I mentioned in my review of Batman: The Telltale Series – Episode 1: Realm Of Shadows that it seemed a little silly to reimagine the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne for what seemed like the millionth time. “I’m sure there are a few stragglers out there who haven’t heard the tragic tale of Batman’s origins,” I wrote, “but … why jam the explanations so unceremoniously into dialogue and give us yet another iteration of the ‘Bruce becomes an orphan’ scene?” Little did I know that I would be seeing that famous event recreated so soon — the entire first chapter of Batman: The Telltale Series – Episode 2: Children of Arkham centers on it, a choice ultimately emblematic of this overall disappointing sophomore entry in Telltale’s take on the Dark Knight.
Scenes that stretched credibility or otherwise failed to capitalize on good ideas did somewhat weaken the goodwill I’d built up thanks to the tantalizing threads introduced in Episode 1, but thankfully, things pick up a bit more by the very end. I can’t say for sure whether or not Telltale will recover from this slight stumble, of course, but what I saw made me confident that the remaining three episodes can still pull together a captivating narrative arc.
Now, when I said the entire first chapter centers on the murder of Thomas and Martha, I suppose I wasn’t being entirely fair. The scene is meant to subvert players’ expectations of the normal Wayne family death scene by way of a revelation that occurred at the end of the first episode, but I really found the execution (no pun intended) to be jarring. Since I’ve dedicated myself to offering mostly-spoiler-free reviews of Batman: The Telltale Series, I can’t go into too much detail, but let’s start with this: Bruce repressing specific details of his parents’ death isn’t inherently a bad idea, and having him “investigate” the scene of his parents’ demise to repair the full memory is actually kind of a cool concept. And sure, the ultimate revelation might be predictable — but with the right timing and writing, it could have been quite an enjoyable twist on the formula for Batman fans.
Why, then, does the memory have to immediately jump to the most obvious possible version of this scene (right down to lame lines you can practically say before the characters do)? Why is the gameplay so minimal, requiring only a few clicks of the mouse before the mystery is solved? The pacing and the presentation during this early chapter feel rushed, to say the least. What I expected was an elaborate fantasy sequence in which I used Batman’s detective skills to see his parents’ murder in a new light. What I got was a few clicks on pre-marked locations for a super-obvious payoff.
I mention these specific criticisms because they pretty much apply to the majority of Episode 2’s events. The debut episode got me intrigued for the potential of several narrative threads, some of which are unceremoniously cut off here by utterly weak execution in both gameplay and storytelling. We suddenly have answers to the following questions from the first episode — like a) What was the mystery toxin? b) Who was Catwoman working for, anyway? c) What exactly is Oswald Cobblepot planning? and d) What is the secret of the Wayne family? — and all of the answers are a lot simpler than you’d expect.
Plus, finding them isn’t even that satisfying when you feel like more of an observer than an active participant; to be sure, there are moral choices to make, things to examine and grunts to beat up in QTEs, but all of these sections are shorter and less engaging than their Episode 1 counterparts.
Luckily, things do pick up again in the last couple chapters. Here, there are a couple scenes where you can see a cute dynamic emerging between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Selina Kyle/Catwoman, and the finale — which takes place during an attack on a televised mayoral debate between Harvey Dent and Walter Hill — is a spectacular combination of light payoffs, action-packed fight scenes and tantalizing possibilities that equal those found in the premier episode. I’m hoping that Telltale will prove me right on this last prediction, but I do believe the stage is set for a series of less meandering, more intense episodes as we move forward from this point.
Batman: The Telltale Series – Episode 2: Children of Arkham is disappointing, but only because many of the exciting story threads that started in the first episode fail to pay off. Rushed pacing and limited gameplay, along with a lack of focus and detail, make it difficult to get into Telltale’s admittedly fascinating new direction for Bruce Wayne and Batman this time around. The picture does become a little clearer toward the end of the story though, with an energetic finale, so hopefully it has set the series up for a more breakneck, focused pace for the remaining three episodes. I’ve got my fingers crossed!
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with.
Children of Arkham eventually gets to some really interesting places, but it takes them a little too long to get there — and many interesting story threads from the premier aren't given proper attention gameplay-wise or story-wise. Still, it's nice to see Bruce Wayne and Batman taken in such a dark new direction.