‘Batman: The Enemy Within — Episode 1’ (PS4) review: The Dark Knight’s darker side

‘Batman: The Enemy Within’ lands a powerful blow in first episode, ‘The Enigma’

You may remember my descent into the madness of buggy graphics and console-crashing performance issues during my playthrough of Telltale Games’ “Batman.” The five-episode series (you can read the reviews here) had its moments, but what few there were fell with a deafening thud against the might of Telltale’s horrendously outdated game engine.

It’s hard to be engrossed when the screen freezes on Bruce Wayne’s face, making him look like he suffered a stroke in the middle of him trying to impress his love interest.

So, you can imagine my apprehension at the idea of having to contend with what I assumed would be yet another Telltale compliance failure extravaganza, this time in the five-episode sequel “Batman: The Enemy Within.” Spoilers: It crashed before I even had the chance to load the first episode. But, for all the (deservedly earned) pessimism and that super hard crash right at the start (we’re talking in the episode select menu, not even the episode itself), I haven’t been as impressed with a Telltale game as I am with this one since “The Wolf Among Us.”

“The Enigma,” the first episode in “Batman: The Enemy Within,” continues the Dark Knight’s story one year after the events in the first season. If you played the first game on the same system you’re playing the second game on, you can import the choices you made then, which affects events going on now. If you have a Telltale account, you can save the choices to the cloud and move them over to another system, if you prefer.

My Batman (voiced by the returning Troy Baker) remained physically unscarred from his violent encounters with Penguin, Two-Face, the Children of Arkham and Lady Arkham. His trust butler and assistant, Alfred, however, isn’t faring so well, seemingly suffering PTSD from his nightmarish time with Lady Arkham. Right off the bat, it’s refreshing to see that some choices actually affected later outcomes, since I’ve made the complaint before that Telltale would rather give you the illusion of choice rather than the actual ability to make true choices. So kudos all around.

The action kicks off with a bang, as is the usual Telltale style. Wayne is in the midst of an investigation into an arms dealer operating in Gotham, and it doesn’t take long before the episode’s main villain, The Riddler, makes his appearance. It seems he’s been away from Gotham for some time now, and though it’s never explained as to why he decided to make such a bloody violent return now, it’s clear he has more than a passing interest in Batman.

Oh, and he like to murder people with his question mark-shaped sickle, create “Saw”-like torture devices and leave behind insidious clues for our heroes to decipher. An all-around fun time, for sure.

But he’s not the forward-motion character of “The Enigma,” which you’ll learn is a bit of feint. You’d assume it’s would center around a man who loves his mysteries, but it actually deals more with secondary characters who clearly are going to have more important roles as the season progresses. Two (and a related third) stand out most. Lucius Fox, Wayne’s longtime go-to tech guy, plays an outsized role in “The Enigma,” as does his daughter, Tiffany. Their roles going forward are clearly of great consequence, and it’s not clear whether it’ll be to Wayne’s benefit anymore. The other person who stands out is John Doe, aka the Joker. Having been released from Arkham Asylum, he’s back in Wayne’s life, seeking to make good on a probably ill-advised promise I made to him in the first season. He hasn’t quite become the Joker most people are familiar with, but it’s simply a matter of time before he snaps and becomes one of Batman’s most dangerous opponents. The tension in his scene is delicious in the most bone-chilling way.

And there’s even a somewhat clandestine government agency (called The Agency, no less) running around in Gotham trying to deal with The Riddler and generally causing headaches for Batman and Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. Its leader, Amanda Waller, worries me with her do-anything approach to apprehending her suspects. By the end of the episode, I’m left with no doubt that The Agency will continue to present a problem I’m not sure Batman can solve.

Graphically, Telltale blew it out of the water here. Mixing its traditional graphic novel style with a more striking use of shadows similar to its “The Wolf Among Us” series, each scene stood out for just how gorgeous it looked. Characters were crisp and sharp, set pieces were visually inviting. It’s one of the cleanest, most distinct looks the company has produced yet, and the hard work shows beautifully.

One change I noticed in this season (or simply ignored in the previous one, perhaps) is the surprisingly common option to outright lie in your responses to other characters. Normally, the prompts provide answers that range the gamut of choice considering your play style, but they’ll all more or less true. This time around, I could straight-up lie to an agent’s face, to a grieving daughter, to a man who trusted me to keep my word. It was unnerving to see that I had that much choice.

Speaking of changes, the combat sequences got a nice upgrade, as well. The basic controls remain the same (press the prompts as they appear on the screen), but new sequences have been thrown into the mix, such as having to hit multiple prompts in order or connecting one action to another. It kept me on my toes throughout the episode as I’ve become accustomed to less demanding interaction.

Two other notes: The first is that the super meter that you could fill up and perform a powerful attack with is gone. It seems those sequence finishers have simply been added to the fights themselves without needing to accomplish anything else. The second is that the aggravating detective mode nonsense is still around. And as it did in the first season, it continues to drain all tension in scenes in which it’s involved.

But for all the praise showered here, I want to make the point that Telltale has a tendency of making the first episode in its series phenomenal, only to backslide in subsequent releases. Yes, “The Enigma” was great, but it wouldn’t surprise me much if Episode 2 didn’t quite live up. Only time will tell.

In the end, “The Enigma,” the first episode in “Batman: The Enemy Within” series, is simply fantastic. Just about everything that irritated me in the first season has been improved upon here (the detective mode notwithstanding), from the game play mechanics to the story to the graphics. Even the frame rate was great, something Telltale has been notoriously unable or unwilling to accomplish. I’m intrigued to see how Batman and Joker’s story continues to unfold, and there seems to be plenty of secondary plot drama that’s going to keep me busy throughout the season. All in all, a worthy return for the Dark Knight and this oh-so-psychotic city.

Four “Wait, now I recognize you” stars out of five.

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