Batman: Enemy Within: Episode 3: Fractured Mask

Release Date: November 21, 2017 Developer: TellTale Games Publisher: TellTale Games Genre: Interactive Storytelling Rating: M for Mature Platform: PS4, Xbox One (reviewed), Android, iPhone, PC Sometimes, the stories we wish to tell end up being the ones not told; rather they evolve and change as the words ink the paper. Numerous factors play into…




Read time:

7 minutes

Release Date: November 21, 2017
Developer: TellTale Games
Publisher: TellTale Games
Genre: Interactive Storytelling
Rating: M for Mature
Platform: PS4, Xbox One (reviewed), Android, iPhone, PC

Sometimes, the stories we wish to tell end up being the ones not told; rather they evolve and change as the words ink the paper. Numerous factors play into a story’s progression, ranging from shift in themes, tonality, or point of emphasis on character or plot development. Inevitably, the transitions end up creating stumbling blocks, much like what Episode 2: The Pact suffered from.

While I maintain the episode is a solid entry, it also contained the jumbling mess of a TellTale midseason episode. The narrative, tone, and pacing were all out of sync, resulting in a story trying to do a lot of plot progression and character development. It was the type of episode that created concerns that the series was beginning to lose the sharp writing that the first episode promised to bring.

Fractured Mask is the episode that tries hard to right the ship from the missteps of The Pact, providing a solid pace and tone while continually balancing character development and narrative. One of the biggest themes of this episode is an oft-asked question for fans of the long-running franchise: is Bruce Wayne the mask, and is Batman the real identity? One of the biggest challenges the game has been facing is reducing the spotlight on Batman, both visibly and figuratively, and instead placing the emphasis on Bruce Wayne. It’s an episode focusing less on the incredibly high stakes and more on an intimate portrayal. Fractured Mask is inversive as an experience for both those playing and Bruce Wayne.

For Gordon, his identity as the moral guide and authoritative voice of GCPD is…fractured *badum tsk*

While the theme of the long running franchise has been exploring the duality of Bruce Wayne/Batman through high stake situations, Fractured Masks instead opts for exploring how his duality has affected the relationships around him. Where previous episodes only begin exploring the strains being placed on the relationships due to the conflicts at hand, Fractured Masks begins surfacing the damage they have sown.

While not considered a writing trope, one of the themes I feel Fractured Masks, and the Batman: Enemy Within series is succeeding at is its exploration of “selfless selfishness”. While the terms seem dichotomous in nature, they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they end up working together most of the time than not. In almost all of Bruce’s choices being made in the series, the core of them all centers around his desire to keep those closest away to him at an arm’s distance. It’s a desire of keeping them as close as he can without putting them in harm’s way. While the idea is selfless in sacrificing the relationships vital to him, it is inherently selfish, often creating more problems than reducing them.

This can be seen in the dynamic between Amanda Waller, Batman, and Jim Gordon; since Waller forcibly taking the reins of the Gotham Police Department, Gordon is struggling to maintain a sense of importance. Even worse, because his ally Batman seems to be working with Waller (albeit begrudgingly), Gordon feels he has lost the support of one of his closest ally. Batman, on the other hand, is trying to keep Gordon at a distance from the situation in order to keep him from being forced to wade through grey areas of morality. As a result, the Gordon Batman once knew is now a desperate man clinging onto whatever he can, casting aside his own morality.

With Selina Kyle knowing Bruce Wayne’s identity, the situation he’s now in becomes even more complicated.

The same can be said of the series’ exploration of Batman, Bruce Wayne, and Tiffany Fox. Where Bruce continually tries keeping her at a distance, she always finds a way to remain involved in the conflict. From what it looks like, the series is hinting at something I, and many longtime fans of the franchise, are excited to see.

Fractured Masks also examines the complications for Bruce having any meaningful relationship by reintroducing Selina Kyle into the mix. Whereas the first Batman season continually teased the oft hinted romance between Selina and Bruce, it could never work with their contrasting work as their alter egos. Inevitably, season one ends with Selina putting distance between herself and Bruce with the awareness that their professions would never let them work out.

Now, it seems she’s back and part of Harley’s crew, immediately putting Bruce’s cover at risk and complicating his work with Waller. Decisions once easy to make now have an added layer of complexity to them, especially if players choose to continuing pursuing the hinted romance from Season One. However, there’s a fantastic emotional payoff for players pursuing to rekindle the romance from season one.

Where the episode also shines is in its continued development of John Doe into his inevitable persona of “Joker”. As the series continues to go on, players are watching him continue to slip further into the madness that will inevitably consume him. By far, he is both Batman: Enemy Within and Fractured Mask’s greatest strength due to his lingering presence throttling the line between charming and unsettling.

The series is just as much about the duality of Batman/Bruce Wayne as it is John Doe/Joker.

Finally, Fractured Masks also shines at creating a sense that everything players see might not be as clear cut as perceived. Most notably, the individual motivations behind each of the Pact’s members is beginning to be at odds with their unified goal. Relationships are beginning to fray, barely hanging onto any semblance of unity due in large part to their big personalities and how they approach situations.

For example, Bane tries to strategically utilize his minions before getting involved, and will only do so when the situation seems dire. Inversely, Harley will go in with reckless abandon, utilizing the chaos surrounding her to her advantage. These trains of thought begin clashing with each other and creating a power struggle almost destroying the group.

The idea of everything not being as it seems is also displayed in the contrast of the Riddler players have gotten to know in The Enigma versus the one Catwoman describes. Instead of the cold, bloodthirsty, calculating man players faced off against, Catwoman paints a man that is better, different, who was far more strategic. It also paints a picture of a man who’s true goals may not have aligned with the Pact, resulting in his death. It provides a recontextualization that raises a question of what Riddler’s true goal was with the Pact, versus what the Pact is trying to accomplish.

All in all, I feel like Fractured Masks is a great mid-season episode from TellTale. Instead of pushing the plot at a maddening pace, it takes the foot off the gas to focus on character development. The episode ends up feeling like a refreshing experience, with new context and ideas about what is really happening in Batman: The Enemy Within to both Bruce Wayne, and those around him. What we see is a story admitting that it’s not just another story with All Star villains against the caped crusader, but rather an examination of the fragile duality of Bruce Wayne and Batman and the cost it takes on his relationships with those closest to him. It’s a far more effective, powerful, refreshing approach that is resulting in a solid game to play through. I cannot wait to see what lies ahead in the next episode.