Batman: The Telltale Series is an episodic video game. This is a review of episode 2 of a 5-episode series. Spoilers may exist in the review. Reviews for previous episodes can be found here:
Batman: The Telltale Series is a far more divergent version of Batman than I originally anticipated. I covered the basic gameplay my review of the first episode, so now it's time to take a deeper look at the story being told.
The beginning of this new Batman was largely about the caped crusader's alter ego, Bruce Wayne. Unlike many of the comic iterations, Telltale seemed more interested in exploring not only Bruce Wayne, but how much his family meant to the city of Gotham.
Telltale is playing on expectations here. It's been a long constant that Bruce's parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, were nominally good people. They were old money, but they were kind with their wealth. Thomas was a doctor, Wayne Industries helped the city, and the Waynes were generally seen a a shining light in Gotham.
Towards the end of the previous episode, there was mention of Thomas Wayne being involved with mob boss Carmine Falcone. My assumption as a long-time Batman reader was this was a swerve, some plot whipped up by a Batman villain like Hush. It's clear from this episode that Telltale is playing it completely straight.
Thomas Wayne was working with Carmine Falcone and corrupt mayor Hill to control the city. The alley mugging that killed the Waynes and created Batman was a deliberate hit; a strike at one of the kings of Gotham City. Martha Wayne may have had knowledge of her husband's activities. Alfred definitely did, even if he disagreed with the Wayne's actions.
It's an interesting dynamic, because while Batman has the extra-judicial power and gadgets to bring down criminals and Bruce Wayne has the wealth and resources to help the city, none of that is useful against the truth: The Waynes were the photogenic face of Gotham's corruption. Bruce Wayne, Batman, and Wayne Industries are all the result of criminal actions. Bruce believed one type of crime created Batman, a low-level, general crime plaguing the city, but that was merely the result of a larger crime. Seeing Bruce deal with that, while trying to stop a larger evil in his city as Batman, is an interesting take on the mythos.
Part of the issue with second episodes in episodic games is that you're in the middle of an act. It's not all establishment, but it's not the climax either. With Batman: The Telltale Series and Minecraft: Story Mode, it's clear that Telltale has grasped how to make second episodes work. Make sure the the pace is quick and the events feel like they matter.
A lot happens here. Carmine Falcone and Mayor Hill lay out the extent of the Wayne's corruption. Renee Montoya is introduced and undertakes a major action in the plot of the episode. Catwoman and Batman bond in their civilian guises, setting up the famous love-hate relationship they have in the comics. Telltale's version of the Penguin and Killer Croc strike the Gotham mayoral debate. And in the midst of all of this, the faceless mastermind pulling everything behind the scenes is shown for the first time.
Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 2 moves along at a brisk pace. It's an episode that's just as good as the first, and I'm impressed that Telltale was even able to surprise me here and there. Batman is a character with a long history and massive fandom. Charting your own path is probably better than slavishly sticking to the source material and Telltale made the right choice here.
Telltale continues to craft its own version of Batman and Bruce Wayne. The action is still solid, but this is all about the story: Who is Bruce Wayne when everything he knows to be true is a lie? Given the truth of his origins, who is Batman? Telltale's Batman relies on safety and familiarity to subvert expectations here and it works well.