‘Children of Arkham’ an exciting blend of character development, action sequences
What would a “Batman” game/movie be if we didn’t take a morbidly gruesome trek down memory lane, right? And we so skip down this blood-soaked road (would you believe it’s called Crime Alley?) yet again, this time in “Episode 2” of “Batman: The Telltale Series.”
Stripped down to its narrative core, “Children of Arkham” is quick with the violent action and shocking revelations. It’s not shy with character development, and it doesn’t hide from introducing plot elements that you may have expected to come much later in this five-part series. The episode also reminds us that, when it comes to Bruce Wayne and the reasons for why he does what he does, it always comes back to one point in time, back to when he was just 9 years old leaving the movie theater with his parents one dark night.
One of the shortest Telltale games in recent memory, clocking in at about 90 minutes, “Episode 2” seeks to connect the player with the multifaceted character that is Bruce Wayne/Batman. The general theme for the entire episode seems to revolve around characters coming into their own, whether it’s Wayne, Selina Kyle or Harvey Dent. We even gain a better understanding of Alfred, Wayne’s longtime servant/under-appreciated savior. Without saying too much about what we learn about our heroes and villains, lest we ruin the surprises coming your way, it’s fair to say “Children of Arkham” doesn’t hold back.
The story arc continues to build on revelations (spoiler alert incoming) we stumbled upon in “Episode 1,” mainly Wayne’s parents’ involvement with the less-than-reputable aspects of Gotham’s underground. Wayne spends major time in this episode seeking answers to questions he never asked, to understand memories he buried all those years ago when his parents were gunned down, execution-style. What he learns will propel his motivation in further episodes, no doubt, especially if you continue his relationships with Kyle and Harvey Dent, the city’s DA who’s running for mayor.
For those who’ve become accustomed to the more story-driven pace of Telltale Games, you’re in for quite the treat with one chaotic, enjoyable bar fight. The second episode continues to utilize the meter system (which, once filled, unleashes a killer combo) during the QTEs, which still is a nice element to compel to make sure you’re actually hitting the right buttons. (The game is pretty forgiving with mistakes, but you can’t fill the meter if you miss too many button inputs.)
As with any Telltale game, expect its striking visual elements to show themselves with running into framerate issues from time to time. Some audio issues also pop up sporadically (normally during the event sequences), though they’re nothing major. (A side note: The game did crash about a third of the way.)
For those unfamiliar with the general backstory of Batman and his caped adventures, you might find some of the revelations and events transpiring in “Children of Arkham” to be a bit muddled.
Once you do actually run into the titular characters, who seem poised to the series new villains, it’s pretty much the end of the episode, and we’re left without really having learned much about them. (Other than that they have quite the flair for dramatics, it would seem.)
But don’t worry: You won’t be the only ones a little befuddled. It’s becoming obvious that while the general lore is going to stay intact, the game’s writers are going to create the story they want, adding and subtracting well-known elements at their whim. While Batman fans will have a better understanding of what’s going on, it’s safe to say nobody knows what’s going to happen down the road.
As with any Telltale game of merit, choice continues to play a major role in “Episode 2.” Your decision to use Bruce Wayne’s savvy connections or Batman’s brute force will affect certain outcomes, which only reinforces the game’s effort to reconcile these two distinct personalities within our protagonist. One track leads to making political compromises, ones that revel in shades of gray. The other, a little more heavy-handed, with broken doors and not-so-veiled threats of injury. Each side offers important information, adding a nice touch of replay value.
In the end, “Batman: The Telltale Series: Episode 2 – Children of Arkham,” while short, blasts forward with excellent character development with throwing in some deliciously graphic fight scenes for the action-lovers. The story arc continues to become more compelling, further cementing us to our major characters while adding new ones whose role we can’t quite decipher just yet. How you treat Bruce Wayne – either as the scion of a wealthy family of just a cover for the vigilante who terrorizes the city’s criminals – is completely up to you, but it’s clear that that decision will affect how the rest of the game unfolds for you. No doubt it will be an interesting thing to see how the rest of the Dark Knight’s story plays out.
Four “I’ll never look at stage lights the same way again” stars out of five.