Bruce is definitely in way over his head, and it’s only the second episode of Batman: The Enemy Within. After a strong start to the second season of Telltale’s original take on the Dark Knight, as he pitted his wits against the Riddler, he’s now dealing with a much larger threat that he’s almost powerless to do anything about.
What’s fascinating in this episode is how heavily it skews toward having you play as Bruce Wayne as opposed to Batman. It’s a move that does a lot to ramp up the tension as Bruce goes undercover, in a way, trying to ingratiate himself with a gang of villains that any other game would have him simply pummel into submission.
It’s no surprise that John Doe is at the heart of this, but what is surprising is how he’s not actually the Joker yet. All along, from his first appearance in the first season, I’d assumed that he was a Joker reigning himself in, when it truth he’s simply not there yet. I’m still never sure how to handle him in any situation, whether it’s trying to convince him that you’re friends or in the middle of a particularly fraught moment of action. Knowing what he will one day become and being helpless to do anything about it somehow makes it all the more compelling. Every fleeting grin, every cackling laugh, every flash of rage reminds you how close he is to becoming the whirlwind of chaos that the Joker is.
Of course, he’s just one member of the gang, and actually a rather junior one. Again, the strength of this series is how it takes existing characters and reimagines them. Harly Quinn is more traditionally an offshoot from The Joker, as Dr. Harlene Quinzel falls in love with his particular mania, but here it’s flipped upside down as she is the villain more fully formed and overtly dangerous.
She’s really the catalyst that drags Bruce deeper and deeper into the web, with no way out in sight. How much do you pander to her whims? How much do you push back? What of the other members of the gang and the threats they possess? It’s only in a handful of moments that it feels like Bruce is able to really get even a vague grip on the situation, and it’s a refreshing take on the series so far to have him so powerless to do anything but play along. How far will you let him sink into this role?
Telltale have really fine tuned their form of storytelling here, and they make it known just how many of your decisions have been recognised and come to affect the game in some way or other. It can be through small moments of dialogue that acknowledge something from before – though the sit down debrief with Alfred was a bit on the nose there – or simply with the expanded end screen that shows how each main character feels about your actions now, in addition to showing the five key turning points and how other players dealt with them.
Dig beneath the veneer though, and it does feel like many of these decisions are going to be somewhat inconsequential. Certainly, I’ve come to realise just how lenient action sequences are with long timing and the ability to miss a number of prompts before the game will let you fail, and when I know I’m along for the ride with Harley, John Doe and the gang, I’m not all that sure how far I can derail the cart with my choices.
This is almost certainly the best that Telltale’s game engine has looked yet, but there’s still some rough edges to the presentation. Facial animations can have a lot more nuance and detail to them, but some work could still be done in blending animations together in general. Sadly, playing on a high specced PC, I encountered quite a few hitches and stutters when switching from one shot to the next, and the first episode was much smoother in that regard.
I’m really enjoying The Enemy Within so far, after a strong opener and now a second episode that drags Bruce further than ever before, and strips him of any real sense of control over the situation. How deep does the rabbit hole go? Quite a bit deeper if the climactic twist is anything to go by…