In a digital space completely dominated by Rocksteady Studios, Telltale has decided to throw their hat into the ring. Albeit with an incredibly different experience, but still one worth enjoying for any Bat-fan.
Batman: The Telltale Series is the latest of Telltale studio’s five-episode narrative point-and-click adventure games. After adapting other franchises such as Borderlands, Game of Thrones and even Minecraft, the premier videogame storytellers turned their attention to the Caped Crusader himself. Note that at the moment of this review, only four of the five episodes have been released, with the season finale likely to drop in early January.
Without delving too much into story specifics, this season follows Bruce Wayne/Batman (voiced by Troy Baker) as he lives his secret double life. By day he supports his close friend Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign to rid corruption from Gotham City. By night he strives for the same goal, just with different methods. However, his double-life is turned on its head when an old friend returns to town, and dark secrets from his family’s past begin to resurface.
While it’s difficult to discuss the plot as a whole without the final episode, so far Telltale has proved that they know how to write a stellar Batman story. While it draws inspiration from the comics, the studio has crafted a brand new Bat-mythos with clever twists on old ideas and fresh faces on familiar characters. All the changes makes it tough for even hardcore fans (such as myself) to predict exactly what is going to happen. Telltales Batman has more twists and surprises than M. Night Shyamalan fan-fiction, which coupled with stellar writing and performances forms a daring Batman narrative that’s likely to end in spectacular fashion.
Along with the story comes Telltale’s trademark decision-making and light point-and-click adventure elements. Like other Telltale games, many of the decisions don’t have a dramatic influence on proceedings, but are written in such a way that it feels like they do. The biggest boon with this being interactive is that it allows you to develop relationships with characters that other mediums such as film and comics can only dream of. It also feeds into Batman’s long history as well. Considering there have been so many interpretations of The Dark Knight, Telltale’s Batman allows you to choose what kind of Batman you want to be. Sinister and punishing? Go ahead and break that guy’s arm. Stern but also gentle? Comfort that kid instead of traumatising him. It’s all on the player and being able to shape such an iconic character into how you want him to be is something you can’t experience anywhere else.
As for the rest of Telltale’s typical gameplay, it’s a bit hit and miss. Combat is as simple as a straightforward quick-time event, forcing the players to press specific buttons as the prompts appear on-screen. While the action sequences themselves are well choreographed and exciting, the minimal player input doesn’t give it the same thrill as the Arkham franchise. There’s also a number of moments that ask you to play detective through investigating crime scenes and piecing together evidence. While it does feed into Batman’s title of ‘World’s Greatest Detective’, it never got more complicated than clicking highlighted items and drawing links between them. It doesn’t make you feel like an actual detective, which is not a good thing when you’re supposed to be ‘The World’s Greatest Detective’. Sure, there’s the possibility it may get more complicated in the season finale but judging on the first four episode that possibility seems just as likely as Alfred being revealed as the Joker.
The biggest issue by far however is of the technical kind. It’s clear the one type of problem Batman can’t solve is of the performance variety – everything from the framerate to broken audio is a culprit throughout the four episodes. And the worst thing is, Telltale hasn’t fixed it. Even though each episode was released a month apart, there is almost no improvement over the course of the season. Episode one is just as broken as episode four. Here’s hoping Batman has some bug repellent on that utility belt to use during the season finale as it heavily undermines what is otherwise a great game.
Combining one of the most popular franchises in history with one of the best storytellers in videogames seems like a formula for success. And in many ways it is. Batman represents the peak performance of writing and plot Telltale can offer, and it’s been a joy to seeing a wholly original and unique Bat-story take shape over four episodes. If it wasn’t for the swarm of bugs and flat detective gameplay, this would be worthy of Batman himself. But otherwise, any Bat-fan worth their batarangs owes it to themselves to check this out. Just wait for the final episode (and a hefty patch) before exploring Gotham.