I’ve always thought that Batman is at his best when he’s not kicking ass. Sure, it’s great to see him playing with all his wonderful toys and stomping goons into the sidewalk. But the tales that delve deeper to look at the man behind the cowl, or discuss the idea of the Batman like many of the superb stories collected in the Batman Black and White series, which it is clear Telltale’s series takes a lot of inspiration from. By spending as much time as Bruce as you do the Bat, it’s this totality of character and the way that the series toys with and defines, Bruce’s relationship with a wide selection of villains, (avoiding the Joker after the Arkham trilogy was definitely a wise move) has thus far created a batman tale, that despite keeping certain inevitable story beats the same, changes things up enough to keep it interesting.
With the first episode getting Batman’s origin out of the way (well aside from another quick trip to Crime Alley at the start just in case you forgot) Children of Arkham gets to the nitty gritty of building its version of Gotham and more importantly, how Bruce, Bats and even the Wayne Family fit into it. Oh and a whole host of Villains (If you think their version of Penguin is a little different, just wait to you see their Grundy)
Taking a simialr tact to the TV series the Gotham, Children of Arkham presents us with Bruce, that could best be described as clueless; a fledgling batman that for all his keen detective skills, never bothered to investigate his own family. With his family’s name being dragged through the mud by the press, he’s on the hunt for answers hoping to clear his parents name, though an encounter with the hospitalised Falcone in the episode’s early stages simply raises far more questions than answers.
Though, despite a few cosmetic changes to certain parts of the cast, ultimately anyone who has read a Batman comic, or seen a movie in the past twenty years will know exactly what is going to happen to certain characters. it’s just a matter of how and when, which, in my mind feels like a missed opportunity for Telltale to make their mark on the character in the same way that Rocksteady did with Arkham City.
Most of the episode deals with Bruce trying to find out whether the Waynes were corrupt, fighting an uphill battle both publicly and privately, as his idealised vision of his father Thomas is shattered, and with it, beginning to question his own moral compass, it presents a nuanced take on the character while playing with his origins and setting in some fun ways. Telltale has made good on its promise to create a more cerebral Batman experience, than the usual skull cracking escapades that most other gaming adaptations have focused on, and at this juncture one I will happily see through to the end.
That’s not to say there aren’t more than a few broken bones, in fact there’s a rather spectacular show piece of serious amounts of ass kickery in the episode’s mid-point. As in the first episode, I continue to be impressed by the way that Telltale have integrated each button press into the game’s action sequences, creating QTES that actually draw the audience in rather than distract them. Even going so far as to tweak the sound effects to make sure that each button press has a similar sense of weight to the Arkham games, likewise long time Batman fans will enjoy the little flourishes in the soundtrack that call to mind the scores of both the Dark Knight trilogy and Elfman’s work on the Burton films.
Troy Baker is once again on fine form as Bruce Wayne, showing his considerable chops by delivering a nuanced performance, that gives Bruce a ferocity and sense of righteous indignation rather than making him sound whingy. Likewise, there’s some fantastic chemistry between Baker and Laura Bailey’s Catwoman, (Though the pair were an absolute joy as Rhys and Fiona in Tales of the Borderlands so it’s hardly a surprise to see lightning strike twice).
Batman: A Telltale Games Series: Children of Arkham, ultimately plays it safe with its narrative beats, but when you have over fifty years of lore from great writers like Gaiman, Moore, McKevier, and Morrison to play they would be mad not to.