Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered, y'know? The second instalment of Telltale's burgeoning Batman yarn wastes no time reminding you of the most pivotal point in DC Comics lore, with brooding billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne casting a shadow over Crime Alley. Fortunately, the episode quickly deviates from the banal backstory that's been replayed so many times over the years that it's lost all meaning; this is a different kind of story, where everything you think you know about the Waynes has been turned upside down.
After the dismal detective work of Realm of Shadows, follow-up Children of Arkham moves at a much brisker pace. The political intrigue of the opening episode lingers in the background, but the chapter centres more on self-discovery, as Gotham City's most eligible bachelor attempts to understand exactly who he is. The manner in which long-buried secrets all come tumbling out in the span of a single in-game day is tough to swallow, but at least it augments the series with a bit of urgency – and sets the writers on their own path.
But while the family drama takes centre stage, Telltale is also busy setting up this series' main band of villains – further deviations from the fiction that you'll already be familiar with. While the motives of Oswald Cobblepot – better known as the Penguin – are only just beginning to take shape, we're already in love with his visual design and his crooked sense of morality. Selina Kyle – one of the highlights of the first episode – also plays a bigger role in this instalment, and a blossoming romance between her Catwoman and the Bats adds a sassy little side-plot.
It's just a much stronger episode all around, with the story starting to take its own shape and the pacing much more purposeful and engaging. Sure, at around about 75 minutes in length, it's a shorter instalment – but it allows the twists to come at a faster chop, which means you won't be left twiddling your thumbs like the last time out. Even the action is vastly superior, and the biggest chunk of it comes when you're playing as Bruce Wayne rather than the Dark Knight, which serves as a timely reminder that Telltale wants to peel back the cowl as much as possible.
Even the game's new graphics engine is starting to show its weight, with a smoky balcony view and lots of volumetric lighting in a cloudy bar augmenting the kind of atmosphere seldom seen in the developer's older outings. It's just unfortunate that the framerate can't keep up with the sharp art style and attention to detail, plunging hard as it creaks under the strain of your decisions. Given the glacial pace of much of the action, it's not a deal breaker, but when it chugs during a QTE, it can be frustrating.
By trimming the fat, Telltale has delivered a much stronger episode in its fledgling Batman series. The story's beginning to take a shape of its own now, and more interesting personalities are beginning to come to the fore. While it still feels like the developer's laying foundations, this episode begins with a twist and goes out like a rocket – and that's how we'd like it to continue, thank you very much.