After playing Realm of Shadows, I was a bit worried that Telltale would rest on their laurels. After all, Telltale has a pretty tried-and-true formula, as does Batman himself. This series could have easily been a recreation of Frank Miller’s Year One, and it would have been eaten up by voracious fans eager to buy up anything to do with their favorite titular character (myself included, of course). They could have went another sure-fire direction, simply copying Rocksteady’s extremely successful Arkham trilogy, which would be a sure bet considering fans are certainly not ready to give up Batman in a videogame format any time soon. However, Telltale has seemingly decided to go the extra mile with their Batman series. Subverting any expectations I had while playing Episode One, Telltale has crafted an engaging follow-up that really lives up to the promise that Batman holds in a Telltale format.
The story picks up directly after the events of Episode One, where we learn that Thomas Wayne was deeply embedded in the criminal underworld of Gotham City. Children of Arkham opens on a disillusioned Bruce, soaked head to toe, standing in the very alley in which his parents were gunned down years earlier. I know what you’re thinking: not another scene showing Thomas and Martha Wayne meeting their fate. We get it. However, Telltale does something completely fresh with this tired moment, as Bruce actually begins to use detective work to investigate his parents murder. Standing in Crime Alley, Bruce begins to piece together the deeper story behind that fateful night. This is genius, because it actively makes players a part of this iconic moment that we have seen depicted ad nauseam across all mediums. It actually makes it worth revisiting. Not only that, but this time his parents murder actually pushes the story forward in different ways, aside from simply inspiring Bruce Wayne to become Batman.
The revelation about Thomas Wayne clearly has affected Bruce in a profound way, and much of this episode deals with Bruce trying to learn more about his father’s secret past. It poses an interesting moral dilemma: a great deal of Thomas Wayne’s fortune came from the pockets of those victimized by Carmine Falcone, and his entourage. In this universe, Batman may have been built on the backs of the very people he has sworn to protect. How does this affect Bruce going forward, knowing his arsenal may be bought with dirty money? It is these very ideas that humanize Bruce in a different way than we are used to seeing, and this also makes for engaging dialogue between Bruce, Alfred, and the other various characters he encounters throughout Children of Arkham.
That is to say nothing about the bold story choices made towards the end of Episode Two. There is some really good stuff here. Initially, I was pretty bummed that Telltale chose to use the Penguin as their villain of choice. Batman has one of the best rogues gallery in all of comic books, and the Penguin honestly feels like one of his weakest. For me, at least, there has always been something so generic about Oswald Cobblepot, which is why I feel he is always best served as a secondary villain. It was also a bit questionable to depict a much younger, slimmer Penguin as it seemed to rob the character of the few defining characteristics he has. Imagine my surprise, then, when the credits rolled and I was left legitimately intrigued by the Penguin again. Telltale has done a commendable job reinventing the character. This is a Penguin that can engage Batman directly, and he proves to be just as menacing as the best of Batman’s rivals.
This episode takes several twists and turns throughout that I honestly wasn’t expecting. These choices feel like they truly matter, and I won’t spoil them here, but the wrong decision in a few key moments can have dire consequences. Furthermore, there are several character introductions in this game that I honestly wasn’t expecting, and I’m curious to see where Telltale takes these figures going forward. Unless I’m missing a particular comic run, some of these elements feel like uncharted territory, and that’s really exciting to see.
The game looks, sounds, and plays pretty similar to Realm of Shadows. One major difference is that this episode benefits from having a greater variety in its environments. Expect to visit quite a few destinations before your (roughly) 2 hour playtime is over. In addition, the game’s fights feel noticeably smoother this time around. I’m not sure if I’ve simply become used to them, or if they are given more room to breathe, but engaging enemies was thrilling in this installment. One fight in particular really sold me on feeling like I was fighting someone much stronger than me, but I won’t spoil more than that. Speaking of spoilers, I wouldn’t read too many major plot points before jumping into this one. There are some surprises, and they were a lot of fun to discover in the moment.
It really feels like Telltale is tapping into the great potential Batman has in a more narrative-driven game. It was an absolute delight to be given a choice to approach a particular situation as Bruce Wayne, or as Batman. These were precisely the type of choices I was hoping to make when I heard that Telltale was going to create a Batman series. It’s brilliant, and I was stuck on that decision for several minutes while weighing the pros and cons for each approach. Not only this, but a more narrative-driven game would allow for Batman’s detective side to shine through. Children of Arkham does a nice job of making us feel like the “World’s Greatest Detective”. I felt positively giddy sitting at the bat-computer doing tissue-analysis just like Batman. It’s a side to the character we never got a large chance to see in the more action-focused Arkham games, and it’s nice to see Telltale using this aspect of the character to their advantage. It really works.
If there is one caveat I have with Children of Arkham it would have to be the moment Bruce seeks Selina Kyle at a local dive bar. This moment starts out wonderfully, seeing Bruce Wayne mingle with the locals, and the bar setting offered a lot of variety visually. However, something just felt off about it. It begins to feel this way around the moment a group of Penguin’s hipster henchman approach Selina, and Bruce looking for a fight. From this point on, the scene begins to feel a bit Batman and Robin-esque, exhibiting tonal shift that feels out of place with the rest of the episode. It’s not a bad choice to lighten things up, but I think the balance needs to be just right for it to work. After all, we may need to get used to seeing a lighter Batman, if the trailer for Justice League is any indication. However, something just felt off about the whole moment.
That’s a small complaint for an otherwise stellar sophomore entry in Telltale’s Batman series. Children of Arkham proves that Telltale has a clear idea of how to make Batman work with their unique gameplay format. Offering new spins on old ideas, and introducing a few new ideas of their own, Telltale Games has crafted a great story that wouldn’t be out of place on comic shelves. If this is what we can expect moving forward, then the wait for Episode 3 (New World Order) has just become agonizing.
- Interesting takes on old ideas.
- The Penguin is really effective.
- Choosing between Bats or Bruce.
- Offers up new concepts, and ideas.
- Telltale’s game engine stutters, and gets choppy at times.
- Bruce going full Batman and Robin.
Telltale Games offers up a smoother, and more engaging experience with Children of Arkham. If you enjoyed the first episode, you will love this one. If you were lukewarm on Realm of Shadows, you may be swayed by Children of Arkham.