Wow. Has it really only been a year since Telltale began their Batman saga? It has indeed. Before this review continues let me throw out the obligatory SPOILORS warning for season 1. If you want to avoid them but still read the review just skip to the next paragraph. Bruce Wayne had a pretty tough time last year. He temporarily lost his company, a terrorist group known as the Children of Arkham almost destroyed the city, his best friend became Two-Face, his butler is mutilated/traumatized, and oh yeah, he learned that his parents were actually gangsters who ran the city and destroyed countless lives.
Though things have quieted down since those tumultuous events, the resurgence of that perverse prince of puzzles the Riddlers has Gotham in a panic. In one of many unique twists Telltale has brought to the Batman mythos, Riddler is reimagined as a Jigsaw style madmen who traps people in cruel machines to test their intelligence while fufilling some ambiguous agenda. He was apparently around decades earlier and has returned seemingly just to spite Batman and his newfound fame.
Helping you in your investigation is the newly promoted Commissioner James Gordan as well as the morally ambiguous Amanda Waller who runs a special task force that has been hunting the Riddler for years. The conflict between these two forms the crux of many decisions you will make throughout the game. Though Jim is less effective he is genuinely trustworthy. Meanwhile Waller and her ilk have the know how, but are way to eager to curtail such minor things as human rights and ends justify the means mentality. Even knowing this and what she has done in the comics, I still found myself trying to work with Waller while knowing it would come back to bite me. This mentality in turn led to one of the most fascinating character interactions in the game. The one between Bruce Wayne and the Joker.
Technically he isn’t the Joker yet, he is merely John Doe, former inamate of Arkham Asylum. In one of the games more darkly humorous and uncomfortable segments he crashes a funeral Bruce is attending, makes fun of the deceased and generally acts like a grade a jerk. Seemingly typical Joker stuff. However, rather than being intentionally awful, this version of the Joker has yet to fully succumb to his madness and truly doesn’t understand that what he is doing is just messed up. He’s just trying to lighten the mood as he revisits his “old buddy” Bruce Wayne. The Batman Joker dynamic was expertly explored in the Arkham series, so I applaud Telltale for taking a route that is rarely explored in Batman media, a relationship between Bruce Wayne and the Joker. Again, we all know he is going to snap and eventually start gassing the city or something, but it is a testament to the writing and voice talent that I don’t want to see that happen and had enough faith in his trustworthiness to NOT plant a tracker on him just in case. Again this is probably going to come back to bite me but I did it any way out of most likely misplace faith in this pale faced psychopath.
I must also applaud Telltale for not hesitating to kill off pretty major characters and just generally mess with the lore. As a lifelong Batman fan it was way to easy to metagame my way through most of the last season. But, Telltale twists the Batman mythos just enough to throw people like me off-balance while still telling a compelling Batman narrative. With this episodes finale itself making me drop the S bomb in panic. All of this writing and voice acting is important since as ever, the actually gameplay elements fail to impress.
It’s still the same Telltale QTEs, and branching conversations with some very light puzzle elements. There is an interesting and morbid setup where you find somebody killed by one of Riddler’s traps and must piece together what he did wrong to avoid the same fate. But, the excellent segments from season one where you planned out step by step how to take out a room of criminals does not make an appearance. One potentially engaging new mechanic that is introduced is the relationship system which allows you to track your relationship with major characters and how and when they change over time. It’s honestly nothing that momentous although it is still interesting to see how your choices compare with everybody elses in these types of games.
Ultimately, what we have here is a solid introduction to the sequel of a solid game in the Telltale lineup. By this point they have this formula down to a refined science, particularly with the crisp comic book style visuals which look especially effective in Batman’s world. We have one of the most terrifying versions of the Riddler to date, a fascinating new take on a pre Joker Joker, and a tense battle of wits between Batman and Amanda Waller which is only just getting started. But again, Telltale has refined it so much theat the gameplay more often than not feels like a tedious interlude between the real meat of these games, the story. If you played the first season it’s pretty much that just more of it. If you do not like Telltale games at all, I don’t think this will change your mind.