Batman: A Telltale Games Series Review
If you've played a Telltale game, you know if this is for you. Your enjoyment will hinge on how well versed you are with Batman's history.
By now, we’re all aware of the joke: if you own an intellectual property of any import, Telltale will make a game based on it. Telltale adventure games are quickly becoming the Funko Pops of the video game world, but just like those big-headed collectibles, there is no denying their popularity. Enter Batman: The Telltale Series. Is this “just” another Telltale game? Well, yes, of course it is. That shouldn’t suggest that it isn’t worth your time, though.
Like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones before it, Batman: The Telltale Series tells an original story set in an established universe. It is a modern adventure game replete with dialog choices, quick time events, and moderate bits of exploration that is often interrupted by more dialog choices and quick time events. If you haven’t clicked with the aforementioned games (or Tales From the Borderlands, or The Wolf Among Us, or any of the other Telltale releases) you aren’t going to click with this one. However, if you have enjoyed some of the previous titles and are curious what Telltale would do with a superhero franchise, you’re going to find a lot to like here.
This is a story set in the early days of Batman’s career. He’s still deciding what kind of symbol he wants to be for Gotham City, and borrowing from established classic comic stories like Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween, the budding relationship between Batman, Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent are at the forefront of this adventure. Bruce Wayne takes center stage here, and I found that refreshing. Too often there is a tendency for writers to gloss over Wayne’s life and get quickly to the “cool” parts where he dons the cowl. I find Bruce Wayne to be an interesting character, so I was hooked by the story from episode one.
In typical Telltale form, most of the story is conveyed through conversation bits, where you can choose how Bruce or Batman will react to situations. I was hoping that Telltale would have shown more nuance this time around, but once again everybody seems to scrutinize every little thing, and it can be frustrating as a player to try and roleplay without understanding what consequences seemingly small actions will have. For example, I shook Carmine Falcone’s hand to be cordial, not because I wanted to ally with him, but that’s how everyone sees it in the game, and multiple characters see fit to tell me as much. Dialogue options often seem like you can deal in shades of grey, when in reality there is a strict binary quality to every decision. That was fine with the first Walking Dead game, but I would have liked to see some evolution of the story presentation here.
This carries over to another long-standing issue I’ve had with other Telltale games, and it is in full force for this Batman story. Even though you are told that your choices will dictate how the story unfolds, that is only the case for very specific moments in the narrative. I chose to have Batman turn away Catwoman’s advances, with the reasoning that a year one Batman would never fraternize with a criminal like Catwoman; not until he saw that she can be a good person, at least. The game seemed unable to believe that I would choose this course of action, showing events in an episode recap that never happened, and even going so far as to have Catwoman talking about things that did not occur between her and Batman in my timeline. In a narrative driven game where decisions are supposed to matter, nothing will take me out of the moment faster than negating those very choices I’ve made.
That’s a shame, because in terms of presentation and graphics, Batman: The Telltale Series is at the top of the heap for the developer. I was impressed with the hard lines and pseudo noir style of the graphics. It’s not quite cel-shaded, and the characters aren’t as cartoony as other Telltale games, but it looks distinctly comic book, and very much Batman. The button prompts for quick time events are laid into the action with finesse, suggesting Quantic Dreams’ Heavy Rain. The designs for Batman’s costume and gear may be some of my favorites I have seen for a video game translation of the Caped Crusader. Less bulky and armored than the Arkham games, I found Batman to be a more believable character in terms of suiting up. Voice acting is top notch, and the facial animations are well done, even if the animation when you assume complete control of Batman is still stiff in that Telltale way.
Where things get a bit iffy for me comes with the portrayal of many of the supporting characters of the Batman universe. While I understand that Telltale is attempting to put their own stamp on the Batman franchise, at some point these characters are so far removed from their comic book counterparts that they no longer share any traits that make them who they are. This is most apparent with The Penguin, who is about as far as you can get from the traditional take on the character. I’m all for some creative license with these established players, but I can’t get behind the wholesale dismissal of important origin stories or personality traits. This may or may not be an issue for you, but as someone who’s read a lot of Batman over the years it was a problem that stuck with me.
When all is said and done, this game doesn’t move the needle for what I’ve come to expect from Telltale. Like many of the games that have come before, Batman is a gripping narrative with just enough player input to believe that you have a say in how the story goes, but not enough to truly give you an adventure that feels wholly yours. On top of that you have some of that telltale (ha!) instability that seems to plague these games. Batman treated me well until the climax of the final episode, which hard locked on me multiple times. I enjoyed my time with Batman, and I’ll be sure to play the next season that is surely on the way. I just hope that there are people on the development team looking to shake up the formula, as it is beginning to get tired.