Batman: The Enemy Within – The Telltale Series review

Batman: The Enemy Within – The Telltale Series complete review
Batman: The Enemy Within – The Telltale Series complete review
The Good:
  • Fun, action-packed fight sequences
  • Music and voice acting are excellent
  • Portrayal of The Joker is a standout
  • Engaging, well-written conversations
  • Entirely different final episode depending on key choices
The Bad:
  • Overarching plot tends to get dull
  • Repetition of environments is tiresome
  • Lacklustre takes on some long-standing rogues’ gallery members
  • Absence of challenge is disappointing
Our Verdict:

Telltale’s second Batman season packs a punch with its action, audio and morally questionable main villain, but falters when it comes to making the most of its plot or detective gameplay potential.

Telltale are prolific when it comes to releasing games, usually having multiple series on the go at once. Still, it was a surprise when the second season of Batman: The Telltale Series kicked off so soon after the conclusion of the first. It seems that crime never rests in Gotham. The Enemy Within gets off to a solid start, with the first of five episodes actually improving on what came before it, starting with a bang and introducing a bunch of intriguing new characters and twists. Unfortunately, the subsequent episodes suggest that there should have been more time spent preparing this new outing for the Caped Crusader. It’s fun to both brawl as Batman and battle public perception as Bruce Wayne, but the absorbing opening quickly boils down to a primary focus on The Joker, leaving many other promising storylines behind or just too dull and weak to matter much in comparison.

It all starts out harmlessly enough: A suave man kitted out with high-tech gadgets is scouting a casino floor. No, this isn’t James Bond, though it’s an obvious comparison to make. This is Bruce Wayne, keeping an eye on the plump Rumi Mori, a magnate who made his money through arms dealing and has now diversified into biotech. With his trusty butler and surrogate father Alfred talking into his ear from the Batcave, our protagonist is here trying to find evidence of Mori’s shady dealings, and players do some light snooping by clicking highlighted objects to get Bruce’s thoughts on them.

Of course, it doesn’t take long for everyone in the casino to get more than they bargained for when a man in a green hood and domino mask bursts onto the scene posing the question: “I begin and have no end. And I end all that begins. Who am I?” The answer to that conundrum is Death – or as you’ll come to know him, The Riddler. Depicted countless times across comics, television and film through the years, this take on the enigma-obsessed villain is a great one. With his greying hair, growling voice and metal-hooked cane, we learn that this Riddler terrorised Gotham in the past, only to suddenly disappear. Now that he’s back, he’s determined to make a strong impression, immediately slashing throats and destroying buildings to wreak havoc. This is a violent, scary portrayal of a man who may not have Batman’s strength, but has an equal amount of ingenuity.

There’s no time for polite introductions. With the threat level red, Bruce switches into his alter ego and dons his powerful black suit. The first season had superb action sequences and it’s no different this time. With music beating in the background, Batman jumps, kicks and punches seemingly with ease. From a gameplay perspective, the fights mostly consist of pushing the right buttons when prompted, though there’s a neat new element that lets you make tactical decisions on the fly, like choosing how to protect a hostage or take down an enemy. Previously this was planned in advance, leaving you to watch the results play out, but doing it in the moment is much more effective and maintains a stronger pace.

What particularly stands out during combat sequences is the audio-visual presentation. These scenes make constant but effective use of slow motion, holding on a stylish shot while you follow the corresponding on-screen prompts. Every bit of physical contact is keenly felt, the flying blood and loud thuds lending authenticity to the pain. And thanks to quick (yet never disorienting) camera switches and spins, along with Batman’s penchant for gadgets and his repertoire of fight moves, such encounters never grow stale. Full-blown action sequences are sparingly used in each episode, so they’re a joy to behold and engaging to play every time.

The Riddler may be the first, but he certainly isn’t the only foe you’ll encounter, including several from the classic Batman rogues’ gallery. Sticking its nose into everything is a mysterious unnamed agency helmed by the no-nonsense Amanda Waller. This stout, middle-aged woman has her fingers in many pies, gathering intelligence not only on Gotham’s scum, but also on Bruce and Batman. She rubs Commissioner Gordon the wrong way, overruling him and taking over his cases. Her agency’s presence proves interesting in a subversive way, posing a threat to Batman with the information and power they hold, and how you respond to it will impact your relationship with Gordon.

A key exchange with Waller early on shapes the entire season. With Amanda gaining an advantage over Bruce, he’s forced to infiltrate Gotham’s underworld to try to figure out what The Riddler is up to. In this role, Bruce slings around sans cowl with familiar criminals like Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze and Bane. The latter two don’t veer far from how they’ve been characterised elsewhere, nor are they particularly interesting. Bane is especially weak, which is ironic considering he’s nothing more than a bulky muscle man. Of the trio, Harley Quinn is undoubtedly the best as the leader of the pack. She’s fierce and commanding and is especially intimidating when you’re alone with her.

The problem is that being part of this gang is mostly dull, apart from when fights break out. They spend too much of their time in a boring concrete hideout, occasionally popping out to cause some mischief, all based around an uninspired storyline about a virus they want to release in Gotham. Also, I know the entire Batman franchise requires suspension of disbelief, but the idea of Bruce becoming part of their crew just isn’t realistic. Billionaire businessman dons a flat cap and leather jacket, wears an earpiece, and brawls suspiciously like that pesky winged crimefighter… and yet none of them puts the pieces together? A scene in Wayne Enterprises where Bruce and two key gang members terrorise one of his employees with a sledgehammer is particularly ridiculous, feeling like a poor attempt to create tension.

Selina Kyle, better known as Catwoman, makes a welcome return but her character is all over the place, with behaviour so erratic that it becomes irritating. One moment you’ll be extremely close to her, the next she’ll be trying to kick you in the face. You could perhaps chalk this up to who she is, but it’s a step backwards considering the progress Bruce made with her in the previous season. I’m not entirely sure if Telltale know what to do with her character anymore. She often seems to be present just to serve a functional purpose rather than add to the story. It’s a shame, since there’s opportunity for Selina to help explore an unseen side of both Bruce and Batman, but it never amounts to anything.

The real star of the show isn’t ultimately Bruce/Batman but John Doe, the green-haired, wild-grinned young man introduced in season one but now free of Arkham Asylum and part of Harley Quinn’s gang. When we first meet him here he’s not yet a mass-murdering lunatic like The Joker is traditionally portrayed. Instead, while slightly unstable, John is initially more socially inappropriate than anything. His wide eyes suggest menace, as does his unhealthy latching onto Bruce, but there’s no solid proof that he’s up to no good… yet.

The scenes between these two are always excellent. John is fighting inner demons and wants to do his best to please Bruce (who he suspects is Batman, with or without confirmation) but sometimes these traits don’t play well together. A café scene where Bruce teaches John how to talk to Harley is memorably amusing, while later a glowing funhouse plays host to a shining example of how unsettling John can be. Thanks also to strong voice acting for a man who sounds like he could fly off the hook at any moment, I really liked the character of John.

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