Batman: The Enemy Within – Episode 1: The Enigma
Telltale’s unique take on Batman’s lore was mostly successful in the first season. Villains transformed into allies, and everyday nobodies emerged as unexpected threats, all as Bruce Wayne’s sanity was tested. From Lady Arkham to Two-Face, a key theme in the story was duality. Almost every prominent figure had an alternate persona or hidden agenda – we even learned Bruce Wayne’s parents were deserving of a cell in Arkham Asylum.
In The Enigma, the premiere episode of a new five-part season, Telltale clearly liked its first taste of bat blood, and may have gone a little wild from it. This new story is aggressively dark and gruesome, flighty in its character building, and more about shocking moments than establishing the foundation of a cohesive narrative.
This episode focuses mostly on The Riddler, who looks like the character comic fans have known for decades at first glance. He wears green, his calling card is a question mark, and he gives you a chance to escape or catch him if you solve his elaborate riddles. Despite the familiar antics, this Riddler is nothing more than a cold-blooded killer; Telltale turns him into Jigsaw from the Saw movies. His riddle machines slice off fingers and heads, and cook you if you don’t move fast enough. When backed into a corner, he lashes out and tries to murder as many people as possible. The duality Telltale achieved with Penguin, Two-Face, and Catwoman is nowhere to be found in this villain. He’s just a one-note killing machine, and a pawn for a larger story arc that we only briefly get a whiff of at the end of the episode. He overstays his welcome, and is so over the top in his killing that he's oddly comical.
The most interesting moments in this episode are the interstitial sequences that show Bruce Wayne developing a relationship with John Doe, who we all know eventually becomes The Joker. Telltale is taking its time with this powder keg of a friendship, perhaps even letting players entertain the belief they can save John from becoming Batman’s greatest villain. This relationship is wonderfully cryptic at this point, and I hope Telltale continues to evolve it slowly.
The introduction of Amanda Waller is also an interesting curveball, but depending on how you play your cards, it leads to an odd skip in the narrative where a rift is immediately formed between James Gordon and Batman. Mere minutes before this moment, everything is fine between the two – they are chummy and work well together. What happens next is a moment where Telltale goes too far in drumming up contention for a key “player choice” moment. The fracturing of this relationship is shoehorned in, but does give way to nice mystery that begs the questions why Waller is in Gotham, and what form her Agency will take.
The narrative in this episode is a mess, weighed down by too much Riddler mayhem, with a few bright spots hopefully sowing the seeds for a better second act. Gameplay mostly revolves around extensive quick-time events, with each button press unleashing a powerful choreographed Batman combat sequence. Telltale tries to up the difficulty with how many buttons the player must push at once. Often you are required to press a direction along with a face button. You are even be required to press all four face buttons at once in two battles – moments that show the apex of how silly quick-time events can be. I’ve said this before, but these actions don’t feel like player input; they do little more than slow down what would otherwise be a fun movie sequence to watch.
The only gameplay deviation that legitimately feels like the player has agency is a “do or die” Riddler puzzle with multiple choices, fail states, and just one solution. If you really think about what the puzzle is, the solution is easy, but Telltale does a nice job ramping up the tension in this point. I guessed wildly my first time, died, and was hit with a “oh duh” realization on my second attempt. Telltale needs more sequences like this, where you really do feel like you are doing detective work with a gun pointed at the back of your head.
The Enigma lives up to its name of being difficult to understand from start to finish. Telltale is all over the place in this episode, but the desire to be gritty and different is exposed too much, and the story suffers from it, feeling more like an odd one shot than the first part of something larger. Mysteries abound, however, and enough engaging narrative threads are left dangling to potentially right this second season’s direction.
The Enigma lives up to its name of being difficult to understand from start to finish.