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Batman: The Enemy Within: Episode 3 - Fractured Mask
Score: 90%
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure

Introduction:

Most of Telltaleís most recent releases have had a consistency problem. While Iím generally glad I saw these games through to their respective ends, I honestly canít say that they were all enjoyable throughout. Some episodes are fantastic, while others just plain stink. As of this writing, I canít say the same thing about Batman: The Enemy Within: this has been a marvelous season that has, thus far, taken the ideas introduced in the first season and advanced them in ways that have me cheering. Well, for the most part, at least; itís still prone to those "classic" Telltale contrivances that force the player into binary choices between two shades of evil. But as is usually the case with these kinds of experiences, itís not the choice-and-consequence system we should be cheering; itís the appropriate amount of creative license regularly taken in order to deliver something fresh. Thatís an incredibly difficult feat to achieve with a superhero whoís been around for almost eighty years, and yet Telltale manages to nail it. Batman: The Enemy Within: Episode 3 Ė Fractured Mask gives us a glimpse at the endgame, but smartly devotes most of its resources to characterization. The result is an episode that keeps confidently in line with the high quality of the previous two.

Ratman:

Batman: The Enemy Within: Episode 3 - Fractured Mask lives up to its name with the continuation of the unexpectedly ambitious undercover operative arc. Bruce Wayne is in deep among the rogues gallery weíre so commonly used to seeing on the business end of his alter egoís gauntleted fists. The cabal of violent criminals is clearly up to no good, but the picture isnít clear yet: exactly what does The Pact hope to achieve? A preparatory heist late in the last episode went off in exactly the worst way possible for Bruce: not only did The Agency fail to show, but it became obvious that thereís a mole in the operation. Bruce is operating with little to no information, and it becomes even more complicated when he discovers that his new friends have come into possession of Riddlerís cryogenically frozen corpse -- and also a working relationship with one Selina KyleÖ

The Pact itself is a curious organization; exactly how theyíve gotten this far without killing each other is beyond me: with very few exceptions, they all seem to despise each other. For my part, Iím almost completely thrilled with Telltaleís approach to these characters.

Last seasonís introduction of the man who will certainly become Batman's greatest nemesis rubbed me the wrong way, but Batman: The Enemy Within earns it nonetheless. Yes, heís clearly a nutjob and he clearly has violence in his future, but heís got very specific social needs; heís a shockingly vulnerable character, and misguided or not, itís hard to deny that his admiration of Bruce Wayne is legitimate.

Bane is the other standout; nothing against Christopher Nolan or Tom Hardy, but the substance-enhanced luchador has gotten a bad rap in recent portrayals. While so many adaptations seem to focus on his mask and his strength, very few seem to understand that underneath all that sinew and strength is an intellect of parity. Without giving anything away, the Bane of Batman: The Enemy Within is, in fact, the Bane we know from Knightfall.

There is one weak link in this dysfunctional family dynamic, and thatís Harley Quinn. Iím starting to think that Telltale decided to arbitrarily make her the de facto leader of The Pact just because sheís a woman; her behavior and actions are completely unbefitting of anyone in power. She frequently flashes her psychiatrist cred (and, of course, that sledgehammer) as a means of intimidating the psychos sheís chosen to surround herself with, but Iím just going to come right out and say it: sheís stupid. Her decision-making is just plain moronic, less indicative of a criminal mastermind and more of a smug little child who would actively harm her own interests as long as it put the object of her wrath in some sort of jeopardy. It doesn't make sense that anyone, even the criminally insane, would respect (much less follow) such an individual.


Bats, Cats, Foxes, and Pigs:

Thereís not much Batman in Batman: The Enemy Within: Episode 3 Ė Fractured Mask, save for a few encounters with a few of the most important people in his life. One of these in particular is a bit of a surprise, so Iíll leave that to you to discover. The obvious one is Catwoman. Regardless of whether or not Bruce ever pursued her romantically, their relationship is complicated. They both know each otherís identities, and they both understand each other too well to assume that their coexistence in any capacity can be consistently mutually beneficial. Iím torn on how this dynamic is approached in Episode 3 Ė Fractured Mask. While my gut reaction is that itís classic Batman and Catwoman, it doesnít seem to settle on the right tone and chooses instead to give the player mood whiplash between playful antagonism, excessive gravitas, and the kind of sexual tension you could cut with a butter knife. I get that Telltale may not have the resources or the runtime to pad this stuff out comfortably, but that's the effect it had on me. Something tells me itíll resolve itself in the coming episodes, one way or the other.

The horrible Tiffany Fox subplot finally gets where it needs to be in Episode 3 Ė Fractured Mask. When Lucius was blown to kingdom come in Episode 1 Ė The Enigma, my gut reaction was to pull his equally-brilliant daughter into the fold as quickly as possible; it was the only logical course of action. And, of course, Telltaleís writers denied me that because they had to incorporate their favorite brand of melodrama: unnecessary, inescapable alienation of the player characterís allies. I don't know anyone who enjoys this particular storytelling trope, and Telltale desperately needs to evict it from its wheelhouse, preferably with a double-barreled shotgun.

So yes, that stuff comes to a blessed end, but it also comes at the cost ofÖ more of it. My choice to work with Amanda Waller and The Agency has, of course, led to the unnaturally rapid deterioration of Batmanís relationship with perhaps his closest ally, Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon. And since there are few functioning adult minds in this world who even entertain the notion of compromise and cooperation, Gordon is in full collapse mode at this point. Batmanís sudden and unwarranted unavailability leads the poor man to start pulling at every stray thread he sees, and of course, the biggest one of all of them is Bruce Wayne, who, on top of being the prodigal son of one of Gothamís biggest crime families, has been caught in a number of incredibly compromising situations over the last couple of episodeS. Save for an early episode encounter with a familiar (not to be confused with friendly) face, Iím obviously not a fan of this subplot.


Conclusion:

I know Iíve been very critical of Batman: The Enemy Within: Episode 3 Ė Fractured Mask, but thatís only because itís so close to perfection. So close, in fact, that itís that much more disappointing to see Telltale falling back on their cheapest tricks to produce drama. And make no mistake: this is a killer episode that keeps the wheels moving, fleshes out its characters, and raises the stakes considerably. This is still easily Telltaleís strongest series in years and probably the best use of the Batman license since Rocksteady last handled it.

At this point, it would take a massive, concerted effort to bring this thing down, so I donít think we have anything to worry about. Iíve enjoyed Batman: The Enemy Within enough to the point where I could probably recommend making the season-long investment, even with two episodes to go. (That doesnít change my disposition towards Telltaleís current episodic release model Ė I still think it needs to go.) Sure, Iíve got my qualms, but this series is consistently daring enough to render it truly original; its unwillingness to pull its punches is by far its greatest strength, and that strength is on full display in Episode 3 Ė Fractured Mask.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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