Humanity Hallows Issue 4 Out Now!
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By Adnan Riaz
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac and Android and iOS
Release: 20 September 2016
The rain relentlessly falls on the shoulders of Bruce Wayne as he stands over a memorial plaque in Crime Alley, the location where, as a child, he watched his mother and father – Thomas and Martha Wayne – murdered at the hands of Joe Chill. It’s Bruce (and arguably Batman) in his weakest position, coupled with the emotional shock he received after learning of his parents’ connection to Gotham’s criminal underworld in Episode 1: Realm of Shadows. Bruce looks vulnerable, tired and at an emotional breaking point, believing everything he’s been told about his selfless, courageous parents is a lie, not to mention Batman’s symbolic representation being questioned. It’s an opener like this that has Episode 2: Children of Arkham capitalising on Telltale Games’ narrative direction, with the developer’s expertly crafted storyline beginning to truly take shape in a hard-hitting way.
Telltale wastes little time in establishing that Episode 2: Children of Arkham and subsequent episodes will be tapping into the Batman mythology to its full extent. Episode 2: Children of Arkham has Bruce coming to terms with the truth of his parents’ wrongdoings, facing the backlash from the media and Gothamites for the corruption surrounding his family’s legacy whilst attempting to keep the mayoral campaign of DA Harvey Dent credible and afloat. As Batman, who is also dealing with Bruce’s problems, the player is tackling the growing threat from Oswald Cobblepot (AKA Penguin) and the emergence of the ‘Children of Arkham’.
The Children of Arkham’s unsettling presence is felt towards the final act of the second episode, though the build up to this mysterious organisation’s debut is done in a way that doesn’t hinder the balance that Telltale manages to maintain throughout the episode. Penguin, who really holds his own as a Batman villain on screen, feels like he’s the real threat heading to Gotham. As an already established villain in the universe, the character has a demeanour that doesn’t make him feel like a throwaway plot device or create any suspicion that the Children of Arkham are pulling the strings from behind the scenes. The Children of Arkham’s entrance, while arguably could have been done a little bit earlier in the episode, sets a dark tone similar to other Batman adaptations.
The leader of the Children of Arkham delivers a fantastic tirade about the corruption oozing out of Gotham in one segment, making him already feel like a worthy adversary for the Dark Knight. It’s safe to say that it’s a promising character to have been established in Telltale’s episodic series. Let’s hope, however, that it doesn’t end with the character not being a unique villain to the title and, for example, being nothing more than the Joker hiding under the mask.
Despite being slightly shorter than Episode 1: Realm of Shadows (by approximately thirty minutes or so), it’s a blessing for an episode that is running on the full momentum from an exceptional opener. There’s no filler content here. No, it’s a Batman episode unraveling the plot without bringing in segments that detract from the pacing of the narrative. Telltale, again, finds the right balance between Bruce and Batman’s on-screen time. With excellent writing and the ensemble voice actors rising to the occasion once again, Telltale leaves little room, if any, when it comes to fleshing out each character’s story arc.
Choices come thick and fast in Episode 2: Children of Arkham, swinging Telltale’s choice-and-consequence meter back and forth when it comes to making significant decisions. This episode in particular has Telltale creating some intriguing situations for the player, with an example being where they have the choice to confront a certain individual as Bruce or Batman. That’s right, it’s all down to the player to make the difficult choice, especially as Telltale simply suggests the pros and cons behind putting on each suit. Selectively placing these types of situations in its episodes instantly changes the atmosphere and tempo. Telltale has always been king when it comes to doing something like this, and this episode only reaffirms the developer still hasn’t lost its touch.
Telltale’s engine, Telltale Tool, is yet again responsible for letting down the potential of Episode 2: Children of Arkham. Much like Episode 1: Realm of Shadows, Telltale Tool’s limitations are evident from the very beginning, with segments stuttering at different points. It’s frustrating to see and experience. Remember that segment mentioned in the opening of this review? Well, Telltale does some magnificent work with its cinematic direction, smoothly transitioning flashbacks of a young Bruce watching the murder of his parents unfold as the present-day Bruce tries to discover if any minor detail had been overlooked during that incident. However, the Telltale Tool struggled to keep up with the loading speed, detracting from what should have been a smooth, well-conceived segment from rolling out with ease. Even later in Episode 2: Children of Arkham the engine showed how much it hinders the studio’s ability, resulting in different animations glitching before the entire game crashed.
It’s safe to say that despite the apparent limitations of the Telltale Tool, Telltale Games’ continuation of its episodic Batman series has very few signs of buckling under the momentum it’s currently running on. The voice acting, writing, character development and storylines maintain the high standards that the developer established in the first episode, all the while keeping Bruce Wayne and Batman as equals when it comes to the time they both receive in the episode. If Telltale clears up its act with the minor issues holding the title back, players can expect Episode 3: New World Order to be an action-packed installment that firmly establishes how strong of a series it has been.
Adnan Riaz is a current MA Multimedia Journalism student at Manchester Metropolitan University. When he’s not gaming, writing or studying, Adnan’s normally found on Twitter supporting (and criticising) Manchester United and sharing his obsession of Lost and Metal Gear Solid with his followers. Follow him: @AdnanRiaz9