Release Date: August 8, 2017Platform: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesGenre: Adventure
Early into my playthrough of Batman: The Enemy Within, I decided that I was always going to choose silence when presented with dialogue options. I almost never selected silence in previous Telltale games – despite the fact the studio’s games remind us that it’s a viable option – and was morbidly curious how 100% silence would affect the outcome of the story.
What followed can best be described as Curb Your Enthusiasm – The Telltale Series. Whenever a character would look to Batman for a response, they would instead receive an awkward glance or cold stare. Despite Batman’s indifference, the person speaking would rarely adapt to the awkwardness. Instead, they would transition into their next dialogue sequence.
While those moments typically made me laugh, they also forced me to arrive at a somewhat disheartening realization.
You see, dialogue choices in Telltale games allow you to roleplay. They sometimes have far reaching consequences, but more often than not, they are there so that you can determine what kind of player – and person – you really are.
As for me, I soon realized that silence actually suited me best because I was a largely indifferent player. As much as I love some of Telltale’s previous efforts, the studio’s last few titles have exhibited that old one step forward, two steps back philosophy. Marginal improvements to trademark Telltale design aspects are hindered by the lingering faults of trademark Telltale design aspects.
The path of silence in The Enemy Within leads you to that conclusion faster than any other. The season’s first episode – titled “The Enigma” – begins shortly after the previous season’s conclusion. Bruce Wayne finds himself dealing with his family’s tainted legacy while Batman is quickly becoming a beloved Gotham City figure who even the police respect. Wayne’s already complicated life becomes that much more problematic when The Riddler returns to Gotham and ushers in a new wave of supervillain.
The Enemy Within’s story has been very good so far. Much like the first season, it plays with the Batman mythos just enough to keep you on your toes. This first episode treats few Batman conventions as inevitable and has no problem altering the fate, characterization, or allegiance of certain people if it services this altered Batman universe that Telltale is building.
It’s a shame, then, that Telltale is less willing to alter their own conventions when telling The Enemy Within’s story. During the course of this adventure, you will engage in QTE sequences, solve puzzles, and make decisions that will alter the game’s story. It’s a formula that has helped make Telltale a premier development studio.
It’s also a formula that has weakened over time. The Enemy Within’s QTE sequences are certainly more elaborate than the average Telltale game – we’ve come a long way from The Walking Dead’s awkward aiming sequences – but they suffer from the fact that it’s almost impossible to fail them. The game’s puzzles are a notch above other Telltale games – due largely to the return of a link system that requires you to construct a crime scene – but they still ask relatively little of the player.
As for those famous Telltale decisions… Well, you start to realize that they rarely occur whenever silence is an option. Unfortunately, silence is usually an option.
What’s missing is genuine player involvement. Advancing the game’s story begins to feel like the equivalent of saying, “Who’s there?” when someone says “Knock, knock.” Ultimately, your role in the scenario is fairly arbitrary, but your participation is based on your desire to get to the punchline.
The Enemy Within’s reliance on your desire to see the story through is somehow made all the more annoying by the fact that the story is actually interesting. It’s a great story to read and a great story to watch. It’s just a shame that it’s rarely a story that benefits from the game’s interactive elements.
There is one fascinating exception to that rule that most certainly represents the game’s one step forward. At the end of most Telltale games, you are presented with a series of screens that show what percentage of players made the same choices you did. This time, however, those screens are complemented by a series of slides that break down what your relationship with several main characters is like following the decisions you made throughout the episode.
Unlike the game’s main branching choices, your relationships are actually based on how you reacted in several, smaller situations. It was here that my path of silence actually did have an effect on the game. Relationships I would have preferred to maintain and establish were actually negatively impacted by my decision to not speak my mind. Interestingly, some characters actually preferred my stoic nature.
Whether or not these relationships will have an impact on future episodes remains up for debate. However, it’s the exact kind of retooling that Telltale should experiment with more often if they want to find new ways to make the player feel like they are more than a next screen button.
I began a silent playthrough of The Enemy Within because I was curious how the game would react to my indifference. While it’s nice to see that The Enemy Within does enforce some consequences on those who choose to put forth the bare minimal effort, this series has a long way to go before it inspires those indifferent to the Telltale brand to feel truly engaged with anything beyond the source material.
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