On several occasions now Telltale Games have crossed into personal passions of mine such as Game of Thrones and Tales from the Borderlands. But DC is my first nerd passion outside of video games and the first season of Batman: A Telltale Series truly surprised me with a genuine and refreshing new take on the Batman Universe and found it captivating and immersive throughout with the only real disappointment coming from how Telltale themselves almost buried the final episode in the hype for the start of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier just one week after Batman ended. But now Season 2 has launched and we are already on Episode 2 following the opening episode that for me, is perhaps their best work since A Wolf Among Us. The stakes have never been bigger for Batman but now the series is looking to bring in the real heavy hitting Rogues Gallery as the world of Bruce Wayne has never been more conflicted.
*Spoiler Warnings from both first Season and Episode 1 in this review*
I actually came to this second season very late and by late I mean 2 days before Episode 2 released so everything is still very fresh in my mind going into “The Pact”. A quick run down of my time with Episode 1 and I have to say I was more than impressed with how Telltale have handled this second season so far. Getting to import my choices from the first season so that this story, set one year after the events of season 1, meant I could continue from where I left off and I made some pretty dark choices which had a huge impact on my experience with this Telltale take on the Batman universe. For starters, Alfred is showing the PTSD from the torture he suffered from Lady Arkham and the loss of his left eye which now has him wearing an eye patch. The efforts I made to build a strong relationship with Jim Gordon meant I came into this new season with the relationship stronger than ever having earned his and the GCPD’s trust in the past year.
I also loved the continued twist in their versions of classic Bat characters with the dark but move to make Riddler a far more credible physical threat whilst maintaining his obsessive need to prove his genius and making him one of the first costumed super villains in Gotham City was simply a delightful change to his character. The addition of Amanda Waller also added a new type of threat to Batman and the climatic twist at the end of Episode 1 only served to show the impact her presence now has in Batman’s world. That very fact that again the focus is not just on Batman but very much the deliberate inclusion of Bruce Wayne and the player’s path to juggle both sides to him with decisions that impact both Bruce and Batman almost equally putting more emphasis on player choice to determine how the story unfolds.
So as I go into Episode 2 Batman’s relationship with now Commissioner Gordon is strained and close to breaking, Alfred is clearly suffering the trauma of his experiences which is only getting worse through his concern for Bruce. Amanda Waller has revealed she knows Batman’s true identity leaving Bruce vulnerable and almost at her mercy and the Riddler is dead, killed by a mysterious figure and the reality that he was not working alone and the tragic loss of Lucious Fox, the main responsible for all the Bat Tech Bruce uses and one of his longest friends supporter lead to the resurface of John Doe, the mysterious inmate at Arkham Asylum who helped Bruce escape but now giving Bruce a way into the criminal world but as Bruce Wayne.
I really do not want to spoil if anything about the story being told in this second season too much as experiencing it first hand is the best way. But Episode 2 “The Pact” is as strong as the first episode. I am really getting the sensation that the choices I am making are indeed influencing the story and shaping it around those choices, which is not something I have felt in other Telltale Game series of late such as Guardians of the Galaxy and The Walking Dead. The world of Batman really has brought out everything I have come to love and enjoy about the Telltale way of telling a story for the player. There is also the reality that not every choice is a good one, sometimes the choices the player is forced to make at times can be the lesser of two evils or just damage controlling a situation’s outcome to help either Bruce Wayne or Batman going forward. It is in that duality that lies the strength of this second season, much like the first where the player is made to manage both sides to Bruce’s life and with consequences for both that can impact each other and everyone around him just as much.
I also felt as though I was moving the story forward which again, in more recent Telltale Games is something I have not felt other than picking a particular set of cut-scenes to play instead of taking the story in a different direction. Dialogue with each character does have an effect on their relationship to Bruce and the top left corner warning that you have changed that relationship instantly makes you start to second guess the dialogue options. Not to mention that each player choice in how Bruce reacts to a situation or person as either himself or as Batman constantly keeps you in the moment with dialogue response options teasing what their result will be. As DC fan my intimate knowledge of the Batverse makes me try to take options and decisions based on what I feel “Batman” would do but then coming to the moment where this Bruce Wayne is not the one I have in my mind at all, and therefore how I feel he should react must change because he is not dealing with the Amanda Waller or Jim Gordon that I know from say Batman: The Animated Series or comic books. Telltale has wisely changed the villains like Riddler so that they perform in a new and different way than expected especially for players with a deep knowledge of DC Comics.
Take Harley Quinn for example, introduced for the very first time in this episode and again Telltale have put their own spin on her for this series. Harley is still brutal and deadly but instead of being the loved up sidekick for Joker, she is very much her own criminal presence with the very devious role reversal with John Doe who is very much on his way to becoming Joker but here he is desperate to win her affection and admiration. This is absolutely captivating to me as a DC Fan who is very much used to having the traditional relationship of Joker and Harley there but now intrigued to see Harley in charge with John “Soon to be Joker” Doe working hard to impress her. As the player trying to make decisions to help Bruce work his way into their world in order to exploit the friendship with John Doe in order to work his way into their gang in order to discover what their ulterior motives are only to have it quickly turn against him as the world of Bruce Wayne comes crashing into what the Pact of criminals are really after forcing Bruce and the player, to make decisions that risk Bruce’s world and bringing him dangerously close to breaking his own code in order to infiltrate deeper which then brings him face to face with the other members of the Pact where he must gain their approval and trust which is no easy task when you consider that the other members of this criminal pact are Mr Freeze and Bane.
Batman himself does have a part to play and the first meeting of Batman and Bane is rather thrilling thanks to how Telltale have used the QTE mini game sequences for fight scenes and they work so well unlike say in Guardians of the Galaxy where such sequences feel flat for the most part. I love how you the player are often given a choice of how to deal with a thug such as do you go for a nice punch to the face or using a gadget to take them out making each encounter more fun to gain that “I’m Batman’ feeling. But perhaps the most rewarding side of being Batman is the continued inclusion of detective work, putting clues together in the Batcave and analysing character profiles via the Batcomputer Codex. Batman is not just about his gadgets or punching badguys in the face but often the detective side to him gets lost in that mix. With the story rooted in Bruce Wayne as himself with the two masks he wears as both Batman and the Billionaire Playboy Bruce Wayne, the player gets to determine how the man himself reacts to situations, choosing which mask will get the best result needed to protect the city no matter the sacrifice he has to make himself.
The power in Episode 2 is that it keeps the pace of the story telling quick enough to keep players on their toes without dropping the ball or putting too much on the player so that have to remember every single decision made leading into the next episode. Some choices do have me wanting to go back and replay the episode to see how the different outcomes would change the story which is yet another aspect other Telltale Games of late have not made me want to do. The new spins on classic Batman characters is rewarding as a DC Comicbooks and Batman fan with none of them going too far in the changes to make them alien but different enough to make them fun to experience in this story. I said of the first season that outside of the Arkham series, this is perhaps the purest Batman experience you can have in a video game right now and this second season continues to both impress me on multiple levels as well as delivering a superb Batman game experience.
Episode 2 is a strong chapter and if you have yet to pick this up there really is no better time as Episode 3 looks to dial up the experience to a full 11/10 setting. I cannot sing the praises of Telltale Games enough with how they are handling the Batman license from DC and so far in just two episodes, this season is already the best work Telltale have done in 2017.