I had five seconds to make a choice, a life-or-death decision, one that would affect a friend and myself for eternity. The purple bar shortened, indicating the time left. I pressed the button quickly, damning that character to a tortuous fate. I saved the other, unknown if that decision would come back to bite me later in the game. I felt guilty and sick. I felt sad.
If the purpose of art is to evoke an emotion within the viewer, Batman – The Telltale Series is a video game that qualifies as a work of art. Episode Two: Children of Arkham raises the stakes by presenting the player with decisions of greater consequence, decisions that were set up from Episode One.
The Telltale Series feels like actively playing a highly polished television show, something that might be distributed by HBO or AMC, which is fitting, considering the game is being released in an episodic format over the course a five-episode season. Episode Two begins with a “previously on Batman – the Telltale Series” recap of Episode One’s highlights.
And like the bigger-budget dramas released from the cable studios, Telltale packs in tons of details into their sets and set pieces. The walls of the Stacked Deck bar, where Bruce meets up with Selina, is covered with unique posters and pictures of bands. Typically, there might be two or three posters that repeat throughout the location, but each poster or wall art seemed one of a kind.
The creative use of the camera differentiates between the static nature of watching a show and the interactive features of progressing a video game. By changing the view as the player moves, each step reveals a different point of view and greater ways to interact with the environment.
One of the drawbacks to the entire series is the game’s fighting quicktime events. The fight scenes are fun to watch — the camera angle changes quickly and frenetically, emulating the style from many modern action movies. The fight choreography is spectacular, yet it feels like the quicktime events are overlayed over the beautiful action scenes. The player’s focus shifts not on what’s happening, but more on pressing the correct button. And while the button pressing immerses the player, some attention gets lost to admiring the scene for what it is.
Telltale is not afraid to take elements of the Batman history and rewrite it for a good, compelling story. Characters are not sacred — they may have a similar name from the comics or the movies, but their backstories may be significantly changed to fit this Batman Universe. Particularly with the Penguin, Telltale has reimagined him in a more modern role, with a greater motivation and greater ability to cause terror, whose past is intertwined with Bruce Wayne. The episode also introduces a brand new villain, one Batman fans have not yet seen or, for now, we might not recognize.
The game is not afraid to kill characters, ones that seem integral after watching Episode One. And it’s this commitment to story that makes the player’s choices more significant.
At the episode’s conclusion, I wanted more. I know there was never a right decision to be made. For my own personal closure, I just want to know if the choice I made was worth it.