There have been countless renditions on the Batman story over the years, from campy comics to grim feature films. You’d think that would make it a space that’s difficult to say anything new in — but it turns out that’s not the case. Telltale Games’ new Batman series started off strong by putting the focus on Bruce Wayne, helping to differentiate it from the many Batman games that preceded it. That’s still true in the second episode, “Children of Arkham,” which launched this week. But the new episode also shows that Telltale isn’t afraid to put its own stamp on the mythology, and it makes some important — and shocking — changes to a character we already know so well.
The second episode of the game has Bruce investigating an idea that was suggested early on: that his parents weren’t actually wealthy do-gooders, but instead were deeply connected to dangerous criminals like the mob boss Carmine Falcone. The death of the Waynes has always been an integral part of Batman; it’s the entire reason that Bruce took up the mantle in the first place. It’s why drives him forward through all the various iterations of the Dark Knight. This new idea that his parents were living a double life — even just the suggestion of it — is a big shift, potentially throwing a dark cloud over his entire motivation.
However, it does in fact turn out to be true; in this story, Bruce’s father long-conspired with Falcone and mayor Hamilton Hill, and his ties with the criminal underworld are what helped build the fortune that funds Batman’s gadget-powered existence. In an early scene, in which Falcone is bedridden after a violent run-in with Batman, he tells Bruce that the two are basically family. Bruce, as you’d imagine, doesn’t take this well.
While all of this is happening, Gotham City is dealing with its own potential destruction. There’s a new kind of drug that has the ability to turn normal citizens into raving killers and, when coupled with a new gang intent on some kind of revolution, the potential for all-out anarchy is high.
Just like the first episode — and every Telltale game before this — “Children of Arkham” plays out sort of like an interactive TV show, where the action is minimal, and your main job is to make dialogue choices and do some light investigation. One of the reasons this choice-heavy system works with a franchise like Batman is that in some ways you’re actually able to shape the main character. You can make Bruce out to be a jerk playboy or a more philanthropic type. Your Batman can be harsh and unforgiving, or one that plays by his own internal rules. These choices don’t necessarily change the outcome of the story, but they dramatically alter the journey to get to that outcome. And in Telltale’s rendition of Batman, the Caped Crusader is relatively malleable; it’s still early in his crime-fighting career, so it makes sense that he would still be dealing with these internal battles.
“Children of Arkham” has everything you’d expect from a new Telltale episode: tough choices, questionable action sequences, and lots of fantastic dialogue. There are even some shocking deaths that would feel right at home in The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. But its real achievement is taking something incredibly familiar, and making it feel new and distinct. It’s not just Batman, it’s your Batman. And two episodes in, I can’t wait to see where he ends up.
“Children of Arkham” is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. It’ll be coming to other platforms later this month.