This review will contain spoilers for all previous episodes and the current episode of Batman The Telltale Series. For our review of Batman The Telltale Series Ep. 1: Realm of Shadows, click here.
There was a lot of excitement around Telltale taking on one of comics most well known masked heroes, but there was the question of how they would handle the storied Batman. Would this be just another Batman story, with nothing new to show after 70 years of twists and turns, or could Telltale find the fresh approach to a hero getting late in his years? The first episode showed a little bit of promise after a slow start and the expected Batman platitudes. There’s the new, young and fresh Oswald Cobblepot, and of course the twist of finding out that the Wayne’s had actually been a central component of crime and corruption in Gotham.
Children of Arkham starts by confirming Thomas and Martha Wayne’s criminal involvement, and has Bruce figuring out that the supposed mugging that killed his parents wasn’t a mugging at all, but an assassination. Of course the dark criminal underbelly of Gotham is not to be trusted, and this episode plays off of the classic Batman themes of not being able to trust anyone. Through episode two I could see the roots of Harvey Dent becoming Two-Face. Oswald Cobblepot, once Bruce’s first and only friend, now dons the mantle of the Penguin, seeking to kill those complicit in Gotham’s corruption, and Bruce is in his cross hairs. It’s a series of points seen coming from a mile away. Gotham’s elite are in danger. Penguin’s revolution escalates quite rapidly near the conclusion, and then there’s the reveal of another darker force that is the real mastermind pulling the strings.
Pulling Bruce into things personally is often what can make a Batman tale so intriguing, and having him at the center of this newly uncovered crime scandal really offsets the focus from just keeping Gotham safe, to figuring out the lies that he’s lived with for his whole life. It’s not just a matter of taking down the Penguin, it’s a matter of taking on someone that is an old friend, and now has his sites set on the man outside the mask. There’s also a number of core decisions that rely on showing where Bruce Wayne’s loyalties lie, and I’m hoping that the payoff of those choices can actually cause or prevent friends from turning on Bruce, such as Dent’s Two-Face roots that I mentioned seeing before. I’ve been fiercely loyal to that silly meathead throughout my decisions, so we’ll see if they end up being course corrected as is common with Telltale games.
There are a number of shocking events that occur, including some unexpected deaths that definitely change the narrative in play, but among all of that are those old familiar elements, such as the romantic tension between Bruce and Selina, and her falling into the expected Catwoman stereotype. Neither friend nor foe, she’s a wildcard that could be batting for either side at any given time, as long as the money’s right. What makes this most interesting is the ability to choose how you deal with her as both Bruce and Batman. Not one for all the romantic drama that masked heroes tend to get themselves wound up in, I chose to back off from kissing her, and given that she’s got some training and skills, I chose to help out Harvey Dent when the both of them were in trouble. Maybe there’s a part of me that doesn’t quite trust her either.
Running at under 90 minutes, episode two feels very short, without a lot of meaningful content to fill out that run time. It’s a lot of Bruce trying to figure out his family’s criminal involvement while also trying to stop those targeting the very people he needs to confront. Plainly put, the majority of the episode is dull, with expected boring overtures filling out the time between those shocking moments of newness that aren’t enough to hold a high level of intrigue. It’s unusual for Telltale, who’s very namesake is to tell tales, to hit a level where I simply do not care about the story being told. In many ways it feels like their trying too hard. Trying too hard to live up to the Batman legacy. Trying to hard to make it their own thing. And while trying to go in all directions at once, it sits as a relatively lifeless lump somewhere in the middle of being a good Batman story and a good Telltale game.
Bruce or Batman?
I was most happy to see a promised mechanic finally make its debut: The choice to confront a situation as either Batman or Bruce Wayne, having seeming benefits and consequences to each one. It’s hard to say if this choice really made much difference though, given that the subject in question is terminated a short time later. Perhaps those decisions will play a part later on, but Telltale is really good at selling the illusion of choice while still making you stick to the path that they want you to follow. With all the political drama in Children of Arkham, there’s not a lot of room for gameplay, and some aspects introduced in episode one were sorely missing here, such as the ability to scan a crime scene. This is the world’s greatest detective, so let’s give him chances to do what he’s good at and be a detective.
At the end there’s the promise of a new larger villain at play, who seems suspiciously like Telltale’s version Scarecrow with a slightly modified Batman Begins story, using a neurotoxin to “free” the city of Gotham. I’m just waiting for the inevitable Joker reveal, because let’s be honest, everyone who takes on the Batman mythos wants the chance to do their particular version of the Joker. At this point, while trying to honor Batman and give unexpected beats, Telltale has managed to make Batman actually feel dull. There’s a lot of potential in what they are doing, but Children of Arkham is more poorly rehearsed high school play than engrossing Batman fiction.
Batman: The Telltale Game Series Season Pass review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.