Image: Telltale Games
Telltale has flipped the signal on. The Batman has returned.
Taking place in the early years of Bat-lore, Batman: The Telltale Series finds the Caped Crusader in an important time in his history. Will he become the hero we know him to be? Or will he become the menace that the police and criminals believe him to be? The choice is, as always with Telltale, in your hands.
However, this time he brings with him an oft-unseen aspect of the character and that’s Bruce Wayne. While we are all very familiar with Batman due to the Arkham series, the character of Bruce Wayne has not been explored in the realm of video games. Telltale has made playing as Bruce an equally important part of the package, as many decisions in the game are based around what you do as Bruce as well as what you do as Batman.
The scenes where you play as Bruce tend to ring familiar initially. Alfred cares about you a lot, being Batman and maintaining the Wayne image is tough, and his parents were killed when he was very young. It seems very introductory, like Batman for Dummies. They hammer these points in as well; they do not want you to possibly forget what happened that night in Crime Alley. However, there is a threshold in the plot that once you cross, becomes very fresh for Bruce. Twists and turns pile on top of each other, and eventually make his life as Batman more stable and together than his life as Bruce.
While the choices you make as Bruce tend to lead to plot complexity, the Batman choices are far more straightforward. How do you want Gotham to perceive you? Are you a savior or a monster? Do you torture your enemies to get what you want or do you take the non-violent road? When criminals are at your mercy, do you provide them any? It is basically the choice of Zack Snyder Batman that we saw in Batman Vs Superman this year, or the Justice League/Batman: The Animated Series portrayal a lot of people grew up with. The simplicity doesn’t make the choices any less rewarding, in fact they do still shape the plot in many ways, just not as many ways as the choices you make as Bruce do.
Gameplay wise, this is very similar to the many Telltale games that have been released. If you’ve played one, you’ve played them all. However, with this game being as combat heavy as it is, I can’t help but compare it to The Wolf Among Us in terms of quick time events. Unfortunately, this game is far more boring. The Wolf Among Us felt very chaotic and intense. When you took on The Woodsman or The Jersey Devil, it felt like you were fighting for Bigby’s life. If you made a mistake, it would cost you. Here, Batman feels very mechanical and cold. No fight feels like a challenge. Perhaps that is the point. You can screw up plenty of times before the game decides to punish you, and it usually does in a very sudden game-over screen.
Combat aside; we did get the chance to do some investigation this episode. This is where the gameplay truly shines. It takes aspects of Detective mode from the Arkham series, but places you in the drivers seat a bit more. Instead of connecting the dots for you, you have to draw conclusions from the evidence presented yourself. While not terribly complex, it does do a very good job of placing you in Batman’s shoes. I hope that if/when this mechanic returns, the difficulty level will ramp up and we can really put our brains to the test.
Telltale boasts a new engine for this new series, and while it does look very pretty it has a few issues. Certain scenes are very sluggish on the Xbox One. A good example would be the fundraiser scene in the beginning of the episode. The frame rate will drop to a complete stutter from time to time, sometimes looking like it was being run in the old Telltale engine. Not to mention the lipsync isn’t the greatest either. However, the engine does make up for this in beautiful backgrounds, and great facial expressions. Hopefully by next episode the issues of frame rate will be fixed.
The music of Batman: The Telltale Series is par for the course of a Batman title. Big, bombastic orchestral pieces that sound like a mix of Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. The music was one thing that did drag this episode down. They could have been rejected pieces from the Nolan movies or the Arkham games. I would have liked Telltale to go with a jazzier approach to their music, which is something we don’t usually get with Batman games.
While this episode isn’t perfect, and does stumble around in familiar waters early on, it eventually pulled itself together to make for an interesting opening episode. Telltale clearly has a vision in mind for the Batman mythos, and I am very excited to see where it goes from here.
I can safely say that Batman: The Telltale Series is off to a solid start. With it’s feet out of the introductory waters and heading closer to the deep end, I am very interested to see where the story goes. Especially with the cliffhanger they left us with at the end of the episode.