By Jarrod Jones. This is LOAD FILE, where creepy gimp masks never really went away. This week, Jarrod reviews the second episode of ‘Batman: The Telltale Series’, “Children of Arkham,” available to download on all platforms.
If this season of Batman: The Telltale Series is supposed to underline how bad Bruce Wayne was at crime prevention in his formative Bat-years, then give Telltale the Magnum Sharpie Award for underlying, because they made their damn point. And if you’re anything like me and thought that Bruce should have paid that ruddy-lookin’ Oswald Cobblebot a late-night pain visit instead of whinging to his butler about how much he’s changed, get ready for a helmet-necessitating bout of forehead-slapping, because “Children of Arkham” is about to give you a concussion.
I mean, fer chrissakes, Wayne! He’s dresses like Voldemort had a nose, a vial of cocaine, and just recently became single again — and if you weren’t paying attention to his utterly awful accent, he’s British! That last bit alone is gaming shorthand for stupefyingly evil. And he was spitting the world “revolution” in your pretty-boy face not so long ago. Didn’t occur to you to sic one of your wildly illegal crime-smashing drones on him, did it? You sure you want to be The World’s Greatest Detective? Seems like you’d be better off wiling your prime years away stumping for Donald Trump, because as far as reality is concerned, you decided to hop onto another sadder train a long time ago.
ANYONE ELSE FEEL REMARKABLY UNCOMFORTABLE HERE?
Telltale’s gleefully eager Scott Snyder impersonation would almost seem novel if the developer’s wild attempt at Batman lore revisionism didn’t include ripping out the core concepts of what made Batman, well… Batman. It’s not like he has an incredibly complicated back story, and yet Telltale feels compelled to make it precisely that: Bruce Wayne’s parents get murdered because of a criminal conspiracy that involved practically everyone close to him — including a surrogate parent (who knows more than they’re letting on), a childhood best friend (who looks more and more dodgy every time we see them), and a would-be girlfriend (who is flying a bit too close to this conspiratorial gravity well).
Is any of this starting to sound familiar? Anyone else getting vomit-inducing flashbacks to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 yet?
While I continue to wait for Batman: The Telltale Series to open a window, sit me down, and explain that it was all just a horrible dream, its second episode, “Children of Arkham,” doubles down on its decidedly awkward adult themes, moral haziness, and painfully obvious last-second decision making. The episode begins with Bruce Wayne moping around his parent’s kill site, still choking on the matzoh ball that his father was some creep who helped stock-gangster Carmine Falcone and stock-crooked-politician Hamilton Hill send their opposition straight to the loony bin on the DL for few extra billion dollars. “And look!” the game seems to be saying. “The Waynes have a plaque set where their horrific end was met — kinda on the nose, wouldn’t you say?”
Yes, Game, it does all seem a bit too obvious, like naming the Monarch Theatre the Thomas and Martha Wayne Memorial Auditorium and then having it be the setting for this episode’s climactic showdown between Batman, The Penguin, and the gimp-faced mastermind behind a secret cabal called “The Children of Arkham.” It’s so on-the-nose that I may end up having to buy an entirely new nose, one that’s free of achingly visible conspiracy.
SAME AS IT EVER WAS — WITH SPOILERS!
I suppose it’s fair to say that “Children of Arkham” gives us more of an incentive to replay it than the last episode, but I can’t help but feel that Telltale’s showing its hand a bit too early: Here it is, dangling the fate of poor Harvey Dent in front of us like Batman: Year One ought to have been called Batman: First Two Weeks, Really. And why are we already deciding on the fate of Harvey Dent? What kind of climax is the story aiming for here if the looming specter of Two-Face is already ringing our door with pamphlets about Jehovah or somesuch?
Anyway, it’s up to you to save either the plush district attorney teddy bear from being hideously disfigured, or your nimble, kung fu-knowing partner from getting a laughably benign flesh wound. All right, you dared me to flinch, and I didn’t, Telltale. My best friend is on pain medication and my girlfriend is angry with me. Here I thought we were playing a video game for escapism.
I suppose that scenario was more ably executed than the other “flip a coin” decision the game gives us earlier on. There comes a point where Bruce Wayne has to decide how to get a crucial bit of information out of rat bastard mayoral incumbent Hamilton Hill — either pop in City Hall during the day as Bruce Wayne for a little bout of Back Scratch Fever, or go in at night as the laughably militarized Batman and break the mayor of Gotham City’s hip bone, or whatever.
I chose the former, not because I’m against hurting baby boomers, but because it seemed the more sensible decision — the path of least resistance. Sure enough, I walked out of City Hall with a feeling of satisfaction that only a rich white person could feel: I had betrayed my loyal friend for a few snippets of information, which might have added some drama to the proceedings had the game not continued on like nothing ever happened. (Harvey seemed especially chill about me not stumping for him anymore, so… why did the game make me feel like the opposite would happen?)
MAYBE IT’S TIME TO PAGE THAT FRIEND OF YOURS IN METROPOLIS
“Children of Arkham” comes equipped with variables that, on surface level, offer a different experience based on your choices. It’s a load of malarky, of course, save for possibly that Harvey Dent cliffhanger. What I’m most interested in seeing is if all this Wayne character assassination turns out to be a rather elaborate Scarecrow-induced hallucination instead of Telltale patting itself on the back for finding a new way to dilute the magnificence of the goddamned Batman. Suppose I’m locked in for yet another installment, same Bat-time, same Bat-bullshit. (Shut up, I know it’s guano.)
Developed by Telltale Games.
Published by Telltale Games
Directed by Jonathan Stauder.
Written by James Windeler, Patrick Kevin Day, Andrew Hanson, Shanon Ingles & Megan Thornton.
Distributed by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
Platform(s): Android, iOS, Microsoft Windows, OS X, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
4.5 out of 10
Before: “Realm of Shadows,” here.