I’m a Telltale fan, I’m happy to admit that. Sure, they have a tendency to release games that are a little buggy, maybe a little less interactive than we’d hope, but there’s no question that they are pure storytellers at heart. So when Batman was announced as their next IP, I found myself coming up with ideas in my head as to how they could bring one of the most fabled DC heroes of all into their line of work? Well, with the first chapter now available across most of the big platforms, we now have a better indication of what to expect and, so far, I’m liking it.
Before I begin, the best way to review the game is by going into spoiler town, so the SPOILER ALERT is in grand effect. You have been warned…
Batman has grown within the video game scene of late, thanks to Rocksteady’s entertaining and gritty trilogy, but this take on the Dark Knight goes in a direction that might leave a few puzzled, especially if they’re coming from the Arkham series. There’s fights, in fact they’re the most interactive and enjoyable scenes in the game, but this isn’t a typical action game. More so, it plays heavily on Bruce Wayne the man, not just the symbol for justice.
The opening scenes in Chapter 1: Realm of Shadows introduces us to a Batman who’s seemingly just begun his quest to rid Gotham of its dangers. It’s a typical shoot out, with a nice side introduction to the likes of Catwoman and Jim Gordon in the process. Things take a quick turn into more interesting territory, at least from my perspective, when we move away from the crime scene and into a party like atmosphere as Bruce Wayne himself. Entrusted as a main supporter to Harvey Dent’s campaign to become Mayor of Gotham, we’re brought into the bigger picture as we’re left with decision that will play a role in shaping the relationship between Wayne and Dent.
It feels a little like this original story has taken elements from all different elements of the previously established Batman lore, especially the most recent Bat-flicks by Christopher Nolan. Wayne is the reluctant party guy, a facade to cover his true intentions, whilst Dent is trying to prove himself as the man that can change things. Carmine Falcone, on the other hand, sees it as just another way to earn himself his keep, playing his hand as the usual ‘I run this town’ we’ve come to expect from the character.
It’s a little slow through these early moments, the story playing out in typical Batman fashion. Wayne’s grief over the death of his parents is the usual routine and he’s thrust into a mystery surrounding Falcone and Catwoman. But that’s when Telltale ramps things up a bit, especially in terms of bringing their own flavour to a world we’ve seen countless times before in other media. Where as Oswald Cobblepot, more commonly known as the Penguin, is normally a thorn in Batman’s side, here he’s just finding his feet as he returns to a Gotham disgraced by the fall of his family legacy. His relationship with Wayne goes back to their early time together as youngsters, rascals of a high school, which is an interesting dynamic to bring to a character we normally associate with some kind of deformed critter who lives underground (though if you’ve been watching the TV series Gotham, there’s hints of a more human character there too).
As Batman, you’ll get the chance to fight it out in typical Telltale style, pressing the required inputs on your controller or keyboard in time with what appears on screen. It’s a lot smoother and faster than any previous game they’ve created, however, and the amount of inputs have grown in turn. Sure, it’s not the same as the Arkham trilogy, there’s no actual beating anyone up, but the interactions here feel far more fluid and interesting than usual, a welcome change. So too is the chance to become detective, as the Bat uses all the tools in his arsenal to piece together the clues to solve a crime scene. Again, a welcome touch, and it plays into the idea that Batman is far more than a bruiser. He’s a smart man, who uses technology to the betterment of his decision making, though those decisions are handed to us to make and, perhaps, exploit.
The final sequence is a stand out, if not because of the action sequence that plays out between Batman and Falcone, but the use of his gadgets to set the scene up. Your given the chance to infiltrate Falcone’s high rise lair by choosing exactly how to take down four armed guards, each one linked to different ways to take them down. One guard I had the option of either throwing himself up into a hanging light, or throwing a nearby art piece directly at him. I’m sure both decisions would lead to the same outcome, but it’s cool to think you’ve got somewhat control over how the scene plays out. It’s arguably the most interactive story Telltale has produced so far, though the usual elements of choosing how to respond and briefly walking around to find out how to proceed are still there.
A twist at the end has me excited to see how this plays out, with Wayne questioning his very reason to be Batman in the first place as his family legacy is thrown under the media spotlight. It’s an interesting twist on the usual tale, again it seems as though the writing team of Zack Keller & Chris Hockabout were heavily inspired by Nolan’s more realistic approach to the character and to Wayne himself than the interpretation used in Rocksteady’s series. I’m all for it, to be honest I got a little tired of the action heavy Arkham series by the end there. Taking a slower, more methodical approach to the Batman character should pay off with long time fans and new ones alike, especially those who have followed Telltale through from their Walking Dead days.
There’s a few bugs in the system, but we kinda come to expect that from Telltale’s work now. I had a few glitches in my play through on the Xbox One (my console of choice, if you haven’t already figured that out), but it didn’t take away from the experience. Though the engine has been given a much needed face lift, there’s still some rather awkward character movements and facial ticks that I wish they’d iron out, but the level of detail has been upped a little over their previous work. It certainly stands out when you compare it to their most recent work, specifically the ongoing Mincecraft Story Mode and the Michonne spin-off.
Batman: A Telltale Series starts off strong, the twist to the so familiar story playing well into the concept of wanting and impatiently waiting for the next episode. I’m looking forward to seeing how they progress the story, whether they introduce more characters from the Rouge’s Gallery or perhaps hold them off for a possible second season instead. What’s here lays the frame work for the next four episodes, where hopefully they have more detective scenes and continue to divert further away from the normal Batman story routine.
Mark Isaacson is the editor of PN2. Go say hi @Mark_D_Isaacson.