There will be times in life when you will wish you could redo a moment, a conversation, a decision, and do it differently; but the nagging question will remain: what difference would it have really made? This is the very tightrope you walk while playing Telltale’s Batman – ‘What Ails You’.
Friendships will be tested, alliances will be broken, and as you stumble your way across the teetering abyss of indecision, you will find yourself excited, enthralled, and hungry for the final episode of the season, which could not come fast enough.
**WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!**
Depending on how you left the previous episode, Bruce finds himself in an uncomfortable position, having betrayed his cover to save the life of Selina Kyle. Having devised a quick, tech related escape, you don the cape and cowl and get to work. The action quick-time events, and the pace of this episode, are back to the same heights as it’s season 2 opener, with Batman chasing down Harley Quinn, Bane and Mister Freeze — known as The Pact — to retrieve a deadly virus from their hands, and stop them infecting the whole of Gotham.
As you and The Agency, a group of black-ops specialists headed by the ruthless Amanda Waller, move in to splinter The Pact, writers Patrick Kevin Day and Laura R. Mee begin to lead you out onto the tightrope, as Bruce hunts for Harley Quinn with help from the reluctant John Doe.
The dialogue between Bruce and John, and the decisions you make within them, is where this story truly elevates. How you’ve chosen to build your relationship with the not-yet-formed Joker — either with prior knowledge of his eventual transformation into the clown prince of crime, thus relating in zero trust, or approaching it with fresh eyes and making decisions based off the scenarios presented, garnering sympathetic (dare I say) affection towards him — becomes pivotal to ‘What Ails You’.
“The more decisions pop up on screen, the more uneasy you feel, and the fear of falling from the cleverly constructed tightrope begins to creep in.”
Anthony Ingruber’s vocal performance is outstanding, as he methodically takes you through John’s emotional and mental unravelling, and ever so subtly adds a slight inflection to his voice — fused with Jared Emerson-Johnson’s dissonant score — which makes you question Doe’s true intentions. He’s creepy, funny and enigmatic, and plays off Troy Baker’s Batman/Bruce Wayne with aplomb.
Interacting with the world has always been this series weak point, and this episode fairs no better. The locked camera angle make the character physics feel a bit jarring at times, the occasional structural glitch rears its ugly head (albeit, a lot less than last season), and characters such as Alfred and Tiffany are grossly underused, but ultimately these complaints are dwarfed in relation to the episode as a whole.
The gamer is subjected to the ultimate trial of Bruce and John’s relationship, when you track down a lead on Quinn which brings you to Doe within an abandoned carnival. Here, within the acid-trip neon walls, is where Day and Mee’s writing is at its most vibrant.
With Doe surrounded by Agency corpses, and him pleading his case of self defence, you must determine whether this was a deliberate act of violence or not. What ensues is the most gripping part of episode 4, as John Doe (depending on your choice of trusting, or not trusting John) reveals he knows your identity as the Batman. The uncertainty of Doe’s true intentions are expertly played upon. The more decisions pop up on screen, the more uneasy you feel, and the fear of falling from the cleverly constructed tightrope begins to creep in.
The connection you have with this relationship, no matter your choice, is what sets this game apart from any other decision-based game available today. It invokes your own sense of morality, calling into question what trust and loyalty mean in the face of damning evidence.
As well as your own connection, it also draws upon comic book material, feeding into the established Batman trope of Joker and Batman needing one another, while at the same time giving you a fresh take on it. Its an intimacy which is rarely touched on, bar a few, but so intrinsically linked to the ethos of both characters.
The conclusion to the episode is a fantastic payoff for the gamer, and has you salivating for the final episode of season 2. No matter whether you chose to trust John or not, it is an incredibly bold move by Telltale to have your choices ultimately create The Joker as we know him, and allow for a new evolution of an existing tale to emerge.
Telltale’s: Batman – ‘What Ails You’ is a great exploration into the psyche of relationships and trust, interweaved into a riveting Batman story. After several replays, I’m still left wondering if the developers intended to leave us with this question: have I been played by John this whole time, or is he too out on a tightrope and all it takes is a little push?
Review by Phil Logan – You can catch Phil on the Nerd Reserve podcast here