Unless you’re a big fan of Telltale’s specific brand of minimalist conversational gameplay, the only reason to bother with the second season of their Batman project so far has been to appreciate the various liberties and subversions the season brings to its source material. The absence of any new facets of this angle might make Batman: The Enemy Within – Episode 3: Fractured Mask the weakest entry yet, but it also contains a more concentrated plot and some scenes that retroactively make the previous episodes feel more complete, so it’s difficult to say. It won’t turn existing players off, but it doesn’t make much of an argument for becoming a new fan, either.
The Enemy Within may end up being a “greater than the sum of its parts” situation. One of the largest faults of Episode 1: The Enigma was its casting of the Riddler as a mere introductory villain, while Episode 2: The Pact suffered from a barely related plot that didn’t accomplish anything. Fractured Mask manages to give the initial antagonist some additional importance while following through with what The Pact established. It’s a minor payoff episode – not to the extent expected of a finale, but enough to assure players that all of the mystery will be worth it. It’s just a shame that the satisfying storytelling and the intriguing story premises are always sequestered in separate episodes of this series.
Maybe this is just the nature of episodic game development restricting the focus of each piece of the whole, but every decision that went into this piece seems like two steps in opposite directions. For a moment, Telltale made it seem like they’d finally figured out that no one cares about quick-time events without important context. There’s a total of one action scene here, and while it’s as well-directed as the rest of the product, it’s exciting because of what it means for the characters and the story (and the implications of what’s happening in the background of it), not because of who’s punching who and how.
But everywhere else, the game keeps straying closer and closer to traditional gameplay for its own sake, and every time it does so, it becomes obviously shallow and forced. The very first scene utilizes some of the most unintuitive mouse controls in Telltale’s entire catalogue, and there’s one scene that requires moving it in circles that flat-out doesn’t work, leaving Bruce Wayne intensely gripping the hand of a clock for about five minutes while I flailed around in every direction. Later on, there’s a section that requires switching between thermal and electric vision settings, but it’s more of a glorified checklist than an actual game mechanic.
The usual hallmarks are all here, at least: the game looks and sounds as excellent as ever, and the writing is still solid. This iteration actually takes some more stabs at humour than usual, which was a welcome reprieve from the increasingly desperate narrative, and rather fitting considering the second-most important character is a not-necessarily-evil-yet Proto-Joker. As usual, the third episode is also where the emphasis on player choice increases, as the consequences of early decisions rear their heads, and those of current decisions graduate from “this character won’t like that” to “this character might die.”
Batman: The Enemy Within – Episode 3: Fractured Mask is a good example of how a distribution model – in this case, an episodic release schedule – can actually impact the reception of a game. By not spreading their more interesting ideas out across all components of the season, Telltale has left Episode 3 with nothing impressive to its name – just some straightforward plot advancement and the opportunity to clean up some messes left over from previous titles. Additionally, individual flaws like that uncooperative clock stand out when they take up such a large portion of the running time. The possibility that the season as a whole will come together into something more compelling is still there, but its likelihood shrinks with every release.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with by Telltale Games.
Episode 3 of Batman: The Enemy Within adequately follows through with some earlier plot points, but it doesn't do much else.