By Marty Mulrooney
Children of Arkham is the second episode of Batman: The Telltale Series, a new five-episode adventure game from Telltale Games (Tales from the Borderlands, The Wolf Among Us). Continuing directly on from the previous episode, players must take control of Bruce Wayne and try to uncover the truth about his family legacy. Meanwhile, childhood friend turned villain Oswald Cobblepot finally makes his move…
Episode 2 begins with Bruce Wayne standing in the pouring rain. He’s in Crime Alley – the infamous location where his parents were gunned down in cold blood – struggling to come to terms with fresh allegations that his father was involved with mob boss Carmine Falcone. It’s a scene that has been revisited many times in Batman comic books, films and video games, and its inclusion here doesn’t initially feel particularly innovative. This feeling is compounded when the entire opening sequence basically amounts to clicking hotspots until the full memory of that terrible night is played out.
Yet something innovative does come out of these opening moments, with a previously buried slither of truth finally rising to the surface and continuing to fester throughout the episode. Batman only exists because Bruce Wayne saw his parents shot down by a common street thug as a child. If that essential fact turns out to be a fabrication, can Batman still exist? This is relatively new territory for the Dark Knight, and for Bruce Wayne too. It also prompts the player to ask themselves similar questions. If everything you thought you knew about your past turned out to be a lie, would it change who you truly are? Would it change who you’ve chosen to become?
Mechanically it’s not the best opening then, but in terms of plot it’s a great springboard. Children of Arkham will continually surprise anyone who possesses even a passing familiarity with Batman lore. Telltale Games has obviously been given carte blanche to write the story as they see fit. Hence Oswald Cobblepot now being a tall, lanky, revolutionary young man who was once a childhood friend of Bruce, and the legacy of Thomas Wayne being seriously called into question. These are the surprising elements that make Episode 2 such a joy to watch unravel.
Watch is the operative word here, as gameplay is even more focussed on decision making and conversation trees than last time around. Sadly, there are no more crime scene investigations to be found and the quick time event sequences, although well directed and exciting, are the closest players will get to ‘becoming’ the Batman. Which is why it was a very prudent and wise decision to make Bruce Wayne the true focus of the series. It’s very telling that one of the most exciting and enjoyable moments features Bruce and Selina – not Batman and Catwoman – defending themselves during a barroom brawl. Later, you can choose to approach a situation as Batman or Bruce and neither decision feels like the boring choice. That’s right – Bruce Wayne is awesome.
Troy Baker is a wonderful voice actor and he really sells Bruce Wayne as a real person, rather than simply making him a daylight guise for Batman. His relationships with Selina Kyle, Harvey Dent and Lieutenant James Gordon in particular are all wonderfully realised, making responses during conversations feel like they actually matter. Those who have never enjoyed the Telltale approach to gaming won’t be swayed now, but in terms of storytelling at least Batman: The Telltale Series is shaping up nicely.
The series still desperately needs a villain worthy of both Batman and Bruce Wayne, but it’s nice to see Oswald Cobblepot isn’t all talk. It’s quite shocking throughout the episode how many guns are aimed at people as a threat that is then followed through. People do die and they won’t be coming back. It makes the stakes feel real and positions the ‘Children of Arkham’ as a force to be reckoned with… and afraid of. It will be very interesting to see how they are developed in the next episode.
Batman: The Telltale Series – Episode 2: Children of Arkham may be shorter and less interactive than the debut episode of the series, but it’s undoubtedly much more focused and engaging – at least thematically – as a result. Bruce Wayne is becoming more interesting with each interaction and the heart of the project is finally coming into focus. Episode 3 will be the midway point and, for this series to truly take off, it needs to be a definitive turning point. For now, Children of Arkham poses some great questions and defies many familiar Batman tropes. The result is an exciting, highly enjoyable slice of interactive fiction that will undoubtedly leave players hungry for more.
8 OUT OF 10