If there’s one thing that writers seem unable to resist, it’s trying to retell the origin story of a superhero. How many times do we need to see Uncle Ben being gunned down in New York? How often has young Bruce had to see Thomas and Martha Wayne murdered before his eyes? These are pivotal and defining moments for these characters, underscoring their later virtue with personal tragedy and regrets, but they’ve been told so often now that they really don’t need to be told again.
Unless you can genuinely add something new, that is. While it was still somewhat heavy handed at times, I felt that the first episode of Batman – The Telltale Series actually skirted around Batman’s origins quite well. Yes, this is clearly the character towards the start of his crime fighting career, but you only saw his family’s deaths in how it still haunts him and defines him. The second episode, Children of Arkham, makes no such efforts, but delves into this moment with a notable twist. Thomas Wayne in this game series is quite a drastically different character compared to many versions of the Batman story.
It’s really his actions that have brought the current emerging crisis into the foreground for Batman, but more importantly, there’s an emotional toll on Bruce Wayne, as his business empire is brought into question and his name is smeared by the press. As a character, he’s backed further and further into a particular corner, while a whirlwind of chaos starts to unfurl and threaten to engulf Gotham.
As always with Telltale games, there’s a difficult balancing act between doing the right thing and juggling your relationships with various other characters. For a very morally just character like Batman, that makes certain decisions a lot easier, disappointing Vicki Vale as she hunts for another scoop in an effort to do right by Harvey Dent, whose mayoral campaign it is you’re backing.
In fact, by pushing Bruce’s character and the Wayne family to the forefront, you get to play politics an awful lot more. It’s not just Bats dealing out vigilante justice for a few hours, but encourages, no, forces you to delve into the murky grey areas. It’s no coincidence that Catwoman, ever the moral vagrant, features quite heavily in this episode and plays a key role in some of the major decision points.
All that said about playing as Bruce, one of my favourite moments from the first episode was an actual crime scene investigation as Batman, picking on all the possible clues in the scene and then piecing them together to paint a picture of the series of events that transpired in that dark and dingy warehouse. Sadly, where I would have like Telltale to build upon that idea here, they’ve put it to one side for this episode, drawing on the powers of the bat computer in one or two other ways to add a little variety to the main thrust of the story.
There are other minor failings in the game as well. The graphics do look good, with character faces seeing a lot more detail behind the comic book stylings and some fantastic film noir inspired scenery and lighting, but the thick black edges that come in and out as characters move around can be a little distracting. Similarly, where some fight sequences are semlessly acrobatic, there’s then the jarring points where they’re merely good enough.
And then there’s the little things that nag at me. Bruce Wayne still wears that one, admittedly very smart, dinner suit at unusual times, and his attempts at going incognito are quite laughable for a supposed detective genius – he is called out on this, but it’s still damned silly.
These moments do little to detract from what is a strong second episode that rattles along at a fast pace and includes no shortage of surprises and reveals. And now that we know what the Children of Arkham in the title refers to, I’m definitely looking forward to the third.