The Clicking Joke
... it’s possible to through the entire fourth chapter without ever donning Batman’s cowl.
DEVELOPER TELLTALE GAMES • P UBLISHER TELLTALE GAMES • P RICE $ 28.99 ( GOG) • A VAILABLE AT STEAM, GOG, RETAIL telltale.com/series/batman-season-2
For all its faults, the first season of Telltale Games’ take on Batman established that the writers weren’t afraid to mess around with canon. Major characters died without much fanfare, others had their roles changed substantially (Penguin and Two-Face were reinvented while still being recognisable), and – in the game’s most obvious season 2 table setting – the Joker wasn’t really the Joker yet. Instead we had John Doe, an Arkham Asylum inmate with that distinctive green hair, pale face, and terrifying grin. The Enemy Within is as much about John’s journey as it is about Batman and Bruce Wayne, and Telltale’s willingness to bend these characters into new shapes, to hurt and kill their darlings, pays dividends.
If you’ve played a Telltale game since the first season of The Walking Dead, you know what their current deal is. This is an adventure game with very few real puzzles, one in which most of the gameplay boils down to making decisions and choosing conversation responses, broken up by the occasional unchallenging quick-time event. The ‘so-and-so will remember that’ notifications are abundant, and Alfred can barely ask what you want for breakfast without reminding you that the choices you make now will have serious ramifications in the future.
It’s a format that, in some of Telltale’s later seasons, has started to feel a bit old, with low stakes and pathways that always tend to converge back to the same points harming their storytelling. But The Enemy Within’s framing of Batman and Bruce as separate figures, and the focus on the relationships that both of them form with the other characters, allows for a deeper characterisation than we’ve had in any of these games since the first Walking Dead. The plot – which involves uncovering shadowy secret organisations and retrieving viruses that are in the wrong hands – is mostly just an excuse to get a heap of Batman characters all in one place, so that Bats and Bruce can bounce off Amanda Waller, Harley Quinn, Bane, and other recognisable favourites.
Your relationships with these characters shift and change, and at the end of each of the five episodes you’re given a rundown of how your standings with them have changed. Telltale has taken some smart liberties to keep things interesting here. For instance, you get to know Harley Quinn – who has turned to villainy without a Joker to lure her in – mainly as an undercover Bruce Wayne, and depending on decisions you make it’s possible to go through the entire fourth chapter (and most of the last one) without ever donning Batman’s cowl. Despite occasional bouts of silliness – and the standard allergy every Batman villain has towards lining up a clear shot and shooting him dead – this is a cracker of a Batman tale.
The highlight of the game is its take on the Joker. Turning the Joker into John Doe, a blank-slate maniac who seems like he could be ‘fixed’ by just the right Batman, is a genius twist on the character mythology, taking the abusive relationship that the two share and finding a new angle to explore its toxicity from. It’s not unusual to compare Batman and the Joker’s dynamic to a love story, but it’s rare for a writer to take their love as seriously
as The Enemy Within does. This is a Joker who talks about love and friendship a lot, and it’s up to you how Batman and Bruce Wayne take that, and what they feel back towards him. It’s doing something similar with these well-known figures to what Hannibal did on TV a few years ago, and offers a good take on the now requisite ‘Batman creates as many problems as he solves’ discourse.
The big ‘selling point’ of The Enemy Within is the final chapter’s split – depending on how you’ve played you’ll get one of two very different versions of Joker, and the chapter will play out differently depending on which one you’ve brought about. Having played both iterations of this final episode, they’re honestly very different, in terms of both content and tone. Other episodes also feature entire scenes that you might miss depending on your decisions.
This all speaks to how good a job The Enemy Within does of making your decisions feel like they matter, something Telltale has struggled with in the past. Without spoiling anything, I can say that my Bruce Wayne ended up in a very specific place by the end, having made decisions that guided him down a path that felt personal to my playthrough. When the final choice of the season is offered up, I didn’t make the healthy one, or the one that might offer some redemption – I made the one that made the most narrative sense. I didn’t go in looking for a dark ending, but I leaned into it as the right narrative decision. When they’re on form, Telltale’s writers are experts at making you feel like you’ve crafted a smart narrative rather than simply made the choices that will most benefit you.
While the first season of Telltale’s Batman was a little shaky in its establishment of a new status quo, The Enemy Within feels far more firm in its intent. It tells a damn fine Batman story, involving a solid chunk of the classic rogues’ gallery, and empowers the player to craft their Batman (and their Bruce) as they see fit. The Arkham games are wonderful power fantasies, but Telltale’s take on the Dark Knight is a great reminder that the character’s real appeal lies not just in his strengths, but also in his many vulnerabilities.
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