Review: Batman: The Telltale Series – Episode 1
Batman: The Telltale Series should have the same excitement behind it as Batman Begins (the movie) and Telltale’s: The Walking Dead. Telltale’s proven adventure formula gives Batman a future in an industry where the property has had a good run for the past 7 years.
We’ve seen several Batman games of late, and they’ve been pretty good. From PC to console, Batman has resurrected confidence in gamers that comic book properties can be successful as video games. Before playing Batman: The Telltale Series, I said on our Gaming@30 podcast that I couldn’t imagine a better platform to experience a Batman game than a Telltale game. Batman is a character I view as conflicted, thoughtful, tactful and menacing. The Arkham series of games from Rocksteady Studios are fantastic action games, but I never felt like I had to live in Batman’s boots. Having completed Episode 1, I feel encouraged by the foundation of this series. It’s everything I want in a Batman experience: dark, immersive and intriguing.
From the opening sequence it’s made clear this is a dark story. As the bad guys break into City Hall, they nervously execute their plan while fearing the Batman. They haven’t ever seen him, but they’ve heard he’s real. And if he comes to stop them, they won’t know how to handle him. When the combat starts, you’re quickly thrown into the action. If you’ve never played a Telltale game, keep in mind they became a popular developer when quick time events were common (early PS3 and Xbox 360 era). The basis of their game engine is predicated on quickly acting with the controller against commands on the screen. In some requests you have less time than others, but it’s not clear how much time you have. Have no fear, the consequences aren’t really that dire (in most cases). Pressing the “X” button or flicking the analog stick left or right isn’t the immersion into Batman’s world that I referred to above. It’s Telltale’s well-built decision making options, logic and consequences. You’re given the chance to say things that you would otherwise have no control over as Batman and Bruce Wayne in other mediums. Early in Episode 1, Carmine Falcone (voiced by Uncharted’s Sully – Victor McGonagle) crashes a party at Wayne Manor. Playing as Bruce Wayne you get to choose if you want him as an enemy, friend or perhaps something in the middle.
Telltale wants you to explore the human side of Batman. They accomplish this by switching between Batman and Bruce Wayne early in Episode 1. You get to see the results of the battle you’re participating in as Bruce and his friend and butler, Alfred discuss why Bruce continues to be Batman. Your participation is key and you get to shape how these two friends co-exist based on how you respond to some of Alfred’s questions. We’ve seen it in Batman Begins and in some of the comics’ series. It’s a dichotomy that is rare in many superheroes and so much fun to explore. The Telltale model is an excellent fit for it.
In many ways, Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego are not mutually exclusive personalities. And in this story, when the Wayne family legacy is threatened by an unknown source, we are given an opportunity for Bruce Wayne to investigate as himself and as Batman. Bruce can leverage his family name and resources to influence people and address the media. Meanwhile, Batman can be more physically intimidating to criminals to break the truth out of them. In many instances, Batman has the choice to break bones, scare and push criminals pretty far to the breaking point. Moreover, you can also choose to have Batman reveal or conceal his involvement in these actions to both the media and the police. Lieutenant Gordon and Vicki Vale can play a more important role in the story, based on if you choose to trust them.
Your effect on interpersonal relationships is not all you can expect in Episode 1. One of the best parts of a Batman game is to play with his “wonderful toys,” to quote the Joker. Telltale provides this opportunity as well. Batman has drones that help him destroy turrets, scout a path, and plan attacks. In one instance, after making several binary choices, I got to watch the master plan unfold while managing quick time events to ensure it’s success. It was fun! I would expect fatigue if this happened often, but thus far it was only once.
This opinion I have may be controversial, but I’m prepared to deal with it: I’m so freaking glad to not see the “unreal” bad guys such as Killer Croc, Man-Bat, and even the Joker. Thus far, the Telltale take on Batman is mostly grounded in realism and that makes it easier to be immersed into.
Of course, nothing is perfect. Telltale really needs to work on their engine. The art is great but the frame rate appears to dip below 30 frames per second every few minutes. It’s distracting but, fortunately, hasn’t affected any of the button prompts/quick time events. Although I’m playing on PS4, I feel like I’m playing on the Vita. This may not be an issue on PC where the technology can be more powerful than a console. However, PC players are reporting some issues.
Despite the technical challenges, Batman: The Telltale Series is off to a wonderful start. I’m not a huge fan or detractor of Telltale. I loved The Walking Dead but didn’t care for Game of Thrones – both are properties I love watching, just like Batman. I think their formula for games works very well with the Batman franchise. I’m very much looking forward to the next episode to see where the story goes. Episode 1 ends in an intriguing cliffhanger; Telltale style!