Traditionally, the second episode of a Telltale series has been one of set-up. With a slower pace and more time spent on character, chapter 2 is generally a slower go. I remember the trip to the farm during The Walking Dead season 1, and it’s slow reveal of the family’s secret meat supply, or the plodding web weaving of Game of Thrones after its introduction of the exciting Forrester, Asher.
Children of Arkham, the second episode in Telltale’s Batman, holds its cards close at the beginning, wearing a mask the same way Bruce Wayne wears a cape and cowl to fight crime… or Batman becomes a socialite to entertain the uppity yokels of Gotham so that no one becomes suspicious. It starts slow, taking more than a moment to once again show us Crime Alley, the location of the seemingly always on loop murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne.
Bruce stands at the spot of their death, the spot commemorated with a bronze plaque. We see the familiar, Thomas jumping in front of his family, Martha’s pearls tumbling over the floor as a young Bruce cries. And then Alfred shows up, in the present, and Bruce is forced to deal with Episode 1’s allegations; the Waynes were not the solid gold citizens that Bruce had always believed, that Thomas himself had intimate ties to the mob, and that Alfred kept their secrets. The moment is tense, and showcases the grasp Telltale has on the quieter moments, when it’s just Bruce and Alfred, when we get to see the Boy instead of the Bat.
With the moment passed, the spotlight is again turned towards murder most foul, only this time, Bruce looks at it with a new perspective, searching his recollections for anything he might have missed. Now, without getting into the psychology of traumatic moments, or the mind’s ability to fill in blank spaces in our memory with things we imagine, Bruce remembers pieces of dialog, pointing to Joe Chill, the man who murdered the Waynes, being more than just a simple mugger, and the act more than just some random crime.
While the set-up strains reality a bit, not only with the additional information only now coming to the surface, as these feel like something that Bruce, clearly still struggling with the deaths themselves, would have combed over and over, I admire Telltale’s ability to add something new to the already well established mythos. The thought that Thomas was involved with criminal enterprises is nothing new; this kind of thing has been hinted at in the comics, but in almost all cases, any evidence is quickly rebuked and his good reputation restored. Telltale presents a Thomas Wayne who knowingly and willfully committed some pretty major criminal acts, embedding himself with not only the mobster Carmine Falcone, but also Hamilton Hill, the eventual Mayor of Gotham.
Episode 2 dips into this well of corruption enough to make Bruce question himself, and some of its best moments come from him confronting Falcone and Hill. The first meeting comes early in the episode, and plays fairly straightforward, with Bruce allowed some leeway in how he treats the crime boss.
The second meeting however, follows one of the better choices Telltale has ever given its players. Confronted with some damning evidence, Bruce knows that he has to go see Hill. Alfred, ever the pragmatist, suggests that while The Batman may be able to squeeze the information from the corrupt city official, the good will he gained from taking down Falcone may be squandered in the process. Instead, he suggests that Bruce could go without the costume, using his own guile and charm to win the information he needs.
To me, this was too good an opportunity to pass up. While the action in Batman so far has been passable, sometimes even good, Telltale’s strength is in its dialog, and Bruce is absolutely given the better lines while his alter ego is left struggling to form a sentence that isn’t entirely built on cliche. I really want to go back and revisit this scene as Batman, but I chose the Bruce route, and the meeting with Hill was as intense as I imagined. Compounding on this intensity was the game’s final choice, one which managed to feel both well handled and completely on the nose.
Speaking of action, I would be doing this episode a huge, HUGE, disservice by forgetting to mention a bar fight that punctuates its middle chapter. I don’t want to spoil the how’s or who’s, but combined with the jazz track that’s played over top, it alone is worth the price of admission. It’s a great moment that both cements a relationship and shows a light-hearted side Telltale only gets to let out on special occasions.
With all the good it did, there is still some customary Telltale weirdness that pops up. The first minute or so of every new setting hit me with stutters and an inconsistency of frame rate, though thankfully I had no action killing freezes this time. Twice though, I found myself on the business end of a bad QTE prompt. Both were in a fight against one of Cobblepot’s thugs, a big grey brute, who while not specifically named, I can only assume is Ignatius Ogilvy, who later goes on to become “Emperor Penguin/Blackgate,” and both dealt with the contextual placement of the prompts. The second was especially nasty as it was mostly obscured by the brute’s body, and led to a fast game over screen.
Overall, I have nothing but praise for Batman’s second episode. Well paced throughout, and offering at least one scene changing choice, I can only hope that the future episodes can remain at the high bar Children of Arkham has set. Not content to simply tell another Batman story, Telltale is putting its mark on the Caped Crusader in all the best ways.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!