Disclosure: A seasons pass for Batman: The Telltale Series was provided to VGBlogger.com for coverage consideration by Telltale Games.
Note: This is a review for the complete series of season one’s five episodes. Our previous first-look review of episode one can be read here.
As a longtime Bat-fan, I was skeptical when Telltale announced plans for releasing its own episodic take on the Caped Crusader. Telltale has a mixed track record, creating modern classics like The Walking Dead, but also smoking turds like Jurassic Park. To me, story is most important, but at the same time, having a compelling interactive experience is a close second. Fortunately, Batman: The Telltale Series provides both a new and interesting spin on Gotham’s savior while also including worthwhile gameplay.
As far as lore goes with Batman, the only truly necessary component is the fact that Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed in front of him. All motivations outside of bringing justice to those less fortunate get re-interpreted every few years. Telltale’s vision of Batman begins early in his life of crime fighting. Gotham’s police department isn’t sure whether he is a source of good, or simply a temporary scourge on crime. Bruce Wayne is still a rich billionaire who is living a dual life of public playboy by day and crime fighter by night.
Bruce is good friends with Harvey Dent and has publicly supported the District Attorney as he sets forth to win the election for Mayor of Gotham. The incumbent mayor, Hamilton Hill, has held office for far too long but has managed to maintain the position through the corruption and ties to mob leader Carmine Falcone. Dent, a young, idealistic man, bases his campaign on ridding the city of corruption and making the future of Gotham a better place. One aspect of this campaign promise is to build a new state of the art mental facility to replace Arkham Asylum.
During a fundraiser held at Wayne Manor for Dent’s campaign, Carmine Falcone shows up uninvited and attempts to put pressure on Bruce to stop supporting Dent and stay true to the Wayne name. This curious encounter leads to Bruce questioning his family’s past and everything he thought he knew. By the end of the first episode, Falcone declares to Batman that the main reason the Wayne family is as well off as they are, is because of their direct ties to Falcone’s crime and Hill’s political clout to clear up any wrong doing. A trifecta of power, greed, and money, Bruce Wayne is confronted by a complete morale quandary.
One of the signature elements of a Telltale game is the on-screen notification that appears whenever a dialog choice is made that has future implications. This indicator will appear at times when things aren’t completely obvious a branching choice is being made, adding to the tension of many dialog driven interactions between key characters, like Harvey Dent, Selena Kyle, Alfred Pennyworth, Jim Gordon, and the rest of Gotham’s familiar players. While Telltale has crafted a distinct vision of the Batman mythos, there still is a familiarity between all of these characters. Having certain choices change the way these key characters view Bruce Wayne or Batman weighs greatly on gameplay in a deeply compelling way.
Playing as Batman is a much different experience than playing as Bruce Wayne. Several different sections of gameplay, when going through fight scenes or utilizing gadgets, are handled by fairly straightforward quick time events–pressing face buttons on the controller when the screen prompts flash, or moving the analog stick in a particular direction. While these events typically don’t end in fail states if something is missed, there are a few times where a missed sequence will end in The Dark Knight meeting an untimely death. Fortunately, the game is very aggressive about checkpoint saves during these events so that there isn’t a large amount of gameplay that needs to be replayed. My biggest complaint about the quick time structure is the inclusion of using the analog stick to move a small crosshair into a circle of varying size and then pressing a button. This type of event always caught me off guard and always felt out of place for the rest of the QTEs.
Batman’s other major gameplay mechanic is a modified version of detective mode. Moving around a crime scene, Batman can analyze evidence and dead bodies and then interpret the clues to reconstruct the crime. Tying different events together allows Batman to solve some grizzly scenes. In addition to putting a crime scene together, the detective mode is used as a means for plotting out a quick succession of takedowns in a large space, for example throwing a light stand at a goon, then jumping to another goon and throwing him into a large display panel, and finally using a grappling line to pull a table onto a third goon. Choosing each option in slow motion, and then seeing them play out in real-time is very satisfying.
I don’t want to spoil the game too much, but I have to reiterate how well the story does at offering a new spin on the Batman origin. Between the Court of Owls and Ra’s al Ghul in the comics, introducing yet another secret group bent on destroying Batman feels almost ham-fisted. At the same time, creating a wholly new enemy in the midst of characters already known seems to be the only way to give credibility to the group known as the Children of Arkham. Using Penguin as the “legitimate” public face, a troubling and deep-seated hatred of the Wayne family line provides much uneasiness and tension to the game’s overarching storyline. While Bruce Wayne’s parents were both killed in front of him, the reason why is a compelling mystery that provides a deep web of intrigue for the rest of the characters presented during the game. The Penguin is actually a friend from Bruce’s youth, who’s family was reduced to nothing in their quest for expansion and power. Tying the Wayne fortune to the history of Arkham Asylum also provides a dark narrative twist as to who ultimately ends up being the leader of the Children of Arkham at the end of the game. While not every nemesis in Batman’s rogues gallery shows up in this first season, a wonderfully reserved cameo from the Joker has me really looking forward to how the story continues in the second season.
One of the biggest surprises to come from the game, for me, is the music. Not using iconic themes from Danny Elfman’s or Hans Zimmer’s scores means there was a good chance the music could have been phoned in. Fortunately, Jared Emerson-Johnson’s score is anything but uninspired. From subtle music cues to bombastic action sequences, Emerson-Johnson deftly crafts a score that is unique and worthy of being associated with Batman. I found myself several times simply keeping the game paused just to listen to the music loop.
Gameplay interactions in Batman: The Telltale Series work strongly in tandem with the choice and dialog-based narrative format. A distinct new spin on the origins of major characters provides plenty of intrigue, while dialog choices have deep impact and unpredictable outcomes as characters may not react in the way players may be used to (depending on your depth of knowledge of Batman lore). Telltale has created a thoroughly engaging and inventive new take on the Batman mythos.
+ Engrossing and inventive story
+ Unique spin on familiar characters
+ Detective mode feels well implemented
+ Fantastic music
– Some of the QTEs can be tricky
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also on Android, iOS, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: 12/13/2016
ESRB Rating: Mature
Source: Review code provided by the publisher