Batman: Episode 1 Review
Telltale Games have long been revered for their compelling narrative titles, successfully adapting some of the most beloved licenses of today including The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. Now working on one of the most famous and admired characters in the world, will they manage to keep fans happy, or end up just another footnote in the bumpy history of Batman games?
As a long-time fan of Telltale’s work in crafting rich storylines and difficult, morally grey choice making, I was excited when they first announced that their next series would be Batman. Excited when the review copy came in. Excited starting the game… but then the troubles appeared.
Batman begins… badly
When Arkham Knight came out in 2015, it was a huge success — except on PC. PC versions of the game stuttered, suffering from insane framerate drops to the point of being almost unplayable. While this could be partially explained away from the massive strain the graphics, engine and open world setting the Arkham titles were putting on processors, you wouldn’t expect the same from a Telltale game; except that’s exactly what started to happen, just a few minutes in.
Thankfully, Telltale has patched the game, and PC players will need to switch their graphics from “high quality” to “high performance”; doing so fixed everything for me despite no apparent visual changes whatsoever.
A two-faced tale
Episode one sets the stage for a grand plot, softly and subtly laying the groundwork for schemes with far-reaching consequences. Where the Arkham games focus squarely on the Batman, Telltale’s rendition puts more focus on the man behind the mask, following billionaire Bruce Wayne as he deals with political campaigns and meeting characters like Selina Kyle and Vicki Vale, while juggling his operations as the dark knight.
We meet Bruce Wayne as he leads a fundraiser for friend and ally Harvey Dent, who is running for mayor in a bid to clean up the city. An excellent district attorney and fiercely opposed to deepening corruption, Dent has a good heart and aims to help bring crime-riddled Gotham back to its former glory, but you’ll soon find he may be mixing with the wrong crowd. Meanwhile, the appearance of the mysterious new cat burglar, dubbed Catwoman by the ever-loyal Alfred, spells trouble on a grand scale.
Batman uses Telltale’s signature “no easy/right choice” decision making to good effect; as Bruce especially, you’ll be forced to say and do things which can have significant consequences. From innocuous greetings to bold statements, the results of your decisions may surprise you.
So far, the decision making in Batman hasn’t quite had the same gravitas as say, The Walking Dead — while certain decisions do feel important, they don’t have quite the same weight as those in other Telltale titles. While long-timer and no-timer decisions in other titles brought a sense of panic and “oh god…”, those in this episode felt a little underwhelming in comparison.
Under the black hood
While playing as Bruce makes up a bulk of playtime, you’ll also spend plenty of time as the Bat. Batman does a great job of capturing the feel of playing as the caped crusader, whether you’re investigating crime scenes, prepping for a strike, or simply beating the snot out of thugs.
Combat in Batman follows the standard Telltale lead of being made up of quick-time events (QTEs), where you’ll have a very brief window to hit a button as it pops up on screen. Telltale have been refining this over the years; where failing the events in older titles such as the first season of The Walking Dead would lead to game-overs and frustrating repetition, QTEs in Batman are smoother and more forgiving. I believe I missed a couple of taps and swipes but the action continues regardless — you won’t be punished for a mistake or two, because you’re the goddamn Batman.
Drawing on Bruce’s gadget expertise, episode one has a nice little sequence where you’ll control a drone for reconnaissance on an unsuspecting crowd; moments like this help cement the feeling that you’re really Batman, operating in the shadows before relentlessly striking. You’ll have a modicum of control over some aspects of crime fighting too, such as how attacks play out or how unforgiving you want to act towards criminals, and in classic Telltale style even little things like this can have extensive repercussions.
All-in-all, episode one of Batman is a fun taste of things to come, with events being set in motion which could forever change the fate of Gotham. Clocking in at around two hours, the debut episode feels a little shorter than typical Telltale episodes, with a feeling that it was cut short to meet deadlines; hopefully later episodes will be more extensive and closer to the typical four to six hour length.