Considering the Caped Crusader has been around for just short of 80 years, creating a Batman story that feels fresh isn’t a simple task. Undaunted, Telltale set out to do just that. Making the narrative just as much about Bruce Wayne as it is about Batman, mixing the two sides of the character in fantastic fashion, Telltale has created a unique adventure any fan will enjoy. Overall, the series falters in some respects, specifically when it comes to gameplay and the technical side of things. But at its core, it thrives, thanks to interesting characters and the intriguing conflicts.
Already prowling the rooftops as Batman, but still considered to be an urban myth, Bruce Wayne is early in his vigilante career when the game first begins. As he attempts to back Harvey Dent’s campaign for mayor, he has to fight against the corruption rife throughout Gotham. Things get even more complicated though as Bruce’s childhood friend, Oswald Cobblepot, returns to town. Soon, horrible allegations start surfacing against the Wayne family name, and Bruce’s whole life, not just the Batman half, is thrown into disarray.
Unlike the Arkham games from Rocksteady, Telltale’s take on the Dark Knight isn’t based on any particular set of comics. While it may seem a small thing, that freedom with the characters, the lore, and direction of the story is a large part of what defines Batman- The Telltale Series. The season introduces a new villain in Lady Arkham and plays with fan-favorite characters like Harvey Dent and Selina Kyle in deeply personal ways. It even recreates old characters, like The Penguin, into much more fascinating foils for Bruce to struggle against.
Though Telltale carefully positions every character to play off of both Bruce and Batman, Oswald is the brightest example of how the series manages to nail the strange balance. Over the years, the Penguin has become more grotesque comic relief than actual villain. He’s a sniveling gangster with a pension for birds and umbrellas, but is much less dynamic when compared to the rest of the Gotham rogues gallery. Instead, Telltale transforms the character into a charismatic, younger Brit who happens to have been a close childhood friend of Bruce. Giving Bruce a personal connection with the people he’s fighting ramps up the tension and offers some of the best scenes in the series.
The rest of the best scenes are left to a combination between excellent writing and phenomenal voice acting. While Travis Willingham brings a level of depth to Harvey Dent that even longtime Batman fans rarely see, Troy Baker and Laura Bailey, the stars of Tales From the Borderlands, manage to deliver knock out performances as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. The pair sizzle on screen. But, most impressively, all of the electricity between them comes through genuine chemistry. Telltale’s Selina manages the sexy, magnetic confidence of Catwoman without resorting to the usual skin-tight leather and BDSM-innuendo.
Though Bruce, Selina, and Harvey receive the majority of the series’ attention, the rest of the cast impresses as well. Be it Uncharted’s Richard McGonagle as Carmine Falcone, Young Justice’s Jason Spisak as Oswald Cobblepot, or the range of Telltale alum filling out the rest of the ensemble, the residents of Gotham are in fine display.
In all, those simply looking for a fantastic Batman story would be well at home throughout most of the series. The forth episode in particular feels rushed in comparison to the others. Focused more on setting up for the grand finale, and even a Season 2, instead of the story at hand, it’s a low point. But even then, the remainder of the narrative is strong enough to make it hardly more than a afterthought. Add in the decisions Telltale presents for the player, and you end up with an excellent interactive story.
Where Batman- The Telltale Series struggles most is on the gameplay side of the equation. More than perhaps any other property Telltale has tackled so far, Batman lends itself to more traditional game mechanics. Puzzle-filled investigations and slick hand-to-hand combat are the bread and butter of entire other genres. But neither fits very well in the established formula for Telltale’s games. And the disconnect shows.
The closest the series comes to puzzle solving is looking at pieces of evidence at a crime scene and then drawing lines between them. While it is possible to get it wrong, meaning you have to try again, the correct connections are rarely difficult to find. The process feels much more like simply going through the motions to move the story forward instead of actually figuring something out. The same feeling is even more prevalent as you sort through information on the Bat-computer until finally clicking on the correct piece to trigger progression. Though showcasing Batman’s intelligence, the mechanics do little to facilitate the same for the player.
Similarly, when it comes to combat, there is an attempt to incorporate Batman’s skill and technology into the fray. Before a handful of large fights, you can map out how Batman will take out each enemy. Save for one encounter, which gives you a choice to the order, most are linear exercises in which you choose between two or three options for disabling an enemy. Do you hit them with the chair or kick them into the wall? Either way, the enemy is knocked out and the game continues.
Unlike Bigby, Lee, or any of Telltale’s other more physical protagonists, Batman isn’t a brawler. His combat style is more deliberate and surgical. To the game’s credit, it does try to represent this. But that means, to varying degrees of success, there is an abundance of slow motion used throughout every fight, each punch, kick, and block mapped to it’s own quick-time event.
One of the most common pieces of praise for Rocksteady’s Arkham games is the fact that the combat and stealth ‘make you feel like Batman.’ Tackling the same question from it’s own direction, it’s worth noting that Batman- The Telltale Series does often miss the mark. The game’s combat is by no measure bad, a few scenes in particular scratching that seldom-satisfied, cinematic itch just right. But it does fall short when compared to the strengths of the narrative.
And finally, there is the unfortunate disclaimer that comes with far too many of Telltale’s games. Graphical bugs, audio glitches, and even the rare game crash colored my time with the series. While often minor, a couple of the issues still pulled me out of the experience. A woman’s arm turning inside out, or a man rendering as nothing more than a floating set of mouth and eyes, is more than enough to break the flow of any scene. Couple that with frequent loading screens, and stuttering whenever the game saves, and the series comes off as less polished than the outstanding writing, acting, and art deserves.
More than anything, Batman- The Telltale Series is an excellent Batman story. Centering the narrative on Bruce Wayne breaths life into a game that could have easily been a far less interesting journey in lesser hands. Instead of being a predictable adaptation of one of the Caped Crusader’s many hundreds of comics, the series offers fans something new, even if it plays with familiar characters. Technical and gameplay problems aside, there is a lot of fun to be had. The decisions and dialogue are engaging, while the world and characters are as entertaining as some of the developer’s best. In short, we now have yet another series’ second season to wait for.
This game was reviewed on a PS4 console, with a copy purchased by the reviewer.
- Fun decisions
- Clever changes to the Batman mythos
- Intriguing characters and great performances
- Technical problems
- Stop-and-go combat
- Very few puzzles for the 'Great Detective'