How far would Batman go to protect his beloved city? Batman: The Telltale Series gives us an intimate look at Bruce Wayne during some of his darkest days, with his personal life and legacy under attack while Gotham is assaulted by a dangerous new terrorist group.
Narrative masters Telltale Games are known for their dramatic and compelling storywriting, bringing worlds such as The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and even Minecraft to life with the difficult, complex moral choices we’ve come to know and love from the studio. This winter season has seen Telltale forge the first season of their latest focus: the dark world of Batman.
a House of Cards
The storylines interwoven throughout Batman are subtle and slow building; you’ll always have a priority issue at hand but choices made in previous situations will gradually reveal their consquences, sometimes in terrible ways. Each time you believe you’ve discovered the big picture, the story punches you in the gut, unveiling further dangers and disasters.
Bruce starts off the storyline simply enough — fundraising by day, crime fighting at night. You’ll soon meet two characters who’ll have a massive impact on your path and decision making: mayoral hopeful Harvey Dent, and master thief Selina Kyle. While Batman fans will be able to predict what’ll happen to certain characters, you shouldn’t get too confident; Telltale know what you’re likely expecting, and you’re going to be in for plenty of surprises. Batman brings shocking twists on plot and character staples, and will keep you guessing until the end.
While we’re used to playing games as the brooding, ever vigilant Batman, Telltale prefers to focus on Bruce Wayne, humanising and grounding the hero in a way that only they can — revealing the man behind the mask and all of his fears and doubts. Batman has him discovering haunting facts about his past, and he’ll struggle to come to terms with his new demons while having to also tackle the rising crime and and dangerous new players in town, including a new terrorist group dubbed the Children of Arkham. While the Bat remains an indomitable figure, Bruce will be hurt and suffer from the revelations the season exposes.
Batman has all of the standard shades-of-grey decision making you’ve come to expect from a Telltale title, though some decisions here don’t quite carry the same weight as say, The Walking Dead where you’d have to often choose who would live and who would die terrible, agonising deaths. Most episodes in Batman do have solid choices to make, whether it’s on who you trust more or which issue is more urgent in your mind, though their consequences and gravitas feel a little lacking in earlier episodes when compared to the some of the panic-inducing sense of urgency seen in some of Telltale’s other series.
That said, the story arc of Batman is a fantastic one. Character development is smart enough for players new to the Batman mythos to learn the backstories and motives behind some of his most beloved antagonists, while die-hard Batman fans will enjoy the twists Telltale bring, complete with the occasional red herring to throw off fans who might think they’ve got everything figured out.
Batman wouldn’t be the world’s greatest detective without some good investigative work. Between pummelling criminals and public appearances as Gotham’s favorite billionaire, you’ll be diving into crime scenes in order to piece together exactly what happened, and why. These aren’t difficult sections — you’re simply checking around a small area to find various clues and connecting them logically, such as linking a stabbed corpse with a nearby bloodied knife, figuring out what happened and more importantly, the implications of what you’ve discovered.
While the ease of completing these parts helps keep the story moving forward, their simplicity makes participating in them a little superficial. Later episodes do have slightly trickier investigative scenes which’ll need a bit of clever thinking to work through, but if you’re looking for a real challenge or puzzle then you’ll find these a little disappointing.
Episodes often feature combat prep sections where you’re able to choose how to take down enemies ahead of you, before you move into the combat sequences. It doesn’t have a huge effect on gameplay, but it’s a nice touch and a nod to Batman’s legendary skills of preparation and prediction. The combat sequences themselves are straightforward QTE fare — press a button or click a particular area as they appear on the screen — and unlike some of Telltale’s other games, failing an action won’t bring on a game-over. Batman is, after all, almost impossible to take down in a fight, and wouldn’t make a fatal slip-up the same way ordinary people would.
We reviewed Batman on the PC, where the first episode debuted to technical hitches and major framerate issues. While graphical setting tweaks and subsequent patches have helped allieviate the framerate problems, performance still isn’t perfect; we’ve had total crashes in the earlier episodes, but the latest patch seems to have fixed the critical issues. Thankfully the game’s checkpoint system means that a crash is no more than a minor nuisance, as you won’t be sent back more than a couple of minutes.
Overall, Batman: The Telltale Series is an exciting, adventurous story that grows steadily more ominous and surprising as you edge towards the explosive finale. You’ll uncover dark secrets and have to make some difficult choices, and you’ll love every moment of it. We can’t wait to see where Telltale takes the series next.