Release Date: 10/3/17
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (played on PS4)
ESRB/PEGI: M/PEGI 18
MSRP: $4.99 USD (episode)/$24.99 (season pass)
By Rick Warren / Gfn2112
After a terrific opening episode, I was fully prepared for "The Pact" to disappoint in some way. Instead, I found another solid showing that further cements Telltale's Batman universe as one of my favorites in the character's deep history. Like previous episodes, "The Pact" was packed (yes, I know, I'm sorry) with classic Batman elements, as well as major twists on things that usually remain constant. One of those twists was Harley Quinn, as she received a complete redesign and a brand-new personality instead of the one Batman fans have gotten used to. While I've never been a fan of her in the past, Telltale managed to make me a fan of their version. In fact, Harley Quinn carried the entire episode, with this re-imagining being the best take that I've ever seen on the character.
The Clown Princess of Crime?
As soon as John Doe mentioned Harley Quinn, it was clear that this version would be unique. Almost immediately, John claims that he's in love with her, something that may or may not surprise fans. If they sat through 2016's Suicide Squad movie like I did, they'd be familiar with the idea of Joker and Harley's relationship being loving rather than abusive. I hated that idea in the movie, as it ruined some of the essential parts of both their characters. In Telltale's Batman, though, they do a much better job of executing this concept. For starters, this isn't a normal Batman universe. Telltale has made it clear that this is their own story, and that they plan to tell it however they see fit. With completely different versions of Vicki Vale and The Penguin, it's not too surprising that they'd change up the relationship between Joker and Harley. Even more so, these aren't the normal versions of the two twisted lovers. The Joker still doesn't exist yet (though John is letting out more creepy, maniacal laughs) and Harley... is a completely different story.
In Batman: The Enemy Within, Harley Quinn's character makes sense. She's not the dimwitted, annoying puppet of the Joker that she's always been known to be. Sure, she's still crazy, but she conducts herself like you'd expect a former psychologist to. She's smart, manipulating people the entire way. One of these people is, unsurprisingly, John. He implores Bruce to make him look good in front of Harley, and I tried my best to do so, but she never seems to care. She's more interested in flirting with Bruce than with John Doe, and seeing him sweat throughout the awkward conversations was a neat detail. John legitimately does care about Harley, but she doesn't seem to care about him herself (at least not in the way he'd hoped). Ultimately, that's the best part about this new take on the Joker/Harley bond: like the original, it's only loving on one side. The huge difference comes from the fact that the roles are reversed, with Harley being in complete control of the relationship. While she isn't abusive (yet), she does take advantage of John and consistently forces him to do things for her. I'm intrigued to see where this relationship goes. Will Harley become more aggressive and violent towards John, or will the one-sided relationship cause John to snap and turn on Harley? Only time will tell.
Even outside of this excellent relationship, Harley shines. The redesign works, from the short red and black hair to the sledgehammer that replaces her silly mallet. Her new backstory with her father makes far more sense than her random and sudden attraction to The Joker. She's brutal and unpredictable, but eventually she shares that much of that is an act to keep people off guard. I enjoyed seeing the smart side of Harley so much more than seeing her fall into the same trap over and over. Laura Post does a terrific job playing the character, fitting in with the rest of the terrific voice cast. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm excited to see more of Harley Quinn in the season's remaining episodes.
Welcome to The Pact.
The opening fight was right on par with the great Harley and John moments. Within a few minutes, I was thrust into the action just like in the game's premiere episode. After taking out a few thugs (constantly choosing between a few different animations, which is a welcome touch), Batman got himself into a fight he couldn't win. Bane soon showed up, and Batman seemed to have the upper hand as the two battled. Then Bane did his classic Bane thing and shot himself up with Venom, quickly beating Batman down. There was even a hint at the infamous back-break, which was narrowly avoided. The fight may not have ended with Batman broken, true, but he was certainly beaten. The gorgeous Batsuit was covered in rubble, he was bleeding from his mouth and some ribs were broken. The only issue I had with this great scene was the loading screens that bookended it. They weren't brutally long, but they were lengthy enough to take me out of the moment. While they were negligible in the first episode, here they're more prevalent and they do damage the pacing a bit. Regardless, Batman's injured state would lead to an episode that was almost entirely focused on the Bruce Wayne side of things... and it worked.
Telltale promised that their Batman series would focus on showing both sides of the mask, and with "The Pact", they prove it. With Bruce Wayne injured, he's forced to learn more about his new enemies by working with Amanda Waller. This meant going undercover and temporarily joining the group of villains. Soon enough I was working closely with John and Harley, which led to some tough choices as to if I should help the innocent people hurt along the way, or stay undercover. This chapter gave me a small glimpse at some of the decisions I'll have to make as the story goes on, and they likely won’t be easy. As Waller said (she's somehow even more annoying in this episode, and I refuse to see how people could side with her over Gordon), eventually I will have to compromise Batman's code in some way.
Eventually, after the heist with Harley and Joker, Bruce is forced to meet the other members of their group of villains, known only as "The Pact". One, whom he had met once already as Batman, was the murderous wrestler Bane. The other was Mr. Freeze, played by Matthew Mercer. From their designs to their attitudes, these characters were largely the same as they have been in other Batman iterations. Bane loves violence and Freeze is obsessed with saving his wife, Nora. With every Telltale Batman villain prior to these two having been re-designed, it was oddly refreshing to see these two faces be so familiar. Since they'll likely remain minor roles, this was probably a smart decision. That said, this sequence also showed that Telltale is struggling a bit to fit the story they want to tell into only five episodes. Bane specifically warms up to Bruce far too quickly, having called for his death minutes earlier. While this section brought two classic villains into the spotlight, it also rushed the interactions between them.
After meeting the crew and quickly gaining their trust, the mission The Pact had been planning went underway. As expected, things did not go smoothly, and violence quickly erupted between Waller's agents and the members of the group. This leads to a final choice where the player can either "head off Bane" or "head off Harley". Assuming this would eventually lead to the capture of one of the two people, I chose to stop Bane from inflicting any more damage. Instead, the opposite happened. Harley was left behind, something that I was deliberately trying to avoid so I could keep John Doe happy (for whatever reason, I like him, and I want to see how long I can keep him from becoming Joker). I unintentionally made the opposite decision of what I had wanted to make, and this is the only Telltale episode that I have ever immediately replayed. I still made all the same choices, only this time I corrected my mistake. Sure, it wasn't too bad since I enjoyed the episode, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a bit frustrating having to replay something due to a poorly-worded final choice. Simply changing the choices to "assist Harley" or "assist Bane" would have prevented this issue entirely, and it did manage to hurt a great episode for me.
"The Pact" is another strong episode of Telltale's Batman. It's still a joy interacting with the characters I grew up loving, and it's especially entertaining when they're as different as some of them are in this universe. Despite a few technical issues like distracting load times and a poorly-worded final choice, great writing and an excellent take on Harley Quinn help to make this episode special. If you're a fan of Batman's world, you owe it to yourself to experience this series.
FINAL SCORE: 8