Note: This review contains spoilers for Season 1 of Telltale's Batman series.
Actions have consequences, and in Season 1 of Telltale's Batman series Bruce Wayne learned this truth the hard way. His father, Thomas Wayne, was revealed to be one of the most powerful criminals in Gotham history, with his nefarious activities giving rise to a terrorist group called the Children of Arkham. Their leader, Lady Arkham, joined forces with an embittered Oswald Cobblepot and together they turned Bruce Wayne's life upside down. They drove a wedge between Batman and his allies, then exposed the sordid Wayne family history to the ever-volatile citizens of Gotham.
While the events of Season 1 mostly wrapped up neatly, with the Penguin behind bars and Lady Arkham presumed dead, one very important thread was left laying bare. At one point, in order to escape incarceration at Arkham Asylum, Bruce Wayne briefly allied himself with John Doe, a green-haired, pale-faced lunatic with a chilling ear-to-ear grin. And as we all know, actions have consequences.
But The Enigma, Season 2 Episode 1 of Telltale's Batman series, approaches this loose end with a deft touch, allowing the threat of John Doe to linger in the background, ever present but quietly simmering. Instead of immediately placing the focus on the Joker it pivots to a compelling take on the Riddler, who is excellently voiced by Robin Atkin Downes. Although Riddler is primarily used as the setup for much bigger threats, Telltale still does justice to the character with a gripping, self-contained story.
As with Oswald Cobblepot in Season 1, Telltale has made a few small changes to Edward Nigma to present him in a way that, while not completely unique, puts a new spin on him. In this universe, Riddler existed before Bruce Wayne became Batman and, in fact, he terrorised Gotham in the days when Carmine Falcone, Mayor Hamilton Hill, and Thomas Wayne's criminal empire had an iron grip on the city. He was known to be so fearsome that even they gave him a wide berth.
His return to Gotham is not only an ominous sign of things to come, but the spark that ignites a number of fires for Batman and Bruce Wayne to fight. In typical Riddler fashion, he immediately sets about challenging the intellect of Gotham's so-called saviour. Their initial confrontation is a brutal casino brawl which culminates in the villain leaving the Dark Knight with a mystery to solve: a small, strange box that must be figured out--"or people are gonna get hurt."
The bulk of the episode is spent unraveling the mysteries of the box and then dealing with the fallout. But the search for answers has a devastating impact on the people around Batman. Telltale isn't wasting any time, as Episode 1 has a few harrowing moments and tough decisions that put you under pressure. By the time the episode has wrapped up, the Riddler has made a permanent mark on the life of Bruce Wayne and Batman.
The means of driving the narrative in Season 2 hasn't changed drastically from the previous season. Investigations involve finding clues by moving around environments and interacting with specific objects, at which point a Bat-Monologue will explain how it could be relevant to the mystery. The puzzle-solving is similarly rudimentary, asking you to make connections between pieces of evidence in order to reconstruct a simulation of what happened. While the first game's crime-solving sequences weren't much more complicated, they at least had a multitude of variables to think about. In this episode, however, the solutions were obvious and the steps to solving conundrums were simple, often requiring you to simply connect a pair of clues. I didn't much feel like the world's greatest detective.
Episode 1 as a whole feels more weighted towards action set pieces, and although the interactions are still a series of quick-time events, Telltale has introduced more opportunities to direct Batman in the moment-to-moment scuffles. Now, after delivering a flurry of bone crunching hooks and uppercuts, you can choose whether you want to follow up with a roundhouse or a bodyslam--or you'll have to tap buttons multiple times to ensure your Batarangs hit all the goons in the area. It's a small change, but one that encourages players to stay focused and engaged.
Although Riddler is primarily used as the setup for much bigger threats, Telltale still does justice to the character with a gripping, self-contained story.
As with all Telltale's games, the way you respond to characters through dialogue choices not only defines how the story branches, but now also redefines relationships. It can be difficult to see someone you once considered a friend now doubting you, through no fault of your own. This shake up injects further drama into existing dynamics, which means you never truly feel at ease during a conversation.
While the episode is less overt than Season 1 about trying to deconstruct Batman and Bruce Wayne, the Riddler is used to assess the principles they operate under. Each new SAW-like death trap questions what sacrifices the Caped Crusader is willing to make in pursuit of his justice. It's subtle, but Telltale is picking at the line between hero and criminal in a way that could unravel Batman's sense of self, with interesting implications.
The Riddler's arrival has also attracted the attention of The Agency, a shadowy law enforcement group that has been tracking the villain for some time. This outfit is headed up by Amanda Waller, and DC fans will immediately appreciate the implications her introduction has. Waller is known to be one of the most powerful non-superhuman characters in the DC universe, regularly scheming and politicking to keep the worst criminals and greatest heroes under her thumb.
She begins to undermine the fruitful relationship between Gordon and Batman by creating a rift between them, something which you must then work to mend. She becomes yet another plate for you to spin, a new source of stress in the game's decision making moments. The episode ends on a very unexpected revelation involving Waller which will change things for Batman in a big way.
Of course, there's also the matter of John Doe, who abruptly reappears having been released from Arkham Asylum with a clean bill of health. Doe makes his somewhat unwelcome comeback in one of the episode's most somber moments, becoming an uncontrollable wildcard. However, while he's still ever so slightly unhinged, he's also unusually helpful to Batman's investigations, which once again emphasizes the actions-have-consequences mantra Telltale's games are built on. Do you accept help from someone who, deep down, you know will eventually turn on you?
Without the need to retell the origin story and unburdened by that baggage, Season 2 of Telltale's Batman series has started strongly with a variety of well-realized new characters. There are a number of tough decision-making moments that will give the you pause and invite you to consider the impact your choices could have. While gameplay is not markedly different, combat is tweaked just enough to make it an improvement over its previous iteration. Overall, The Enigma is a successful opening chapter to a Batman story that's shaping up to be more ambitious than anything Telltale attempted in the first season.