The second episode of Telltale Games’ Batman: The Enemy Within introduced intrigue, but Episode Three: The Fractured Mask feels like it squandered the momentum. Even with a couple more rogues in the mix, it doesn’t seem the series has a villain worthy of Batman. This episode somehow felt simultaneously crowded and sparse at the same time, and doesn’t delve that deeply into any of the existing relationships between the characters.
[This review has mild spoilers. — Ed.]
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What you’ll like
John Doe as the proto-Joker continues to be the most compelling character in the series. Bruce has the dubious honor of being his best friend, and as such, you’re offered repeated opportunities to manipulate him against Harley. Voice actor Anthony Ingruber does an excellent job of portraying John’s eagerness to please while imparting the sense that he’s walking the edge between sanity and unhinged mania.
While Episode Three doesn’t place you in as many awkward position as before — the conversation with John at the funeral in the first episode comes to mind as the most cringe-worthy and disturbing — Bruce is still acting as John’s agony aunt. He offers advice on how to win Harley’s heart while also trying to coerce him into doing the “right thing” by lying to her. Even though it’s the correct thing to do, encouraging John’s deception feels wrong, especially when you know it won’t help him on his way to the romance he’s desperate to have.
And just when you’re starting to feel bad about manipulating John, he reveals that he’s not above such machinations himself. The Enemy Within has a few terrific moments where he goes behind Bruce’s back to strike a deal on his own. It’s a clever reminder that even though he appears to be brimming with childlike glee, the Joker is in there somewhere.
What you won’t like
Arrested character development
In Episode Two, I dug the introduction of Batman’s rogues gallery. The team-up of Bane, Harley Quinn, and Mr. Freeze seemed promising, suggesting different motives at play.
Episode Three killed that anticipation.
The motley crew doesn’t jive, and logistical questions keep baffling me. I opted to leave Harley behind in the previous episode, and when she comes back, she immediately takes charge. She yells at Bane, suggests that he’s a terrible leader, and barks orders at Bruce and John. It’s a weird coup, since I can’t imagine Bane would sit back and acquiesce to another’s whims. Instead of protesting, he kind of slinks off like a petulant teenager.
I could have accepted the shift in power the story hinted at Bane working on some Machiavellian plot behind the scenes. But on its own, it doesn’t make sense. Why would Bane accept Harley’s leadership? What does she have over them other than some killer makeup skills? And why does everyone accept John Doe when it’s clear that he is her lapdog? We don’t really learn anything about their motivations or how they operate together. Their operation has no sense of urgency, either.
The rogues aren’t the only ones who suffered. I felt genuine conflict over whether or not I should work with the shady Amanda Waller or the righteous Jim Gordon, but in this episode, Jim just gets in the way. He has nothing to offer, appearing so out of his depth in his investigation you have no incentive to work with him. And Gordon’s refusal to see Waller as anything other than the enemy comes across as bull-headed and immature.
The dialogue choices didn’t feel as impactful in this episode as it did in the previous one, and not just when it came to picking sides between Waller and Gordon. Your options aren’t that different from each other, and some just weren’t appealing. For instance, when you’re offered the option of recruiting allies, agreeing doesn’t come with many downsides so why wouldn’t you? I would get no benefit from rejecting the partnership, so even offering me that choice felt superfluous.
One of the key relationships in Episode Three is between you and Catwoman, and you can decide on several occasions whether or not to trust her. But the decisions you make often feel linear, like you’re not really choosing between two interesting ways forward. Similarly, while the Agency hasn’t been the paragon of virtue in the past, you don’t have any reason not to work with them. Even though the Agency is a shadowy paramilitary organization, and Waller blackmails Batman into helping them, you know that she at least shares the same goal as you: to stop the rogues and figure out what they’re after.
Batman: The Enemy Within took a risk by introducing so many characters in the last episode, and this risk doesn’t pay off in Episode Three. By juggling so many strong personalities, it ended up diluting all the characters. Instead of exploring the power struggle between Bane and Harley, Telltale diffuses the tension between them by shifting focus to Bruce and Catwoman. Some of the Riddler’s plot revelations should entice you, but because he was such a weak villain, I didn’t care about his goal.
We’ve learned what the rogues are after, but at the halfway point in the series, we still don’t know why. With only two episodes left, Telltale needs to raise the stakes and ramp up the urgency of Batman’s mission.
Batman: The Enemy Within Episode 3 comes out for PC, Mac, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, iOS, and Android on November 21. Telltale Games sent us a code for this review.