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Batman: The Enemy Within: Episode 1 - The Enigma

Score: 95%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure


Graphics & Sound:

Batman: The Telltale Series is something of a surprise to me. Not the fact that it exists; that’s about as surprising as the announcement of a Call of Duty game. No, what’s surprising about Telltale’s treatment of that most classic DC superhero property is how it refuses to confine itself to the clichés that have driven it since Bob Kane and Bill Finger first thought it up. Things that we have come to take for granted are no longer safe bets, and as a result, the stakes are raised immeasurably. The first season was solid and engaging, though it met with some stumbles along the way. It planted the seeds from which future seasons would certainly grow, and at the time I reviewed the final episode of the season, I was skeptical. After five episodes did their best to subvert and surprise, it appeared as though we would indeed be retreading old, tired ground. Well, appearances can deceive. Batman: The Enemy Within: Episode 1 – The Enigma is one of the finest opening chapters of any Telltale story to date, and unquestionably the most intense of them.

Artistically, Batman: The Enemy Within matches what came before; as it should. It wouldn’t do for some kind of crazy concept aesthetic to be implemented in the interim with no rhyme or reason. So, things are largely as they were last season. Character models return, some with more noticeable wear and tear than others. Places generally look like they did last season, as well; Wayne Tower and the Batcave are staples, and it’d be a shame if their layouts and visual styles were somehow lost in the jump. So we’ve got the status quo on that front, which is good enough. But the real achievement is on the other side of that coin. Technical problems tend to abound in Telltale games, and amazingly, blessedly, I didn’t really notice many of them in Episode 1 – The Enigma. Action sequences generally went off without any hitches, and I didn’t pick up on any sequences plagued by freezes and stutters. This is how every Telltale game should look.

Returning veterans of both the industry and Telltale productions fill out the voice cast quite nicely. Troy Baker hits a sweet spot between using his "normal" voice and channeling the great Kevin Conroy. That being said, I really dig the voice modulator that deepens Batman’s already rich baritone to a deeply menacing, inhuman monotone. Robin Atkin Downes is excellent as Riddler; he leaves behind the camp stupidity of Jim Carrey’s Batman Forever role and the narcissistic showmanship of Wally Wingert’s performance in the Arkham games in favor of a portrayal that shows a grizzled old monster whose intelligence is merely a vehicle for his incredible sadism. The music and sound effects are serviceable, but save for some interesting cues, the voice acting rightly takes precedence.


Gameplay:

We open on a Gotham City that has likely not seen better days. Crime is at an all-time low thanks to the sanctioned partnership between the Gotham City Police Department (led by freshly-minted Commissioner Jim Gordon) and the alter ego of Bruce Wayne, the vigilante known as the Batman. Their combined efforts at ridding the city of both the murderous Children of Arkham and the terror of former mayor Harvey Dent have resulted in a time of relative peace for the oft-embattled metropolis. But scars remain, both physical and within. It doesn’t matter what choices you made last season; the only guaranteed constant in this world is pain, and it is illustrated through both visuals and performances. There is a devastating cost to keeping this city safe, and those who undertake that noble cause pay that cost, daily and dearly.

This lull is brought to a grisly close with the return of the Riddler, here portrayed as a fell demon of Gotham’s past. Long disappeared and thought dead by most, he marks his return with a spectacular opening salvo of violence that is both theatrical and nauseating. Batman: The Enemy Within: Episode 1 - The Enigma’s opening chapter is a difficult thing to witness in many respects, and that’s part of what makes it great. What’s truly amazing about this opening episode is that it maintains that fever pitch for the grand majority of it.

We are quickly brought up to speed with the administrative grief that multiplies tenfold with the introduction of The Agency, a shadowy law enforcement organization with a questionable reputation and near-endless resources at its disposal. Headed up by the nail-tough, whip-smart Amanda Waller, The Agency immediately threatens to drive a wedge between Batman and Gordon, and ultimately reveals itself as an institution that could easily destroy the Batman if it wanted to. How can the Dark Knight deal with such a force? Or, for that matter, Bruce Wayne?

A certain individual Bruce met during his short stay at Arkham Asylum last season returns to his life at an incredibly inopportune moment. You know the one: "John Doe." The pale, sickly-looking dude with the creepy smile. I sniffed at his introduction last season, as it came across as a forced bit of fanservice that surely would go exactly as we all expected it to. Well, at this moment in the telling, I’m eating my words. Yes, this man is clearly destined to become the Joker, but his character here is unlike anything I’ve seen of him in past incarnations. He’s not an unrepentant mobster-turned-supervillain like in the 1989 film. He isn’t the laughing mad jester from Batman: The Animated Series. And he certainly doesn’t inspire memories of the anarchy-obsessed terrorist from The Dark Knight. Here, he comes across as a deeply insecure man with intentions that are, at the moment, unknown. Yes, of course he’s got an agenda, but apart from that, two things are very clearly established: he wants Bruce Wayne’s friendship, and he has the means to be a serious asset. Not only to the beleaguered billionaire, but his crime-fighting alter ego. Origin stories don’t suit the Clown Prince of Crime; he’s much more interesting without them. This feels different so far, and I’m excited to see where it goes.


Difficulty:

I met with more fail states in Batman: The Enemy Within: Episode 1 - The Enigma than I have in my entire history with Telltale combined. That's primarily due to my unwillingness to interrupt during key moments. Batman might be in an extreme situation in which he's at the mercy of a particularly talky goon, and you may be tempted to hold off an easy turning of the tables until they're done talking. This invariably ends in death. Don't do it if you can help it; the dialogue is good, but it's not THAT good.

All of that being said, this is an experience that, as always, is designed to be completed with ease. And as long as you put in the necessary time, you will. Since the experience is always moving, you may not have as much time to let things sink in as you might want. A word of advice: just go with it. You'll have plenty of time to reflect later. Do what comes natural and damn the torpedoes.


Game Mechanics:

Batman: The Enemy Within takes the same simple mechanics established in the first season (themselves a refinement of what Telltale games generally offer) and keeps them largely unaltered. Three core pillars of rudimentary, largely uninteractive gameplay: dialogue, combat, and investigation.

Dialogue, as always, is the most prominent form of interaction: you're a passive observer for most of the experience, but you occasionally jump in from time to time to make a choice regarding what you want Bruce/Batman to say. Some of these moments matter, but most do not. You'll be notified when your relationships with key characters change, but when it comes down to it, the story still follows the same path, and you have no significant impact on it. Go in with that understanding, and you'll enjoy the experience more.

Combat remains a canned, hands-off affair, but it's better choreographed and put together in this game than it is in most Telltale games. It's entirely comprised of quick time events that accompany a series of cutscenes, and most of it is mindless. However, the game gives you a few moments in which you can choose exactly how to inflict pain on your enemies; while the combat mechanics are no less dull and pointless for them, options are always nice.

Episode 1: The Enigma includes an investigation sequence towards the end of its runtime, and it's a good one, particularly because of how it works its way into the resulting action sequence. I shouldn't say any more about it, apart from the return of the mechanic that allows Batman to establish a crime scene, linking pieces of evidence together in order to put together exactly what went down. It's quintessentially Batman; I just wish there was more of it.

My main complaint with this game is a longstanding one with Telltale, and I will relodge it again and again until it’s either fixed or justified. Compromise, a deeply human construct that allows us to resolve our issues, is a non-entity in these stories. Alienation is your only option, which enforces my belief that these writers get off on the kind of infuriating dramatic irony that can be solved with a simple explanation – an option you are never given in these games. Contrived, obvious misunderstandings mushroom into uncomfortable moments that force you to choose between thoughtless responses (that only serve to dig your hole even deeper) and silence (which other characters take as either an opportunity to pour salt on the wound, or worse, an implicit admission of guilt). You are made to feel impotent, blamed for circumstances well beyond your control while you’re screaming at your television, hoping that certain characters would act like real human beings. I loathe this kind of writing, and I really hope Telltale rises above it one day.

Even if the rest of Batman: The Enemy Within doesn’t live up to the expectations set by this excellent opening chapter, Episode 1: The Enigma still works as a standalone story. It’s got its hooks, and they’re painful and barbed as ever, but you can play through this episode and feel as though you’ve conquered an entire season’s worth of relentlessly intense storytelling.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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