I always struggle with reviewing episodic games, especially middle episodes that by definition simply serve to continue the story without finishing it. With everything said about the style, the technicalities, the mechanics during the previous episode review, barring anything glaring present or absent in this one one is left to simply discuss the story without spoiling, but in enough detail as to critique it. Tall order. Here’s Children of Arkham.
Batman – The Telltale Series Episode 2 Children of Arkham: Windows PC [Reviewed], Mac OS X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date: 20 September 2016
Price: 22,99€ [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Children of Arkham
Though quite a bit shorter than its predecessor, clocking in at about one and a half hour, this installment is much more densely packed with story content. This is by no means meant to make an apology for it, since length and the value proposition thereof have always been a concern for players and I feel that a balance needs to be struck between quality and quantity where narrative games are concerned.
Picking up in the aftermath of Batman’s altercation with crime at the end of the previous episode, the opening act deals with Bruce Wayne dealing with the fallout upon his own family and career. Players are made privy to some uncomfortable truths regarding Bruce Wayne’s parents and their past as it becomes increasingly apparent that Telltale is bent on retelling certain aspects of The Dark Knight’s legend and taking some daring liberties along the way.
Retconning the ever-loving shit out of Thomas Wayne and going to some dark places notwithstanding, I liked the way they reimagined Oswald Cobblepot as well. While he merely showed up during the previous installment to deliver some foreshadowing and talk about a revolution, in Children of Arkham he’s back and officially dubbed The Penguin even if unceremoniously so. It’s never established (or maybe I somehow missed it while blinking) how exactly Cobblepot is identified to be the international criminal called The Penguin, but he’s referred as such for the remainder of the story. No longer a well-off criminal, this incarnation of The Penguin is equal parts Bane from The Dark Knight Rises and The Joker, using revolutionary rhetoric and delivering speeches to the masses in a theatrical and chilling way.
While Children of Arkham is, as mentioned previously, densely packed, it does have a few slumps in the pacing and a few awkward dialogues, especially when trying to set up the possibility to romance Selina Kyle later down the line. However, the fight scenes, if fewer than in Realm of Shadows are excellently choreographed and you’re even given the chance to take part in a bar brawl as Bruce Wayne wearing a hoodie! Speaking of choices, one particularly interesting decision you have to make is whether to handle an encounter with force and intimidation as Batman or to try a diplomatic approach as Bruce Wayne.
The climax of the episode, however, I found to be particularly exciting, as quite a few heavy reveals are made and you’re given a choice to make with such immense ramifications that I’m dying to find out how it’s going to impact the story of the following installments.
There is one thing that maybe bothers me. I can’t quite tell if all of the daring choices to rewrite key aspects of the Batman universe simply seem brave and interesting to me because I’m familiar with the current lore. Sure, it’s impressive to me that they go down such a dark route with Bruce’s past. It’s impressive that they’ve rewritten The Penguin to such a drastic degree. It’s downright amazing that the final choice of the episode changes so much of the status quo. But had I not known anything about Batman leading up to this point, maybe I’d simply see all of these elements as “things that have happened”. The impact may be limited to fans and people in the know.
Moving on, I’d like to mention as always the fact that Telltale’s Engine Needs An Upgrade. It completely takes me out of the experience whenever the game seems to snag before executing a move in combat or when it autosaves and has me wait for a second or two in the middle of an exciting fight scene. It’s a waste of the good choreography I previously mentioned. On the plus side, I feel that the Batman Telltale Series leans quite heavily on clever lighting and good framing for visual effect and it works wonders.
Children of Arkham is a solid follow-up to Realm of Shadows. As most Telltale games, it suffers on the altar of the outdated engine, but makes up for it with its striking aesthetic and atmosphere. Batman’s established backstory is partly thrown out in favour of a gloomier, moodier reimagining, but it’s handled well and flows very naturally. While I enjoy Telltale games for the most part, it’s been a while since an episode of one of their series had me this excited for the next one. But then again maybe I’m just that much of a Batman fanboy.