When I played the first episode of Telltale’s Batman series, I said the seeds were there for an interesting take on Bruce Wayne, but I was slightly worried about the retreading of the Bat’s tired origin story. Well, Telltale kind of go in full force on this from the get go with Episode 2 - Children of Arkham, retreading the Waynes’ death along with some heavy-handed moralism over money and corruption.
These days Batman is so ubiquitous that it takes something quite special to stand out from the legions of comics, TV shows, movies and other games. Taking us back to the scenes of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murder is most definitely not the way to do this. I’m starting to dread this is the primary focus of the entire season. Fortunately it does make way for a more interesting tale by the time the credits roll.
A number of familiar villains begin to rear their heads in Children of Arkham, although longtime Batman fans may balk at the some of the liberties Telltale has taken with the established canon (for what it’s worth). One in particular involving Carmine Falcone basically flips what we know on its head. So if you are a long time fan, you will have to head in with an open and brave mind.
A lot of the more interesting moments again occur when you’re playing as Bruce rather than Batman. He’s trying to spin a lot of plates at the same time - investigating his own father’s corruption, his cat and mouse interplay with Selina Kyle, the shady goings on of Oswald Cobblepot and a deadly weaponized virus. This lends to interesting scenarios, but things take a turn for the worst when you don the suit and QTE your way through actions scenes. This style of games just doesn’t itself well to it, particularly when the fail states are so apparent and obnoxious.
Moment to moment gameplay is business as usual in Episode 2 - Children of Arkham. Telltale seem intent on stripping away more and more of its mechanics with each successive game, and there’s precious few opportunities in this episode to, you know, adventure. Most scenes progress after you click on the two or three designated spots of interest before churning into a conversation cut-scene and responding to multiple choice decisions.
Each time Telltale tries to do some minute twists on this which don’t really add anything in truth, such as using a beeping scanner on a map to trace a signal and find a location. It isn’t challenging in any way. It isn’t really a puzzle either, to be honest, it’s just dressed up as one.
This disappointment extends to Batman's performance. By now I have to throw the towel in and admit that, finally, the technical issues with Telltale games are really beginning to grate.I overlooked it for the most part during the first episode. At the end of one particularly long conversation Batman abruptly crashed. Another time during an action sequence. The animations are all wonky. The lip synching is out. I mean, this is game that’s less than two hours long, you’d think Telltale would have the basics down by now.
Batman is supposed to be on an all new, upgraded game engine but you’d hard pressed to tell. Different faces, same problem. Yeah, so that’s beginning to wear me down. I’ve normally been very forgiving of Telltale over the years but I guess we all have our breaking points.
It’s easy to come away from the episode feeling like you’ve had a negative experience, but I don’t feel it needs to be like that. With a spot of tidying and polishing the rough edges Telltale is more than capable of delivering a TV-esque serial experience, particularly with source material as strong as this. Taken on its own it’s a decently entertaining episode. Nothing groundbreaking or spectacular, but a decent parallel of a show like Gotham. Stacked up on top of a string of disappointing performance issues though it’s becoming more difficult to take. It comes across as very low budget in this day and age, particularly for those who’ve played the likes of Until Dawn. That’s a game which absolute nails this style of episodic, choice-driven gaming and the new bar for Telltale to meet. For now, I can only hope this season of Batman can elevate itself to a far greater level than the first two episodes let on.