Breaking from tired superhero tropes, the Dark Knight feels especially human in TellTale’s second episode.
Children of Gotham, the second episode of TellTale’s Batman, deviates even further established lore, breathing new life into an old hero. While some might see this as comic book blasphemy, the developers’ bold decision to ditch Bruce Wayne’s tried-and-true backstory lifts Batman to soaring heights.
Growing up believing his parents to be philanthropists and heroes to Gotham, Children of Arkham sees Bruce Wayne broken by the revelations at the conclusion of episode one. No longer knowing who he can trust, Bruce lashes out at those closest to him for concealing the truth. Along with personal turmoil, the player must decide between maintaining Bruce’s friendship with Harvey Dent or create a bond with Catwoman, who could be a valuable ally to Batman.
The pacing is excellent in Children of Arkham with a fantastic balance between Batman action and Bruce Wayne socializing. Combat is used sparingly, but when a scene erupts into fisticuffs, it’s visceral and wonderfully choreographed for a delightfully empowering effect. If RockSteady’s violence made the player feel like a tank, TellTale’s strives to show Batman as calculated and necessary.
Perhaps one of the best things about Batman is the player’s sense of isolation in their decisions. In other TellTale experiences like Borderlands or Walking Dead, it feels like every decision will have an immediate and obvious reaction on those around you. Many of the choices in Batman feel like Bruce Wayne is deciding alone between two lose-lose options, and predicting how allies and Gotham in general will react is impossible.
Video games surrounding Batman have often portrayed his moral compass a matter of black or white – good or evil – but in TellTale’s rendition, who Batman becomes and the decisions he makes aren’t as clear-cut as we’re used to. We all want to see Batman become the character we’ve seen in movies, TV and other games, but the choices we make when we’re in Bruce’s suit or behind Batman’s cowl might turn him into another kind of vigilant altogether.
The only thing I’m not totally behind is Troy Baker. While the voice actor has practically dominated video games for the better part of a decade, it feels like he’s perpetually in the shadow of Christian Bale’s Batman. Instead of taking the role and making it his own, he acts like a dollar store knock-off. Baker’s saving grace is his portrayal of Bruce Wayne. Whether it’s scenes of the hero sulking over the lies he’s built his life upon or pining for Selina Kyle, Baker delivers the scene’s mood masterfully.
Like the last episode, and seemingly every TellTale game in recent memory, performance is an ugly blemish on what is otherwise a triumphant two hours of video games. While there are noticeable visual improvements in the Batman series, it seems like old flaws in the developers’ in-house engine aren’t being ironed out. Framerate instability is even present in scenes where the camera is in a fixed position. Additionally, I found that some sequences would pause awkwardly for a few moments while the next scene streams in. The game is completely playable, but when players invest so much into the story, these little distractions mar the overall experience.
While character development remained a focal point in episode two, I felt like less happened to progress the overall plot. There are some twists and turns along the way, but the episode seems like it could use another scene or two to wrap up. While wanting more to play is a sign the developers did a great job making sure players feel invested, it doesn’t make the cliffhanger ending any less annoying. I know dinner is coming, TellTale, but at least throw the audience a loaf of bread while they wait.
Between scenes of Batman bashing baddies and Bruce Wayne charming women, there are glimpses of the hero that feel deeply humanizing. Instead of embracing his family’s wealth to continue his parents’ legacy serving Gotham, TellTale’s Batman portrays the hero as someone who is righting his parents’ wrongs and making the world a better place.
Despite performance issues and a tendency to ask more questions than it should in a two hour run time, Children of Arkham bests its predecessor and continues to lay the groundwork for another TellTale masterpiece.
Batman was reviewed on a Xbox One press copy courtesy of TellTale.
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