The excellent premiere episode of Batman- The Telltale Series offered a healthy dose of surprises and twists on the usual Caped Crusader mythos. With the second episode of the season, it was up to Telltale to prove they could continue forward as confidently as they started. Maintaining the focus on Bruce Wayne instead of the masked vigilante, the episode does just that. Children of Arkham is a fitting, if unambitious follow up.
Episode 2 sees Bruce reeling from the news that his family had ties to the Gotham mob. Questioning everything he knew about his family, he spends much of the episode doing what he can to get answers. Even while his search continues however, Oswald Cobblepot, The Penguin, starts making the first moves in his ‘revolution’ with a group called the Children of Arkham.
Through its hour and twenty-minute runtime, Children of Arkham packs plenty of shocks. Freed from the strictures of continuity, Telltale is able to stretch and explore their narrative in imaginative ways, giving even long time fans something new. The Children of Arkham are an intriguing villain, made all the more personal and poignant due to those freedoms. Likewise, Telltale’s iconic big decisions are made even more devastating as you are forced to choose the fates of those that are usually thought of as integral Batman characters.
As far as those characters go, Penguin and Catwoman in particular continue to be highlights, with Cobblepot’s charismatic brand of crazy and Selena’s seductive confidence both a joy to interact with. The changes to Penguin are still welcome wrinkles to the norm. Instead of just being a weird mobster like so many Batman stories portray him, Telltale gives Copplepot more motivation and a sick sort of logic to his crimes. Meanwhile, actors Troy Baker and Laura Bailey manage fantastic chemistry as Bruce and Selena, sizzling in every scene between ‘the Cat and the Bat.’
The core of the game is shaping up to be the player’s struggle against public perception. With the Wayne family name getting dragged through the dirt, and Batman just coming on to the scene, it’s up to the player how you want each to be perceived. Maintaining the public images of both personas is an intriguing balancing act, especially as things get even more interesting and you are given the choice to go interrogate someone as Bruce Wayne or as Batman. Though there isn’t much of a pay-off for keeping the trust of the media or the police so far, the promise of consequences down the road is enough for now.
Overall, the issues of the pilot do make a return however. Unnecessarily long load times, a few stuttering animations, and even a game crash during my two playthroughs of the episode all make up the technical problems players have unfortunately been forced to expect from Telltale games.
Aside from the technical concerns, the stop-and-go slow motion of the combat continues to be is just as present. Thanks to much more entertaining choreography this time around however, the pacing of the fights is less of an issue than it was in Episode 1. As is the case with all of Telltale’s fights, it is left to the momentum of the scene to carry the player over the fact that you are simply keying in often-unnecessary button prompts as a fight plays out in the background. And simply put, Children of Arkham manages this much better than the premiere.
Sadly, the investigative side of Batman doesn’t fare as well. While the first episode saw you link pieces of evidence together to create conclusions in a simple crime scene investigation, Episode 2 doesn’t even go that far. Despite multiple, rich opportunities begging for even a rudimentary puzzle, all of Batman’s investigations play out as a cutscene after clicking on a specific point. Analyzing and comparing chemicals on the Batcomputer, hunting down a radio signal, and even hacking into a buildings security cameras could all have involved the act of actually figuring something out, but ultimately are actions you see completed for you.
To be fair, Telltale hasn’t incorporated puzzle elements into their games in a long time, but putting players in the shoes of the great detective without including at least a couple puzzles feels hollow. Even the Arkham games, essentially stylish brawlers, found a way to incorporate the character’s intelligence into the gameplay. Each missed opportunity doesn’t take away from the intrigue and fun of the narrative portions, but they do make it that much harder to really place yourself in the role of Bruce Wayne.
Even without puzzles though, Children of Arkham is another great chapter in Telltale’s Batman story. With surprises and dire consequences beginning to mount, things are shaping up well for the three remaining episodes. If Telltale can iron out some of the technical issues and place a little more emphasis on the intellectual side of Bruce Wayne, there could be quite a lot to look forward to.