Shaun Munro reviews Batman: The Enemy Within – Episode 1 ‘The Enigma’…
After Telltale’s first episodic adventure series starring Batman turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag – plagued by rampant technical issues across platforms and some questionable story elements – it’s a pleasure to report that the developer seems to have pulled their socks up for season two, at least if this mostly enthralling, content-rich season premiere is any indication.
Following on from the shocking events of the first season, Batman now finds himself facing off against a new enemy terrorising Gotham City in The Riddler (voiced with manic aplomb by Robin Atkin Downes), a genius trickster who ensnares the Caped Crusader in a series of challenges, both mental and physical, like he’s never faced before.
On top of this, Bats will also have to contend with the re-emergence of his former Arkham Asylum pal John Doe (aka The Joker), and the arrival of The Agency’s Amanda Waller, who doesn’t much care for the Dark Knight’s unorthodox crime-fighting methods or his friendship with Jim Gordon.
It’s worth saying right out of the gate that this is still, for the most part, a typical Telltale offering, so while it’s a sure improvement over any of the first season’s single episodes, it’s not exactly reinventing the storytelling wheel. For starters, in a game that’s so dialogue and action-driven (as all Telltale games are), it’s pretty embarrassing that the lip-sync and general movement animations remain often hilariously awful.
The gameplay meanwhile still doesn’t consist of much more than selecting dialogue options, bashing buttons in QTE-based action sequences, and tackling the very lightest of puzzle-solving, so don’t start throwing words like “innovation” around just yet.
However, The Enemy Within‘s first episode does feel much tighter than the majority of what Telltale has been putting out recently, Batman or not. The story is consistently compelling, all the more impressive as this episode runs well over two hours (about an hour longer than most), and makes a dangerous menace out of an antagonist who is often reduced to a comic relief villain in so much Batman media.
The aforementioned appearances by John Doe and Amanda Waller also add plenty of shade to proceedings and leave some tantalising plot threads hanging for episode two (including not one but two fascinating reveals). Furthermore, “The Enigma”‘s extended run-time allows character-driven scenes to really breathe, to the point that even Alfred Pennyworth himself really feels like an actual human being here rather than a perfunctory caricature included solely for the sake of necessity.
In addition to the sharp writing, gameplay also feels a little more diverse than usual, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that this installment is incredibly action-packed throughout. The set-pieces benefit from a number of new control options, allowing the player greater freedom to dictate how Batman approaches the various fights; maybe you want to soccer kick one of The Riddler’s enemies in the face, or perhaps you’re feeling a fist to the kisser might be a little more fitting.
The puzzle-solving, easily the most mundane element of the first season, is at least mercifully brief and simple here, even if it’s still basically boring busy-work at the end of the day. Though some may be disappointed that an episode so intently focused on The Riddler doesn’t make a little more effort with conjuring up some ingenious puzzles for players to solve, the sequence in which Batman and Jim Gordon find themselves facing off against a Saw-like series of traps in The Riddler’s lair is easily one of the episode’s highlights in its own right.
Again, there’s nothing here in the way of substantial improvements upon the Telltale formula; it’s merely a case of a nuanced story compensating for some of the more rote gameplay elements, alongside crackling and plentiful action sequences. Sadly, though, Telltale’s stubborn refusal to give their engine a significant overhaul results in visuals that wouldn’t look out of place a generation ago (and no, that’s not an exaggeration).
Still, if you’re a Batman fan who’s stuck with Telltale’s work this long, you’ll surely get a solid kick out of what’s a very respectable entry, running a full movie length and constantly shifting gears between gameplay styles to ensure ennui doesn’t set in. And most crucially, it leaves at least two doors wide open for the remainder of the series that are surely going to lead to some interesting confrontations between Batman and, well, that would be telling.
Don’t go in expecting miracles, but given the expectations of many fans that The Enemy Within was going to be a bit of a phoned-in cash-grab, it’s a genuine surprise to see the IP rebound with one of the company’s very best episodes of any kind in a long time.
+ An entertaining and nuanced Batman story
+ It’s almost 2.5 hours long
+ Boasts an excellent cliffhanger
– It’s still tethered to dull Telltale formula
– The visual update isn’t significant enough
Reviewed for PS4 (also available on PC & Xbox One)
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more video game rambling.