When I reviewed the first episode of Batman: A Telltale Series I basically said that it was flawed but had potential for future episodes. Now that the second has rolled out I can report that it appears to be on the up and up — you know, moving into a new flat, making good decisions, that kind of thing — but in the second half makes the bold decision to steer off the rails. Your good will towards this episode may depend entirely on how much you enjoy halloween masks. I suppose it is the season for them.
To its credit, this episode (called Children of Arkham) does balance being Batman and being Bruce Wayne a bit better, mostly by blurring the line between the two. The longest fight takes place while you’re out of the suit, and none of them are so drawn out as to become boring. There’s even a bit where you can choose whether to visit the incumbent and incredibly corrupt Mayor Hill in your business suit or your vigilante one. More plot actually happens in comparison to the first, mainly because the first episode was almost entirely depositing plot seeds for later fruition.
The raised bed of Children of Arkham yields the dark marrows of family mob connections, the tomatoes of mind controlled assassination, and the nasturtiums of potentially necking Selina Kyle (though these are yet buds, and may be killed off in an early frost). Not all of the produce in this extended metaphor will be to everyone’s taste: there are some large changes to established Batman backstory (batstory?). Purists may wish to approach with caution, although I rather enjoyed the barefaced enormousness of the changes, as well as the suggestion that the only possible way a person becomes and stays rich is by compromising some of their morals. Telltale is doubling down on the different angle they’re taking, and I commend them for that, and the pivotal choice that comes at the end of the episode is an interesting one.
Sadly this episode did have a number of performance issues. A number of character models failed to move correctly, and there were several NPCs whose mouths failed to move when they spoke (although curiously this only happened to women; male characters were more given to their lips taking several seconds to catch up to their speech, like a bad dub on a martial arts movie). Sometimes the camera clipped into walls or a desk and I was left staring at a grey screen when, presumably, I was meant to be regarding the back of Bruce Wayne as he strode moodily from the room, shoulders bowed from the self-imposed burdens he carried on them. I’m not generally given to noticing this sort of thing, but when a game crashes back to the home screen you don’t have a choice.
Further contributing to the downswing was the latter part of the episode veering into the unintentionally ridiculous. Oz Cobblepot, who I was previously so enamoured with, is setting himself up to be a new crimelord, replete with giant, bald, blue henchman and an accent that’s even more noticeably cribbed from Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins than it was before. When he finally makes his debut as Penguin he does so in a mask that looks like a baby one — Happy Feet meets American Horror Story background extra — whilst another bad guy chooses to video conference in on the finale remotely, and displays a similar kind of influenced-by-Tim-Burton fashion sense. Off-white masks are in.
It’s the sort of thing where I can’t decided whether I think it’s stupid or I think it’s stupid but I love it. I did laugh out loud when Penguin appeared, for what it’s worth. The whole thing has the air of young men putting on silly costumes, not knowing what they’re doing, and trying to style it out. This may end up being the entire point, but unless there’s actually some pay off in this direction then that point will become entirely moot. Taking everything in balance and comparing it with the series opener, Children of Arkham ends up being a bit of a wash.
Version tested: PS4