Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 2: Children of Arkham Review

Originally published on Trevor Trove on September 21, 2016

TL; DR(eview) – The buggiest chapter of a Telltale game I have experienced to date mars otherwise interesting story moves in their developing Batman saga.

More Like Bugman: The Telltale Series

Normally, when I’m writing up a review for a game that has some bugs and quirks, I tend to throw those mentions in near the end: sort of an “if this bothers you, here was my experience” kind of thing. But with the latest installment of Telltale’s Batman game, these issues were so prevalent I am sadly highlighting them first here.

From the moment I was given control of the character (after a few dialogue prompts), the game immediately began stuttering with laughably bad framerate drops. Additional, entire textures in the world would just flicker (or stay) black, sometimes even going so far as to obstruct the action or scene. After the first scene, (the pre-title card sequence) the game crashed, causing me to restart. While I didn’t lose any progress, the restart didn’t help with performance either (though others on Twitter said they did have a smoother performance after restarting). The lag continued to be an issued, ultimately affecting the game’s light quick-time event combat sections causing multiple deaths because the game didn’t register the input and/or delayed the prompts so much that by the time they appeared, the fail state was already triggering. And lastly, there were sound issues: sound effects that didn’t trigger (unless those punches to the faces were supposed to be awkwardly silent) and randomly fluctuating volume on dialogue sequences (one scene would be normal and then the next scene inexplicably sounded as though the volume had been turned way down).

All of these issues fly in the face of the public relations rhetoric that Telltale has been working on improving the engine for this game. They certainly might be working on it, but this was easily the messiest experience I’ve had with any of their games. As of this writing, they’ve already released patch 1.02 on PlayStation 4 and I played through the first scene again to check it out. I didn’t run into issues of texture pop-in this time but the movement and animation still stuttered pretty noticeably.

So maybe wait to see if they give it a bit more love and care before diving in if that kind of choppy experience is going to bother you extensively.

The Wayne Legacy

The story itself picks up where the last episode leaves off with Bruce weighing the end-of-chapter revelations thrust upon his world. This means revisiting that fateful night in Crime Alley where the Waynes were murdered some twenty years ago. Personally, when it was immediately apparent that I was going to be revisiting yet another interpretation of that scene, I audibly groaned, but it doesn’t wear out its welcome and it at least ties into the larger plot Telltale is exploring as Bruce recalls details relevant to the recent discoveries in his life.

I don’t want to go too far into the details of the story. But it is pretty clear that one of the big things Bruce, and everyone else in Gotham, is tackling in this story is the realization that perhaps his parents weren’t the stalwart bastions of hope and honor everyone thought them to be. Bruce has taken on the mantle of Batman in large part to continue (in his way) the legacy set forth by his parents. But if his parents weren’t noble themselves, how does that affect the man Bruce has become?

As Bruce struggles with that existential crisis, there continue to be a lot of pieces moving around the chessboard as the second episode continues presenting a lot more in the way of setup than resolution. Harvey Dent explains he must distance himself from the increasingly scandalous Wayne. Penguin begins to put his plans for a revolution, mentioned in the last episode, into practice. Selina Kyle and Dent’s political rival Mayor Hamilton Hill are both given showcase scenes exploring their backgrounds and how they can help or hurt Bruce. And all the while, more and more dark and buried history from Thomas and Martha Wayne is being unearthed.

The story that Telltale continues to craft is certainly an interesting one. As a casual fan of the Batman mythos, this is my first experience with a story painting the Waynes in such a negative light so it gives Bruce and interesting internal conflict to deal with. How would Batman have dealt with Thomas and Martha? And how will Gotham remember the Wayne family name going forward? I look forward to seeing the story play out, even if I have to suffer through the all-too-frequent Telltale performance problems.

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