Title: Batman: The Enemy Within – Episode 3: Fractured Mask
Available On: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure, Story-Driven
Official Site: https://telltale.com/series/batman-season-2/
Release Date: November 21, 2017
Where to Buy: Steam
For our review of Episode 1: The Enigma, click here.
For our review of Episode 2: The Pact, click here.
“Fractured Mask” helps bring Batman: The Enemy Within back on track. It is nice to see what Telltale can do with their unique twists on some of Batman’s most iconic characters, but the second episode failed to deliver in a few key aspects. This third episode seems to be setting things up for an explosive last two installments, and hopefully Telltale can keep the momentum going and help propel Batman: The Enemy Within up to the levels of some of their earlier classics.
Episode 3 picks up right where “The Pact” ended – Bruce has infiltrated a cabal of supervillains and is desperately trying to maintain his cover long enough to discover their evil plan. Harley Quinn, Bane, Mr. Freeze, John Doe, and Catwoman are trying to piece together the elements of Riddler’s plan in order to reap the rewards. As the episode continues, the stakes ratchet up dramatically. There is quite a bit of intrigue about who the big bad is, just what John Doe is going to transform into, and how much each of the villains really knows. There’s a very fun dynamic at stake in Telltale’s version of Gotham City, and your relationship with John Doe is the most intriguing.
Anthony Ingruber deserves a ton of credit for his voice work as John Doe, as do the writers at Telltale. Taking perhaps the single most iconic comic book character out there and actually giving the player a chance to craft elements of his villainous origin story? It makes up for a lot of storytelling stumbles because of Bruce Wayne’s (and Batman’s) relationship with the man who will become the Joker. Trying to steer him in the right direction seems like an impossibility, but Telltale’s version of Batman has thrown enough curveballs our way that it just might work. Watching John’s steady decline into manic insanity and hearing his unique vocal tics make for a fascinating character. I particularly like his bizarre hatred of the Riddler, as he tells Bruce: “He was always interrupting me, never letting me get to the punchline.” Clever.
This episode also seemed to move at a frenetic pace. You have lots of opportunities – some as Bruce, some as Batman – to choose sides, hedge bets, and recruit or push away allies. Do you trust John to not betray you? Do you hedge your bets with Bane or Harley? Gordon or Waller? And what do you do now that Catwoman has returned to Gotham? Telltale’s games hinge on whether or not your position and choices feel important to the story, and some of the options in episode three of Batman: The Enemy Within felt absolutely monumental. Just like with John Doe’s writing, the people creating this story have made an interesting, dynamic world that continues to surprise.
That said, it would be nice if Telltale would fix some of the persistent problems that their games continue to suffer from. There were no crashes (for me, at least) in my two-hour playthrough, but poor lip-synching, dropped sound effects, and characters clipping through objects once again made a triumphant return. One scene, in particular, involving Bruce and Catwoman, saw characters multiple times passing through all sorts of machinery, clipping arms and heads through objects over and over. It is jarring and frustrating that a game from a high profile studio that hinges on immersion suffers from the same setbacks again and again.
My only issue besides the technical problems was the ending. Just like the end of episode two, “Fractured Mask” just… ends. Abruptly. Cliffhanger endings work great for TV shows; you know that tomorrow, or next week, or whenever you can click “start next episode,” it will get resolved. For a game series where episodes are generally a month or more apart, ending on a cliffhanger tends to hurt the product. It always takes a few minutes of playing a new episode of any Telltale series to reacclimate yourself to where the different characters and relationships stand. To me, ending an episode on a stressful cliffhanger sabotages the storytelling effort of the current episode and also hamstrings the subsequent episode with an “Oh yeah, that’s what was happening” beginning.
Those small problems aside, it seems that this season of Batman: The Enemy Within is heading towards a really interesting conclusion. If you are a fan of Telltale’s take on storytelling, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed here.
Verdict: Technical foibles and a botched ending aside, “Fractured Mask” was a strong episode of Batman: The Enemy Within. It has great characters and writing, excellent voice acting, and, most importantly, impactful decisions and consequences. Like Batman with John Doe, I see a lot of potential here.
- John Doe is really well done
- Excellent voice acting all around
- Choices and consequences feel significant
- Technical glitches still abound
- Some logical leaps required