Developer: TellTale Games
Publisher: TellTale Games, Warner Bros. Interactive
Price: $19.99 for full season; $5 for each individual episode.
Telltale games continues to carve out their spot in the game industry with a new adventure series featuring the Caped Crusader. Hot off the heels of recent success with The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead: Season 2, Batman the Telltale Series allows players to step into the shoes of the eponymous billionaire as he deals with a threat to the Wayne family legacy while trying to help his friend Harvey Dent win the election for Gotham’s mayor. As both Bruce Wayne and Batman, you will wage a battle on two fronts against villains like Oswald Cobblepot, Catwoman a.k.a. Selena Kyle, and the billionaire crime lord Carmine Falcone.
Within just the first episode of Batman The Telltale Series, it is clear that this is not a game meant for children, despite the cell shaded look that hearkens back to the comics and even Batman: The Animated Series. Characters can be seen drinking alcohol at a party and later at a bar, cigarettes and cigars can be seen in use by characters. Profanity is there in the dialogue and includes words like s*&t, f*&k, and d#$n, and a crime scene investigation shows a brutally clawed up face and the remains of another unfortunate soul who met an untimely end. Guts and gore are seen as part of this crime scene and can be analyzed as evidence to piece together what really happened. This is about what you would expect from a character as gritty as Batman but those with younger children may want to play the game for themselves before they allow their child to step into the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman.
Batman the Telltale Series opens with an attack on city hall by a group of armed thugs. As they make their way into the lobby, they quickly dispatch the lone guard by putting a bullet through his skull. It is clear that these are no ordinary goons as they are all wearing full combat gear and are carrying rifles with laser sights and silencers. Enter the Batman. Soon players take control of The Dark Knight himself as he grapples through the window to surprise a wondering thug. Here is where fans of Telltale games will be familiar with the gameplay as combat consists of QTE prompts requiring players to move the thumbstick in a given direction to dodge punches, gunshots, and even a buzzsaw. Face buttons are relegated to follow up attacks and using gadgets or the environment to counter attack Batman’s foes. However, Telltale does mix things up a bit by requiring players to aim batarangs and other gadets using the right thumbstick and finishing moves are done by pressing a face button in combination with a direction on the left thumbstick or the right trigger.
Unfortunately, this familiarity makes for a rather dull experience when playing as Batman himself, especially having come from the Batman: Arkham series of games developed by Rocksteady as players have very little control over Batman’s movements and have to watch the majority of fights play out. However, what is refreshing are the moments where you get to play as Bruce Wayne as he interacts with characters in his mansion, Cobblepot Park, a press conference hosted by Gotham DA Harvey Dent, and the Batcave. These moments also contain familiar gameplay experiences but here the results of your conversation choices are almost immediately apparent. Facial expressions of NPCs more realistically convey their immediate reaction to your choice of words thanks in part to Telltale’s updated game engine. In between the game’s chapters within each episode, Bruce/Batman can analyze characters in the Batcave and watch news reports from Jack Ryder which reveal the outcome of decisions made earlier in the episode. One sequence even tasks Bruce with choosing whether to provide the police or the media with key evidence in the overall plot. A new key multiplayer feature, CrowdPlay, allows players to assist those playing at home by voting on certain plot choices and dialogue options that the player can make. From there, players can choose to either follow the crowd’s advice or make their own choice on how to advance the story.
While Batman’s combat encounters in the game are rather lacking, the moments when you are using his detective skills to analyze a crime scene or to plan out the final attack against a key villain really stand out as moments that bring something new to the adventure genre. For example, much like the investigations in Batman: Arkham Knight, here players are tasked with analyzing bodies, debris, shell casings, explosive residue, etc. within a crime scene to chain pieces of evidence together to figure out what really took place. This was one of the more exciting moments I encountered during the first episode of Batman the Telltale Series. The final combat sequence sees Batman calculating his entry point and method of attack by highlighting guards with weapons and possible entry points using the camera on his drone. Once everything has been planned out as chosen by the player, Batman launches his attack and players can participate by following along with the QTE prompts to carry out the assault.
Another problem with Batman the Telltale Series is that the overall plot jumps all over the place within the first episode. Normally, in Telltale adventure games you stick to two or three different areas per episode. Here, Batman/Bruce Wayne visits at least 8 different locations and interacts with too many cast members that the story loses its flow and focus part of the way through the episode. There is just so much going on and so many characters at play that it is difficult to discern how the decisions players might make will factor into the overall plot and carry over to future episodes.
Batman the Telltale Series has a lot of potential. However, as a Batman game it falls short thanks to the high bar set by Rocksteady’s Arkham series. Not being able to take full control of Batman in combat is surprisingly more of a flaw than one would assume as I found myself wanting to be the Batman but could not get the full experience due to battles playing out via QTE. Though this is to be expected with the adventure genre. For fans of Batman, and those who are intrigued by the options to play as Bruce Wayne for a good portion of the episode, I strongly recommend trying the game as there is a lot there to love but I actually think that for this series, Telltale would do well to limit the amount of time players spend as Batman unless it is mainly spent analyzing crimes scenes or planning out large scale assaults on enemy strongholds.
The Bottom Line
Telltale Games is off to a good start with this new series. However, I do not think that the moments as Batman lend well to the genre. Playing as Bruce Wayne who is simply a man with a lot of money and political pull is exciting as this is something most gamers will never experience when playing traditional Batman games. However, not being able to have full control of Batman during combat takes away from the thrill of beating down throngs of thugs who dare challenge The Dark Knight.