Batman: The Enemy Within – Episode One: The Enigma Review

Aug 15, 2017

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A familiar looking glass.

Note: Batman: The Enemy Within, like all Telltale games, is a narrative-focused experience. As such, they will be reviewed as such. Though I will do my best to avoid major spoilers, each review will be written as a discussion and I encourage you to play through each review’s associated episode. Expect season one spoilers throughout.

When Batman: The Telltale Series ended earlier this year, I was impressed by the writers’ fearlessness with their reinterpretation of several major characters in Batman lore. Even when they were easy to spot, the twists were calculated and subtle enough so as not to dampen its slow burning plot. While episode one of Batman: The Enemy Within promises more in the way of artistic liberty, “The Enigma” falls trap to superhero conventions, leaving a central mystery that has yet to grip me in the same way the series’ pilot did last year.

Picking up one year after the events of season one, Gotham City and Wayne Enterprises have mostly recovered from the attacks by Penguin and Lady Arkham. Batman has made a positive impact on the city, working alongside Jim Gordon with crime lower than ever. Their success is short-lived, however, when the Riddler, long thought to be dead, returns to terrorize Gotham and its citizens once again. It’s a simple enough setup that feels straight out of the superhero sequel handbook.

Don’t get me wrong – there is plenty of potential in the season premiere. The Children of Arkham from season one have left their mark on Bruce and company, some more than others. Trauma can be a difficult subject to tackle yet lead writer James Windler and his team open the conversation with admirable subtlety, going a long way with one brief scene. In fact, it’s moments like this where The Enigma shines. Most conversations between the main cast members flow well with dialogue that is generally well-written throughout. That said, there are two particular moments in the narrative near the middle and end of the episode, when the plot tries to shake the player by way of twists that, despite their efforts, were too formulaic to generate any real sense of emotion from me. If your twist is similar to any of those found in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it’s been done too many times before.

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At its best, Telltale’s Batman is a passive study of the characters surrounding the titular character and his alter ego. Unfortunately, the writing bogs itself down with an unnecessary tendency toward set-piece-driven plot beats and standard superhero twists. The plot moves along at a brisker pace, seemingly setting us up for a more procedural affair than season one. Though it’s certainly more action-packed than season one’s “Realm of Shadows,” “The Enigma” fails to deliver the same level of tension with The Riddler as Carmine Falcone. By the time The Riddler proves himself as a formidable foe, his arc is wrapped up as the narrative concerns itself with the larger conflict at hand. Though, admittedly, the writers could bring him back at some point in the future – for now, The Riddler feels like a missed opportunity, especially with his reworked background as Gotham’s first costumed supervillain.

Aesthetically, very little has changed in the way of graphical fidelity and animations. The art direction remains consistently confident, even if every character still retains an awkward stiffness about them. In terms of gameplay, Telltale has clearly been paying attention to feedback. Controls are still simple with a focus on QTEs, albeit streamlined. Players no longer stalk criminals from a distance and instead are presented with takedown options seconds before performing their chosen actions. It’s a small tweak that helps speed up gameplay and add to the faster-paced plot, for better or worse.

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In many ways, “The Enigma” sends vibes of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight with light touches from classic comics like The Dark Knight Returns and No Man’s Land. In other ways, its ambition reminds me of Zach Snyder’s Batman v Superman. There’s much to enjoy in the smaller moments, but all too often the writing seems more concerned with setting up the future than allowing the audience to care about the present. I’m excited for future episodes of The Enemy Within. However, it remains to be seen how episode one’s antagonist will affect the course of the next four episodes. I’m cautiously optimistic that the character will not go to waste.

 

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