Batman: The Enemy Within – Episode 2: The Pact Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Apple Mac, PC, iPad and Microsoft Xbox One
WARNING! This review may contain SPOILERS for Batman: The Telltale Series and Episode 1 of Batman: The Enemy Within
The Pact begins exactly where The Enigma left off. The hurt from Riddler’s exploits has rippled through all those that you have met so far, and his death has left a power vacuum within The Pact. Batman attempts to dive straight back into the action, though after his very first direct contact with The Pact, Bruce is left in a sorry way. Thus we are offered the chance to play a more humanising, vulnerable role this time around, Which means more focus on character interaction and less on action. For once, Bruce Wayne feels like the mask for Batman as the detective goes undercover as himself.
The Enigma stole our main antagonist, but set up the anticipation for a group much darker: an organisation of villains that even Riddler was answerable to. They are the namesake of this episode, the illustrious Pact. It may be a disappointment then, that the introduction of The Pact members had a lot less fanfare than they were probably due, to the point where you could forget that this is supposed to be the elusive, invite-only crew that was withheld from us in the previous episode.
Episode 2 of this season stands up better than the equivalent episode of the previous season, but it doesn’t push any boundaries with its overall design. The first season lacked in personality, and was unable to offer anything interesting with the handful of characters it introduced over the five episodes. This time around, we have been showered with familiar faces from the Batman franchise as early as this second episode. Inevitably, due to the introduction of so many established characters from the Batman universe, the interaction time with each individual feels somewhat limited. Sadly, the main intrigue comes from the sheer numbers of notable characters and so far there has not been enough time to really get to know them all.
The difficulty with established stories as popular as Batman is that the audience comes with preconceptions and expectations. It is a safer option for writers to stick to the tried and tested character profiles. That has not been the case for John Doe, aka The Joker’s character so far. He is painted as childlike and impressionable, with an innocent infatuation with Bruce. He lacks all the authority of the comic’s Joker. At the back of your mind you may be wondering - how long until he completely snaps?
The Joker’s psychotic personality is not completely lost though. This episode introduces us to his mirror image in the form of Harley Quinn, who seems to have most of her faculties this time around. For once she has the intelligence level befitting her previous role as a doctor. She is an unpredictable character who adds a lot of well-needed tension to this episode. The Batman characters have had their stories retold more times than is likely necessary, but it is still a risky business going off script. It is therefore refreshing that Telltale is willing to twist the established canon in a new direction. Fabulous redesigns of character outfits give the game its own style, and matched with their vibrant new personalities, Telltale has certainly succeeded in carving their own Batman lore. The excitement is in not knowing what to expect from these characters.
The classic Telltale gameplay is all about the decision making, which we can divide into clearcut binary choices, and the more subtle responses which are more puzzle-like since they require you to sit up and pay attention. If you fail to take note, you will miss the correct combination. Last time around, our decisions were focused on Batman and his allies Waller and Gordon. Now the character dynamic between Bruce, John and Harley is what drives the decision making. If you continue to support the same alliances throughout, you may start to feel the knock-on effects of some of the decision making of the first episode, but blink and you might miss them.
Previous Telltale games have succeeded in making you feel like ‘your choices matter’ by presenting you with more clear binary decisions, but this season makes the decision-making process feel a lot more blurry. Big binary decisions such as ‘call Waller or Gordon’, do not have the same dramatic impact as ‘save the life of character X or Y’. Because of this, The Pact fails to make you feel like you’re having any meaningful impact, and players may often feel like you’re being offered a placebo. These decisions feel diluted and it is simply not clear what the repercussions of your actions might be at some points. Perhaps these choices will come to fruition later down the line.
Alternatively, the subtler character interactions force you to actually comprehend specific dialogue and character cues, so that you can learn how to respond to a certain situation. Manoeuvring these situations in the correct manner can provide the player with a sense of personal satisfaction regardless of the predefined results. This point in the story was the perfect chance for Bruce to use his world-class analytical prowess to develop useful profiles on his adversaries... We can only hope that there are plans to take advantage of this in the future. It would have been beneficial to have more time to interact with some of the new additions for any meaningful amount of time. The inundation of supervillains without truly utilising them is a wasted opportunity, especially since the Bruce-Harley-John dynamic is where this episode really flourishes. The role reversal is exciting and not a total stretch from the realms of the subject material. Meanwhile, we cannot help but wonder whether John’s meek persona is all a ploy or if we’re witnessing his descent into becoming The Clown Prince of crime.
This episode has had a slower pace overall as a result of it concentrating on Bruce, which has given it the chance to lay the foundations of things to come. We fully expect the narrative tempo to kick up a notch as we reach the middle of the season, because without it the season may falter. Furthermore, the season will begin to sour if we don’t get an injection of some much needed moment-to-moment gameplay.