Developers: Telltale Games
Publishers: Telltale Games
Plot: With Harley’s gang disbanded, Batman has to handle the side-effects his quest had on John Doe, now rebranded as the terrifying Joker.
Ever since Telltale started making games, they pushed one ideal forward. It is the same ideal that they plaster across the title page of every episode they upload, no matter the series. This game adapts to the choices you make. It gives the player a special power the AAA games don’t – we get to create our own narrative out of the story, making the usual slow burn forgivable, because we see this universe evolve in front of us. This used to be exciting. The idea that a simple mistake in The Walking Dead could result in the death of our favourite character. The idea that we could lose our hero’s respect and morality in Wolf Among Us by making the wrong decision. However, time eroded that pleasure. We now know Telltale to be arguably little more than an illusionist, suggesting that we are creating fresh experiences, while giving everyone the same game. Game of Thrones, with a few exceptions along the way, was the same story for every player. The sequel to Walking Dead felt stale. Telltale had lost its edge. Batman was probably the worst series developed yet, a definite routine to the story. Both seasons felt trapped in a solid story and, for those not content with simply watching a Batman tale unfold, the experience was a rote one. Until Same Stitch…
Finally, we get Telltale at its most diverse. Never before has a gamer been given such a variety of experiences. In the daring cliff-hanger of the last game, we could bow out of the penultimate episode in two different scenarios. Either we could have made a dangerous enemy out of John Doe, or we could have thrown Amanda Waller’s support in her face, in order to try and save the last shreds of John’s sanity. We opened Same Stitch expecting that the different endings would do the usual and quickly converge. However, what actually happens is two completely different games. Usually, this is Telltale talk for a few slight changes. A character will team up with you, but either smile or scowl, depending on what happened in the last episode. A character model might be swapped, so either Jim Gordon is by your side or Amanda Waller – same place in the story, same dialogue; the bodies are the only thing switched. However, here, we aren’t just given two different sides of the same story, but two completely unique experiences. On one hand, we have John Doe, rebranded as Batman’s self-promoted side-kick, the Joker. That episode sees Joker fight back against the Agency, Amanda Waller on the warpath and embracing her dirty tactics more than ever. Batman has to save the day, trying to keep a lid on the Joker’s crumbling psyche. That episode is also full of different choices, depending on how far you are willing to put up with the Joker. Meanwhile, the other story sees John Doe play a more traditional Joker, teaming up with Harley Quinn to plant bombs around Gotham. You are treated to a variation of the classic Joker tales. There is a dinner party, where your allies are booby-trapped to chairs and force to make Telltale-esque confessions. There is a carnival-themed death trap ride. Oh so delightfully Joker… Either variation of the episode has completely different showdowns. Arguably they end up in the same place, with a revelation from one of your closest allies that puts your entire Batman psychology on the line, but that is a small niggle to pay for one of the most diverse Telltale experiences to date.
The best thing about this two-way Telltale episode is that both adventures are as good as the other. With other split narrative games (Heavy Rain, Life is Strange), you always got the impression that the creators were pushing you down one direction. Players felt punished for doing the unexpected thing, getting a token change of story, rather than a well thought-out alternative ending. The guiltiest example is Life is Strange which saw one ending wrapped up in a few shots, while the other climax was a heart-breaking character death. Here, with Telltale, I am stuck to pick the better ending. Vigilante Joker definitely unpacks more with John Doe constantly veering from selfish antagonist to a broken man who simply wants to find belonging. However, there is just as much fun to be had from watching the Joker go full villain. Each adventure has its own separate scenes, worthy of playing. There is a gruesome scene where Harvey Bullock is captured in the Joker villain mode, as well as a fun game of ‘Never Have I Ever’ orchestrated by the Joker. However, the other story sees Amanda Waller bring back Bane and Harley into a Suicide Squad team, tasked with killing the Joker and arresting Batman. It is fun to see all of these characters brought back into the fray. There is no choosing between the two; the best answer is to simply play it twice, something which was clearly Telltale’s wish from the start. Equally, each story has its flaws. Vigilante Joker tries to unpack too much, bringing everyone back into the story, but not quite having time to do anyone justice. Catwoman feels lost in the blur of story. While Villain Joker trims half of the supporting cast, it definitely feels like a more streamlined experience, albeit one you are playing, rather than creating. But isn’t that always the problem with Telltale finales? The divulging of storylines has to stop eventually and the game needs to get by in the power of its moments. In terms of wrestling with the psychology of the character, as we did with Bigby in Wolf Among Us, Batman is particularly stuck. There is so much pre-existing story and expectations with the material that as Telltale try to start debates about whether Batman is part of the problem, it has all been done before, a lot better. No one is particularly convinced about the last act moralising that tries to judge you on your choices throughout the series. However, niggles aside, Batman’s final episode has definitely saved a struggling second season from Telltale’s Batman – and, in all honesty, Telltale itself.
Final Verdict: Choice has rarely mattered more than the finale of The Enemy Within. What was looking like Telltale’s dullest entry is now one begging for a third season.