Telltale are finally getting better at the ‘episodic gaming’ thing. Timely episodes are rather important when your business model is emulating the distribution of a TV series - otherwise people like me get bamboozled because they can’t remember what happened last time. Just over a month has passed since episode one, and like the turn of daylight savings I said, ‘geez is it that time already?’
Much of the time this series has felt like Bruce Wayne: a Telltale Series more than a Batman one. But the Dark Knight’s executive life is also one of the underexplored areas of his story - something this series has put to good use.
More specifically, episode two puts a new angle to Bruce’s parents and their assumed altruism - illuminating a more fraudulent fortune. Suddenly their alleyway happenstance becomes less of a happenstance. Bruce’s wealth now risks confiscation while he juggles the demands of reporters, Harvey Dent’s candidacy, Catwoman’s uncertain allegiance, and his nocturnal hobby. The decisions you make are consequently layered with considerations. How will this affect Batman’s standing with the police department? Do I even need their approval if Bruce Wayne has Harvey Dent to stop crime? Will my Butler approve? It’s a strategic use of Telltale’s decision-making motto, requiring even more thought than the political cluster of their Game of Thrones series.
So far this version of the Bat-verse has gone for a less sensationalist take on the fiction. There’s no fantastical Killer Croc or plant-controlling bikini lady. Telltale seem to be going for a Nolan-esque approach to Batman’s world - one less comical and more practical. There’s no super villain like the Joker threatening to kill the populace with confetti, just a couple of corrupt officials, crime lords, and the Penguin with a normal nose.
Batman hence had less to do this time around; no crime scenes to analyse, less time in the Bat-cave, and easier goons to beat on. The ruthless barrage of quick-time events from the first episode have been replaced with ones less deserving of Batman’s aptitude. Though I better understood and felt like Bruce Wayne, I certainly felt less like Batman. His allotments were without the challenge I hoped would continue, and I still do.
Episodic content has the unique challenge of resuming at jarring intervals, sometimes months apart, which is tough on flow - especially when you’re trying to tell one continuous narrative. But Telltale haven't been sucked in by the complexities of episodic game development - they’ve applied the basics, even in these circumstances. Both episodes have been structured like self-contained stories that just so happen to make up a larger one, like a well-thought out paragraph (unlike this one).
Children of Arkham is a less theatric, but more disruptive story to Batman’s lore. Thickly-coated subplots mean more contemplative decisions as those layers become increasingly complex and intertwined. Shuffling around a double-life is hard enough, and even more so with all the complications taking place in both. Pausing the game to meditate on my next plan of action has become a regularity. Though all the political psychosis means this might be one Telltale series best played in binge - as it’s easy to forget where the pawns and horses are during a month-long recess.