Batman: The Enemy Within, Telltale's latest installment in its Batman series, does not waste time in reminding the player of what Telltale brings to the nearly eighty-year tradition of Telling Stories About Batman. The very first dialogue option in the game is one that asks the player to state Bruce Wayne's feelings on the consequences of living a double life.
By inhabiting Bruce Wayne in a roleplay-based game, the player is almost always playing a character who is themselves playing a character. Bruce is so seldom among people who know the whole of his identity that playing him is to play three people: Bruce Wayne, billionaire son of Gotham; Batman, the hyper-competent vigilante; and Bruce Wayne, the guy who is both of those and neither of them.
And then there’s the opening scene in The Enemy Within, where you are Bruce Wayne as James Bond, infiltrating a fellow billionaire’s casino with augmented reality contact lenses and the voice of a (former) MI5 operative in the microphone in your ear. (That is Alfred, of course.)
It’s been the better part of a year since I dived into my last episode of Telltale’s Batman series, and the game’s choices in how it differs from comics canon can still take me by surprise. Bruce affectionately calls Alfred “Al.” Thomas Wayne is a known criminal. I’m not sure I’m ever going to be able to navigate conversations between Bruce Wayne and the game’s pre-Joker character, John Doe, without my choices being affected by the weight of knowing where that story is going.
But now that we’re into the second season of the series, we can also observe differences between Telltale’s last update and this one. A few staple characters have been given a much-needed visual facelift — most notably James Gordon — who has settled into the role of police commissioner and the role of wearing a proper mustache.
The mechanics have been given a shakedown as well, without a planned fight sequence in sight. Instead, the player makes the same choices — would you like to use your grapple gun to slam a sign post into a guy’s back, or just punch him in the freakin’ face? — as timed decisions on the fly. Telltale kicked up the intensity of one of the final fights in the first season by switching from sedately planned choices to timed picks from inside the fight sequence. It was as satisfying there as it is here. In other words, I got to rip a roulette wheel off a table, use it as a shield and then bash a mook with it.
In addition to shaking up old ideas, The Enemy Within also introduces some new things to its mechanical and narrative tool belt. The Riddler makes an early and violent debut in the game with an interesting new backstory, and with our new big villain, there’s a new big ally ... maybe. Amanda Waller has brought her mysterious government task force, known only as The Agency, to Gotham on a hunt for the Riddler. Indeed, we are in something of an Amanda Waller renaissance these days, with her featuring in no less than three concurrent franchises in television, movies and games.
Her presence in The Enemy Within sets up the first clear theme of your choices through the episode. Will you work more closely with Gordon or with Waller, who promises greater crime fighting resources? The framing is made most clear in the episode’s most consequential choice, where players once again have the option to interrogate a suspect as Bruce Wayne or as Batman.
And speaking of narrative choices and character mechanics, if you’ve played a Telltale Game, you’ve cried salt tears at “_____ will remember that.” Now, meet your new best friend/emotional punch in the gut:
“Your relationship with _____ has changed.”
All the big choices in Enemy Within are about Batman’s relationships with his allies, a move that feels designed to hurt me, personally, as someone whose favorite Batman series ever was the one about his relationships with his allies. At the end of the episode, alongside the usual summary of how your major choices aligned with the rest of Telltale’s playing audience, the game also gives you a rundown of the dominant emotion that you left major characters with, whether it was loyalty, vengeance or another nuanced option.
I appreciated that, because every time “Your relationship with _____ has changed” appeared on the screen I second guessed every choice in the preceding conversation. Had I ruined their view of me by lying? Worse, had I ruined it by telling the truth? Telltale is no stranger to mixing up the “will remember this” formula for an extra emotional or funny punch, but “your relationship has changed” just shows how much the writers are thinking about how to guide the player’s feelings.
While The Enemy Within definitely continues the Telltale Batman trend of making you feel like you’re making weighty choices as Bruce Wayne, it also continues a trend in Batman games of very easy detective work. Check the crime scene for all the reticles, literally connect a few dots and boom, you’ve escaped the Riddler’s death trap. Even the actual riddles that he poses to you are deliberately simple, and the player is guided by onscreen quicktime instructions on solving a puzzle box.
Perhaps a working puzzle box challenge is too much to expect of a Telltale game. Perhaps I’m betraying too much of my long-time affection for point and click puzzle games. But holy enigmas, Batman, it’s the goddamn Riddler. Is it too much to let the player actually feel smart for beating him?
Enemy Within also feels like a lot of set up for a hook that arrives in practically the last scene — which is reasonable for a first of five episodes. But I found my mind wandering through a lot of the gameplay, wondering when this would get around to wrapping up.
Batman: The Enemy Within makes incremental improvements on a successful formula — and the introduction of a new, relationship-focused choice mechanic was a big hit. It might drag here and there, but it sets up for big things to come in further installments. If Enemy Within is anything like its predecessor, a little patience will pay off.
Batman: The Enemy Within was reviewed using a final reviewable Steam code provided by Telltale Games. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.