“I Hope This Doesn’t Come Back To Bite Me.”
The second episode of Telltale’s Batman series, Children of Arkham, raises the stakes significantly for both Gotham and Bruce’s family name. The episode is held back a bit by some technical hiccups, but overall, it’s an engaging experience that offers major character reveals and supervillain action.
My favorite aspect of this episode is how it deals with its characters. The first episode had a very realistic, gritty feel towards the presentation of its cast; you faced off against plenty of typical mercenaries and gang thugs, and the main antagonist of the episode was mob boss Carmine Falcone. Even Penguin was portrayed as a regular man (albeit one with a fantastic plan for Gotham). All in all, the villains in episode one just didn’t have that supervillain flair.
On the other side of the coin, episode two ramps up the situation quite well. Batman’s gallery of rogues is starting to fill out, and Cobblepot’s revolution receives a proper introduction to the citizens of Gotham. The way Telltale handles some of its characters is also great in episode two, as they’re clearly not afraid of letting characters buy the farm. One might have expected them to be hesitant in how they write some of these beloved characters, so it’s satisfying to see them really make this story their own.
Another great moment in this episode is Telltale’s offering to approach a scene as either Bruce Wayne or Batman. It’s clear that Batman will make the job easier, but it’s uncertain what kind of effect his presence will have in the long-term. Meanwhile, going in as Bruce Wayne will be more challenging, but a safer move overall. If this is the kind of balancing act players can expect for the rest of the season, then I’m all for it. It remains to be seen how far-reaching these decisions can go, but I’m hopeful they’ll lead to a more custom-tailored Telltale experience.
Episode two is, unfortunately, held back a bit by the some of the same old Telltale technical issues. The framerate gets a bit choppy here and there, though thankfully never during a QTE fight scene. Also, in the first scene, where Bruce relives his parents’ murder, there’s this weird visual glitch that blocked out a third of the screen. I honestly can’t tell if it’s a poorly-implemented aesthetic, or just a simple visual glitch, but either way it detracts from what should be one of the most important moments in the game.
Those technical issues don’t outweigh what this episode does well, however. Children of Arkham does a great job at building and expanding the characters, while also developing not only the plot against Gotham but also the Wayne family storyline. There’s a major reveal near the episode’s conclusion that is going to have serious repercussions for Bruce Wayne, and it’ll be interesting to see how both the public and Bruce react to the revelation.
The episode picks up in Crime Alley, where we find Bruce visiting a memorial to his parents at the spot of their murder. Alfred arrives and reveals that indeed, Thomas Wayne was not always the model of integrity that Bruce envisions him as.The scene concludes with the player controlling Bruce as he remember the past, reliving his most haunted moments in the effort of remembering something new. He recalls his father mentioning Falcone, and Bruce heads off to confront him.
As Bruce enters the police station holding Falcone, Harvey Dent makes it quite clear how much effort he had to expend to get Bruce a private one-on-one session with Falcone. I reassure Harvey that I appreciate everything, but keep private as to why I’m trying to question Falcone in the first place. With the state of the Wayne family name in the press right now, digging into Thomas Wayne’s murky past is something I’d rather play close to the chest.
In the room with Falcone, who’s in the infirmary recovering from his encounter with Batman the night before, I get straight to the questioning. I try to avoid getting too emotional with him, as he’s adept at getting under your skin and saying just the wrong thing to get to you riled up.
When given the choice, I opt to give him the morphine he wants, hoping a sign of compassion (and a good high) would get Falcone to talk. He doesn’t say much, other than that he, Mayor Hill, and Thomas Wayne were the ones that ran Gotham. Right as Falcone claims he wasn’t the one who called for the hit on Bruce’s parents, Officer Montoya, who had a short moment with Bruce beforehand, bursts into the room and blows Falcone away. So much for due process.
With Montoya incapacitated and in handcuffs, Bruce, Harvey and Commissioner Gordon discuss what to do. The press are at the doors expecting a story, and with the arrival of Falcone’s lawyers, Harvey and Gordon leave to buy some time. Now alone, Bruce pulls out an earpiece to Alfred and turns on a scanner on his phone. After analyzing an unconscious Montoya, Bruce finds an injection site in her neck, leading him to believe she may have been drugged. When she comes to, Montoya’s memory is hazy, but she remembers a few details. One of those details is a voice, guiding her to commit her act of murder, all for the sake of “the revolution.”
Going back to his visit with Cobblepot, Bruce recalls his mentioning of an impending revolution in Gotham. He decides he needs to find him, and makes an effort to leave the station, but not before being questioned by the persistent Vicki Vale. Due to the nature of the situation, I try to leave the conversation as quickly (and graciously) as possible, but Vicki presses. Rather than potentially throw Montoya and the police under the bus, I stay silent, and she’s all the more suspicious now because of it. It’s probably not for the best to piss off Gotham’s top reporter, but I have more immediate problems to take care of.
Once back at the Batcave, Bruce analyzes the chemical found in Montoya’s bloodstream. It’s a heavy-duty drug, making its user act on sheer emotional impulse; if exposed to a large enough portion of Gotham’s population, the consequences could be grave. Once onto Cobblepot, I control a set of drones as they scan Gotham’s airwaves. I triangulate the source of Cobblepot’s phone call; the pompous punk is checking out Falcone’s newly-vacated club. Bruce dons the Batsuit, and once again makes his way to the Skyline Club.
Batman makes quite an entrance, foregoing stealth in an effort to keep Cobblepot from killing an innocent club manager. I order Cobblepot to let him go, and in a show of good faith, he does. Turns out, he’s a big fan of mine, apparently. He’s still going to prison. It’s a little more difficult than anticipated, however, as his big, blue, juiced up bodyguard attacks. He can take quite a punch, and he tosses Batman through the hole in the wall. By the time I rappel back up, Cobblepot and his gang are long gone.
During the standoff, Cobblepot mentioned he was going to kill Catwoman, so Bruce’s next step is to find her first. She tells him to meet her at the Stacked Deck (no capes), and the two of them quickly get into a bar fight together. It’s a lighter, more fun scene as the two take on thug after thug. They make off as the police arrive, and hide behind a dumpster in the alley. I make a move to kiss her (nothing like a bare-fisted bar brawl to set the mood), but she teases me, holding back. I think I’ve convinced her to stay and help me against Cobblepot (now known as Penguin), but I’m not so sure.
Bruce next analyzes a phone he took off one of Penguin’s thugs back at the bar, and finds a call with Mayor Hill’s voice on it. It’s clear he has a connection to Penguin; time to find out why. This is where Telltale provides a cool option: to visit the Mayor as either Bruce Wayne or Batman. Going as Batman will basically guarantee Hill will talk, but at the risk of losing the public’s trust. Conversely, going as Bruce Wayne will keep Batman out of the spotlight, but will be a more difficult conversation to maneuver. While I welcome the linguistic challenge, I remember that Batman doesn’t care what the public thinks, because he’s the goddamn Batman.
As Batman stands over the Mayor’s office, Alfred reminds me once again not to go overboard with Hill. I tell him I’ll be gentle and head in. Like I suspected, it doesn’t take long to get Hill to talk about his connection to Penguin. He tells me that Penguin plans on attacking the debate between him and Harvey that night, as well as reveals that Thomas Wayne was apparently subjecting innocent people to the tortures of Arkham Asylum. It’s a lot to process, but with Harvey’s life in danger, my focus needs to be on the debate. Bruce has Gordon reinforce his security, and calls ahead to Harvey to make sure he stays safe. Harvey sidesteps Bruce’s urgency in an attempt to secure Bruce’s financial campaign contribution, which I promise to him.
Upon arriving at the debate, Batman meets with Gordon to discuss their plan. Gordon’s not too happy with Batman interrogating the mayor, but I’m not about to let petty ethics get in the way of justice. Surprisingly, Catwoman shows up soon after, ready to help take down Penguin. We convince a hesitant Gordon to give us some time, and head in. Penguin hits the debate hard, executing the host on live television and taking hostages, all while wearing a Penguin-styled gas mask. Batman and Catwoman set up an attack plan to save a group of hostages, while a captured Vicki Vale administers Penguin’s drug to both Harvey and Hill.
As our two heroes take to the rafters above the stage, preparing a sneak attack on Penguin and his goons, a new face of villainy appears. This figure, wearing a skull mask, appears on the big screen on stage and talks about Gotham’s impending revolution. He talks about the corruption in Gotham, and finally puts on a video of Thomas Wayne sanctioning a procedure turning Mrs. Cobblepot (Penguin’s mother) clinically insane, ensuring her a lifetime in Arkham. It’s a huge revelation, one that I’m sure will have major repercussions for Bruce, but right now there’s a supervillain to stop.
As the police burst in on the scene, Batman and Catwoman take to the stage. Penguin’s main muscle attacks me again, but thanks to some shocking Bat-tech, he’s brought down. Catwoman gets hit by gunfire, and despite a drugged Harvey’s best efforts, Penguin blows Mayor Hill away. I’m then placed in a classic Telltale conundrum, as I’m given the option to either save Catwoman from a group of mercenaries, or save Harvey from being crushed with a stage light by Penguin. While in my head I know saving Harvey is the more logical choice, I want to see his face get all melted and so I choose to save Catwoman instead. I stop the gunmen with a few batarangs, and turn to see Harvey’s face get smashed and Penguin make his escape.
At the episode’s conclusion, Bruce lingers in the Batcave, thinking over the night’s events and lamenting Harvey’s fate. Meanwhile, the news on TV reveals that a full list of Thomas Wayne’s victims has been released to the public. Bruce leaves behind Penguin’s gas mask and heads back into the manor, where Catwoman lies sleeping on the couch. She stirs awake, as Bruce sits down with her and holds her hand.
The screen fades to black, only to be interrupted by the skull-masked villain claiming that “We are the Children of Arkham. And we have opened your eyes.” Big things – sinister things – lie ahead for Gotham, and it might take more than just Batman to stop it…