feel like they have a say in whatever Bruce Wayne/Batman will end up being. Technical problems definitely worry me, but the setup is there, marked by some of Telltale’s best binary choices ever.