While this second run in Telltale’s Batman series had already declared itself as something special within it’s first few episodes, with last night’s show-stopping finale of The Enemy Within, it has emerged as something truly noteworthy.
A common criticism of Telltale Games over the years has been the notion of the illusion of choice. Even though games like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us often gave players the idea that their choices were defining the story, a quick peek behind the curtain showed just how similar the stories would be regardless of what decisions the player had made.
This critique is something that Telltale has clearly taken to heart over the years, as attempts at bucking this trend have become a regular part of their repertoire. However, with that said, Telltale has never attempted something as audacious as the two wildly different finales of The Enemy Within.
This isn’t just the same old “things change to varying degrees depending on the choices you made” schtick that we’ve seen time and time again from Telltale and it’s many imitators, as even a cursory bit of research will show that The Enemy Within does indeed have two entirely distinct finales.
*spoiler warning from this point on*
As I had attempted to sway John Doe from his villainous path over the course of my playthrough, I had held out hope that he might take a different road in The Enemy Within, and as “Same Stitch” was released at last, he did indeed. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, as I had attempted to do the same thing with Harvey Dent in Batman: The Telltale Series, only to have the changes turn out to be mainly cosmetic.
Fortunately this iteration of Telltale’s Batman story does not make the same mistake. However, what I hadn’t counted on was the fact that John Doe’s mind might have been fractured far beyond repair long before I met him in Arkham Asylum. Even a positive influence can have vast-reaching consequences on a man as damaged as John Doe, as “Same Stitch” shows in the “Vigilante” version of it’s final episode.
There I was, kicking ass as Batman, when some of Amanda Waller’s agency goons suddenly got the upper hand on me. Just as things were at there worst, who should come swinging in to save the day on a custom chattering-teeth batclaw but the Joker. “That’s my hero name!” he intoned. “Do you like it?” His face emblazoned with a bat sigil, he began hurling purple smoke bombs and custom batarangs painted with a sickly grin.
Though I had hoped that by being kind to John and indulging his obsession with both Batman and Bruce Wayne that I might keep him from turning into a psychotic super villain, this was not what I had in mind. When you see his jokerangs sticking out of the gaping wounds of criminals you begin to wonder what kind of monster you have created with your good intentions.
Things went from bad to worse as casual insults and accusations sent this justice-mad Joker flying off the handle, and left him prone to just as violent an outburst as the clown prince of crime we’ve come to know over the many decades of Batman tales. Once he pulled out that switch blade, I knew we were in trouble.
As expected, there’s no way to ultimately “save” John Doe but the fact that Telltale gave gamers the choice of whether they would create a monster by befriending a troubled soul, or by betraying him, is a master stroke of storytelling prowess, and demonstrative of why even minimal input games like these absolutely justify their existence as interactive, rather than passive, stories. Watching vigilante joker emerge in a cartoon or film would doubtless have a novelty all its own, but knowing your actions have created him makes the result all the more effective.
While Joker’s thread of this stitch is undoubtedly the centerpiece of this finale, the other stories are also paid off surprisingly well, even those which you might have been trepidatious about to begin with. After Lucius Fox’s shocking death in the series’ first episode, I was not terribly impressed with the tale of his spunky daughter rising to take his place. However, even her story leaves a shocking impact on the tattered cloth of “Same Stitch”, when she is revealed to be responsible for another shocking murder.
Revelations like these keep fans guessing, and in a Batman story that is truly an uncommon feature. There have been so many iterations of this character over the course of his 80 year existence that it’s rare to find one’s self truly surprised by a Batman tale anymore. This is The Enemy Within‘s greatest strength.
Perhaps most surprisingly of all, the final moments of The Enemy Within do not go out with a bang but with a whimper, as an old friend demands an impossible choice of you, a choice that means giving up a significant part of yourself, regardless of what decision you ultimately make.
Suffice it to say that if you haven’t played Batman: The Enemy Within, or indeed Batman: The Telltale Series, each is well worth your time, both as a Batman fan and as a proponent of quality storytelling in the gaming medium.
Taking bold risks and blazing shocking new trails in the mythology of the caped crusader, Batman: The Enemy Within will find itself in good company, among some of the dark knight’s finest outings, in years to come.