Batman: The Enemy Within ~ Batman The Telltale Series Season 2 Review

The duality of Bruce Wayne — billionaire playboy by day, crime-fighting chiropteran cosplaying caped crusader by night — was at the core of Telltale’s previous take on Batman. While seemingly worlds away, Bruce’s identities were in fact tightly wound. In this second season, Telltale further interweaves these two threads to create a new identity. He’s also called Bruce Wayne and he also fights criminals.

He wears a flat cap.

In what could charitably be called “contrived” circumstances, Bruce finds himself in a unique position to infiltrate a dangerous new gang of aspiring supervillains menacing Gotham city led by Harley Quinn. In the previous game he met “John Doe”, a now-former inmate of Arkham Asylum who developed something of a fixation with Bruce. John is now in the gang. Bruce is apprehensive about exploiting his relationship with a man that, to him, appears to mentally unstable. However, to the audience, this man is clearly a pre-one-bad-day incarnation of Batman’s ultimate nemesis the guy from lots of awful t-shirts The Goddamn Joker. But when Amanda Waller, recurring g-woman in DC adaptations and here the head of “The Agency” threatens to expose him as Batman to ensure his co-operation, Bruce reluctantly dons the flat cap and “bad boy” leather jacket of his new alter-ego “Bruce Wayne” and almost instantly infiltrates the gang.

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The morally-questionable undercover agent story is fertile ground for Telltale’s choice-based gameplay style. The members of Harley’s gang have different wants and relationships to Bruce that must be managed lest anyone start to get to suspicious. Mr Freeze wants to protect his wife and will lash out at anyone he perceives as a threat to her. Bane revels in excessive violence and brutality, appear too squeemish and he’ll start to mistrust you. John Doe, the Clown Prince of Could-Turn-Out-To-Be-The-Joker, is infatuated with Harley Quinn and bristles at the thought of her and Bruce getting too close. Harley is revealed to be dancing a similar jig to Bruce as she tries to keep the big personalities of her group under control.

Outside the gang’s hideout, Commissioner Gordon resents Waller’s encroaching on “his” city and plays the jilted-ex to Batman in his new relationship with Waller. Alfred faces health problems and discusses bringing a new accomplice into the fold. Seasoned Telltale players reading this will probably be muttering “fool me once” to themselves at what on paper sounds like a multi-threaded and sprawling world of possibilities. They would be kind of right. I don’t think it’s possible to fail to infiltrate the gang. In service to the story, these would-be criminal masterminds are willing to accept Bruce’s flimsy cover-story, which is essentially “I’m bored of being rich, I want to do crimes”.

But if any Telltale game (that I’ve played) were to convince you that your choices actually matter, this one would be it. In terms of the amount of alternative content this seems to be very much Batman: The Well Funded Series. There are lot of fully-animated scenes that seem to play out entirely differently depending on your choices (in contrast to the previous game where player choice determined how certain isolated sections would play out). Most impressively, the entirety of the fifth episode is completely different depending on a choice made in the fourth — though those same Telltale aficionados will not be surprised to learn that this is literally “a” choice, a strictly binary branching off point. The character models have been revised and seem much more detailed and expressive than before, though this is bad news for fans of Bruce’s resemblance to the titular character in Archer in the first season.

The Enemy Within also sees the return of many of the Telltale mechanics that were absent in the first season. The completely pointless inventory UI element is back baby! More significantly, the end-of-episode rundown of your relationships with other characters makes a return (along with the more straightforward global stats on which choices were made by other players), charting how characters feel about you and their outlook going forward, fitting this season’s greater focus on interpersonal relationships and the potentially harmful impact Bruce can have on those in his orbit. Other technical aspects of the gameplay, such as it is, have been tuned up significantly. I didn’t experience the same feeling of inexactness with the cursor that made the first season a little frustrating. The quick-time-events are more involved than last time, making greater use of the available inputs. One mechanic from the previous series not to return, at no great loss, are the sections where you choreograph which selection of fight animations you’re going to watch before Bruce engages a group of enemies.

Also mostly thrown away like so many batarangs is one of the key mechanics from last time, that is, choosing to face situations as Bruce or as Batman. In a way this makes sense as now we are almost exclusively playing as a guy called “Bruce Wayne” who wears a flat cap. “Bruce” infiltrates criminal gangs, robs trucks and gives dating advice to Joker: The Early Years. Sure, he uses his name to get into a few places like Bruce Wayne would, but he still doesn’t do very much millionaire philanthropist stuff. Nor does he hoard advanced technology and don an elaborate animal-costume and patrol the streets taking on gangs while adhering to his own self-imposed code.

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I mention this because the game attempts to pitch itself as a critique of the idea of the premise of the long-running comics series as a whole which is deflated a little because the player doesn’t really get a chance to “Be The Batman” all that often. After numerous characters questioning the methods of Bruce’s “mission” the season closes on the question of whether Bruce’s night-time gallivanting ultimately creates more problem than it solves, a subject that even my fellow Bat-noobs may recognise from the “escalation” argument in the Nolan trilogy. But the chaos stirred up in this story is a result of “Bruce” operating under the Agency’s methods of complicated sting-ops and manipulating intelligence assets such as John, exactly the sort of skulduggery that Batman’s (questionable in its own right) “punch first, ask questions later” methods eschew. When Alfred says “you don’t have to do it Bruce, there are other ways to do good in the world” the “it” may as well mean “being a Telltale Games protagonist”.

The Enemy Within is another enjoyable execution of the Telltale formula, this time not hampered by the technical issues and tedious features of the previous entry in the series. Moreover, it’s another good Batman yarn that once again remixes familiar elements of the mythos into a story which stands on its own. Last December, new DLC was released for both Batman: The Telltale Series and Batman: The Enemy Within, the new “Shadows” mode appears to be a new noire stylised rendering of the series. Hopefully, this a sign that this particular strand of the Batman multiverse isn’t quite done yet, despite the chaos at Telltale games over the last few years.

Reviewed on the Nintendo Switch

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