The second episode of Batman: The Telltale Series is as Two-Faced as Harvey Dent. It’s an excellent story that is well-paced, packed with character development has consistently played with my expectations. It includes the best action sequence of the series to date, and continues to place the focus on Bruce rather than just Batman. On the other hand, from a performance level, this is an unmitigated disaster. Full of audio and graphical glitches, subpar framerates, choppy transitions, and outright crashes, the execution is really making it difficult to enjoy a story that I’m loving.
The plot thickens
Though it’s quite a bit shorter than Realm of Shadows, the first episode, we get more character development and a superior plot. It’s not without faults, the Telltale version of Penguin isn’t really clicking with me yet, but it’s full of twists and shocking moments that kept me enthralled throughout.
The most interesting change to Batman lore is how the Wayne family is being portrayed. Typically seen only as tremendous benefactors to Gotham, here the media portrays them as mobsters who stepped on the backs of the people to amass their riches. Crime boss Carmine Falcone claims to have been old pals with Bruce’s parents, and that revelation eats away at Bruce through the entirety of both episodes.
Perhaps the twists and turns the story is making would be lost on somebody unfamiliar with the broad strokes of Batman lore, and that’s the only drawback I can see to the story as it’s developing. Nobody would be confused by the plot, but if you are unfamiliar with who the Penguin is historically, then the fact that this version grew up with Bruce is all you know. Not having your own expectations about the characters invalidates most of the character twists that are prevalent. By the same logic, that person with no frame of reference might assume the Penguin is just a random terrorist and that’s how it always is. Alfred, Falcone, Harvey Dent, Selina Kyle, among others, all have at least something that stands out from their traditional representations. It’s fun to see new takes on old characters, and it’s overwhelmingly working for me.
Reason to return
One decision point lets you choose to go on an information discovering mission as Bruce or Batman. One relies on political savvy and suaveness to get the job done, while the other goes down the path of intimidation. Both paths do ultimately uncover largely similar information, but such a choice just cries out for the player to go back a second time and check out how else it could have happened.
The final sequence offers a huge decision that made me want to immediately reload and see how the other choice would play out. These are the kind of choices and consequences that I love seeing from Telltale. I won’t dive into spoilers, and though I expect the end result for all characters involved will be the same by the end of five episodes, I’m still impressed by the diverging paths that have been set up for now.
As much as I love the developing story, Episode 2 is frustratingly full of technical problems. I’ve played a lot of Telltale games and this one is definitely the worst performing that I’ve played. The frame rate drops and choppy transitions return, and are accompanied by a worse problem. In my initial playthrough Children of Arkham crashed out completely twice. Though I didn’t lose much in terms of progress that was made, the performance level of this title is unacceptable. Audio cut out intermittently and various graphical glitches were seen from beginning to end. This is the first series on Telltale’s new engine, but the same old problems persist. If this is really the “new and improved” engine, I’m worried for the future.
Children of Arkham is a tale of two games. First, it is a remarkable achievement in storytelling and has the makings of going down as one of the great Batman tales ever told. It is constantly subverting expectations and keeping me guessing. I’m given control to act as Batman or Bruce Wayne, and it gives unique paths to go down that make a second play worth the return trip. The other tale, however, is one of annoying game crashes, stuttering transitions, and consistent frame rate dips throughout. These are issues prevalent since Telltale hit it big back with the first season of The Walking Dead, and it’s high time that the bugs get squashed and make way for the exciting story now well underway. There are problems you’ll have to look past, but I suggest you do so. Children of Arkham takes the strong start from Episode 1 and builds momentum leading into the halfway point.