BATMAN - The Telltale Series | Xbox One Episode 1: Realm of Shadows
Telltale Games’ narrative take on Batman
is a refreshing one; the man beneath the cowl takes centre stage in a battle with corrupt politics and organised crime, whilst maniacal villains take somewhat of a back seat.
There’s still room for dressing up, the Caped Crusader’s segments are just used sparingly. It must have been a difficult decision to make, after all, it’s only natural to utilise a character of that status’ gravitas wherever possible. Telltale’s bravery paid off, however, the shift in focus allowing them to concentrate upon their strongest assets and establish one of the most intriguing tales Gotham has spun.
With the city’s mayoral campaign well underway, billionaire Bruce Wayne backs District Attorney Harvey Dent’s run for office. It’s a move motivated by the notion of change - an attempt to overthrow Hamilton Hill’s corrupt leadership - yet, as the player, knowing what Dent’s future might hold is immediate cause for concern. Already caught in a catch-22, Mafioso Carmine Falcone’s added involvement makes the whole landscape toxic.
Waging a war of words to spread influence and garner favour by day as Bruce, by night Batman endeavours to uncover the sinister truths behind the pleasantly false faces he earlier encountered.
The Batsuit donned is an imposing and homage-paying mixture of old and new, its glowing eyes and deep voice modulation geared towards instilling the kind of fear that makes potential criminals think twice before acting up. It’s designed to avoid conflict wherever possible, which is only natural with the injuries Bruce routinely sustains from engaging in combat. Through being exposed to the consequences of his vigilantism, as well as his reluctance to engage in it, the image of Batman as an invincible hero gives way to one of a human being simply doing what he believes he must.
Engagements are handled with Batman’s trademark flair for violent, non-lethal hand-to-hand combat and expensive gadgetry. Whilst bouts are satisfyingly hard-hitting and cinematic, they also feel somewhat empty. After growing accustomed to pulling off the same moves manually in the Arkham
series, executing them as QTEs just doesn’t carry the same clout.
Through being exposed to the consequences of Batman's vigilantism, as well as his reluctance to engage in it, the image of an invincible hero dissipates.
The game engine also finds itself lacking, even after an upgrade, as Telltale’s well-established technical hitches remain present and accounted for. They may occur less frequently, but we’d expect noticeable frame drops, momentary pauses, occasionally limp - even entirely missing - sound effects and distracting jagged edges to have been ousted.
Whilst the series is entirely Telltale’s own, tying directly into no established arm of the franchise, the detective scenes lean heavily upon those from Batman: Arkham Origins
. You’ll analyse clues within a crime scene and make physical links between the evidence in order to build a picture of what happened - once it’s fully fleshed out, the scene will play back in full. It isn’t particularly mentally taxing, but playing as the World’s Greatest Detective is engaging nonetheless.
The same mechanic is later recycled to formulate a plan of attack, which will go off without a hitch whatever approach you might choose (provided you hit the QTEs in time, of course). This illusory choice is something you’ll have to learn to live with in order to glean the most from the experience, but it does become slightly egregious when characters spout total inaccuracies. After interrogating a goon through the sole means of intimidation, Alfred chastised us for having “gone too far” in “beating him half to death”. Finally gone senile, eh?
The seeds of an intriguing and unique Batman story have been sewn. We’re left questioning who and what we know, eager to uncover more.
Despite its problems, through employing a grounded cast of recognisable characters - whom you can read up on in the Codex, should they be unfamiliar to you - that span shades of grey, the seeds of an intriguing and unique Batman story have been sewn. Its a reinvigorating take on the franchise and its characters that left us questioning who and what we know, as well as eager to uncover more in the coming episodes. That's the sign of an opening done very right.Pros
+ Refreshing take on the character
+ Surprising and engaging narrative
+ Doesn’t rely on the usual, well-trodden cast of antagonists
+ Engaging investigation sequence
+ Left us wanting moreCons
- Falls victim to Telltale’s usual technical issues
- Choices often don’t matter
- QTE combat feels somewhat lacklustre8/10 Episode 2: Children of ArkhamChildren of Arkham
bizarrely excavates a lot of the groundwork laid in the opening episode, only to relay new foundations in favour of pursuing an altered path. The result is a second episode that's full of exposition and not conducive of an engaging series narrative arc, but one that will likely benefit those to come.
After a reminder on the events of Realm of Shadows
, players join Bruce Wayne in the iconic Crime Alley. Lost in thoughts of the fateful night his parents met their untimely end, the bereaved playboy all too conveniently remembers a repressed detail, immediately triggering a hamfisted unveiling of the overriding mystery.
With a new, sordid knowledge of his family’s past, Bruce sets about digging deeper amidst emerging threats that serve to hamper the effort.
The titular Children of Arkham are a zealot group that seek revolution in Gotham, lead by a masked figure whose identity Telltale are undoubtedly building towards revealing. The arm you’ll encounter are lead by an unrecognisable rendition of the Penguin; a young, plague-doctor-masked Cobblepot with valid criminal motivation that stands in stark contrast to the exaggerated caricature we’ve come to know.
They manufacture a drug that makes people act on their base desires - no thought spared for morals or ethicacy - to expose and “unmask” people in positions of power. It’s a literal integration of a prominent motif that makes the group and their motives compelling at this early stage.
Throughout the episode’s course, even seasoned fans will continue to be surprised by subversive twists and turns.
Whilst Batman has his hands full, Bruce might occupy a less enviable position. Unforeseen events make the already treacherous political minefield all the more precarious, in addition to continued PR disasters accumulating to erode his good standing within Gotham.
There’s an unshakeable feeling throughout that Children of Arkham
serves more to check a box than to be a meaningful entry in the series, as it doesn’t play to the strengths established in episode one. There’s a lack of exciting, signature Batman moments - no impressive investigations, no intimidating interrogations - just a few cursory morsels thrown our way here and there.
Some scenes don't do Batman’s intellect justice, and further pulled us out of the experience, whilst continued technical issues and unimpactful decision-making didn’t help the situation. Telltale have stated that they don’t need to innovate, due to already having a winning formula on their hands, but if this form continues they’ll soon be flirting with a stale one.
Throughout the episode’s course, even seasoned fans will continue to be surprised by subversive twists and turns that ensure they'll remain eager to see how things progress, despite the slight misstep. So many potential narrative strands are severed, however, that we aren’t left with much to keep us guessing in the meantime.
+ Continues to subvert expectations
+ Grounded, relatable & morally grey characters
+ Children of Arkham put in a good debut
+ Great voice performances and cinematographyCons
- Full of exposition when we should be getting to the meat of the story
- Some lazy storytelling techniques
- Severes numerous potential narrative strands, somewhat dampening intrigue
- Continued technical issues & lacklustre decision-making6/10 Episode 3: New World Order
After a disappointing second outing, New World Order
elbows Telltale’s take on the Dark Knight back on track. As the centre point of the story, it fittingly serves as a meaty filling on which to chew by placing a focus on the strengths established in the opener that were, unfortunately, largely abandoned in its successor.
As Bruce Wayne faces continued scrutiny following the unearthing of his family’s muddied past, the Children of Arkham - who made a strong debut in the previous episode - move to challenge Gotham’s established authorities. Struggling to combat their uprising, desperate GCPD Commissioner Jim Gordon adopts the iconic Bat-Signal and reluctantly allies with the World’s Greatest Detective.
The player shares Gordon’s feelings of helplessness throughout the episode as they lead Bruce on an inevitable trip to rock bottom. Mr. Wayne loses his namesake to an unthinkable replacement, his friend to mental illness, and his technology to compromise. These misfortunes culminate in a rattling sense of injustice that’ll have even the most stoic onlookers firmly rooting against the series’ antagonists, though begrudgingly still able to appreciate their motivation.
A leading neerdowell and BDSM fanatic (cannot actually confirm), the Children of Arkham’s leader reveals himself to be a seasoned, staff-wielding martial artist and a follower of the “fear is power” creedence that Batman himself isn’t unfamiliar with. Whilst there are some clues as to his identity in there, for now the purveyor of a New World Order remains anonymous and a curious driving force going forward. We can only hope the reveal ruffles as many feathers as when Hulk Hogan was outed way back when… (To clarify, he shockingly turned bad to lead the NWO wrestling faction. Pseudo-similes are probably like jokes and lose their lustre when you have to explain them, right?)
Gotham is in shambles, undesirables are in positions of power, and we need to intervene.
Whilst Bats engages not-Hulk-Hogan in fisticuffs, the sparing use of combat in the episode is definitely to its benefit. There are no drawn-out planning phases that succeed in spite of your choices, and quick time events aren’t abundant enough to become wearisome. The reclaimed runtime sees the return of investigations, although not as engagingly gruesome this time around.
On the topic of irrelevant choices, they’re still very much a constant presence. Most notably we devoted ourselves to a central character in an effort to prevent the obvious occurring, but it did anyway. Telltale’s take on the transformation is admittedly grabbing though, so it’s hard to hold it against them too much. The iconic villain is born of both stress and paranoia that develop into crippling mental illness, rather than being overtly maniacal for evil's sake.
Grey morality also seeps into the relationship that blossomed with Selina Kyle in episode two, forcing you to question your allegiances once again (not that anyone in their right mind should ever really trust Catwoman). These scenes are a case study on Batman’s flawed humanity, and we take great interest in watching them unfold as a result.
With a glut of engaging characters, relationships and events simultaneously unfurling, we only wish we could binge our way to the end Netflix-style. Gotham is in shambles, undesirables are in positions of power, and we need
to intervene. The cliffhanger ending and a tantalising preview of what’s to come certainly won’t make the wait any easier.Pros
+ A return to form for the series
+ Characters are now full enough to evoke emotional response
+ Like a car crash you can’t stop staring as things go brutally wrong
+ Still offering unexpected surprises, even for Bat-fans
+ Left us excited for the last couple of episodesCons
- Continued technical hitches
- Choices still fail to make any significant narrative impact 8/10Episode 4: Guardian of GothamGuardian of Gotham
finds Bruce Wayne an inmate of the infamous Arkham Asylum, following a violent, drug-induced public outburst at the end of episode three. Still under the drug’s effect, Bruce’s addled mindset offers a true-to-life perspective on Gotham’s criminally insane.
Canted camera angles, a toxic colour palate and distorted filters make for a visually and thematically standout introduction, in which you’ll rub shoulders with a number of recognisable villains. Observing staple baddies during their recreational time is bizarrely fascinating, especially those there by Batman’s hand, but the nameless ‘John Doe’ is all business.
John’s unmistakeable green hair and wide-mouthed smile aren’t yet known to Wayne, though his charismatic enigmatism, twisted humor and maniacal laugh confirm who he is to the player. This first encounter is a sacred moment in Batman
lore that, thankfully, plays out masterfully by establishing an uneasy mutual respect between the two; a respect we know flourishes in the shared knowledge that each would cease to exist in the absence of the other.
Whilst we’ve seen the physical effects of vigilantism on Bruce before now, his all-too-brief stint in the asylum and a tangle with the Children of Arkham’s psychoactive drug reveal developing nicks in his mental state, completing the once invulnerable figure’s human deconstruction. For a critic of Harvey Dent’s politics, his behaviours can be remarkably two-faced.
Though pacing issues perpetuate the series’ alternating ups and downs, from an interactive perspective, Guardian of Gotham is on the stronger end of the spectrum.
During Batman’s inevitable hiatus throughout Wayne’s incarceration, Dent seizes the opportunity to morph Gotham into an oppressive police state somewhat unopposed. With Catwoman fleeing in the face of danger and intentional restructuring of the GCPD ousting his allies, the landscape a free Bruce Wayne discovers is far from ideal.
Concocting an antidote in all of a minute to cure his ongoing ailment, (which is frankly galling, considering the drug is framed as a significant threat) not one to lay about, the Caped Crusader moves to restore equilibrium. In the spirit of the series, however, it doesn’t quite go that smoothly. Bombardment from Penguin’s sustained hostile WayneTech takeover; from Harvey and the city’s supposed civil servants; from the Children of Arkham’s freshly unmasked cult leader - it all proves a little much, leaving a lot of resolutions to reach in the upcoming finale.
While the busy narrative offshoots emphasise the desperation of Gotham’s plight, at this late stage, they should be meeting to form one gripping throughline. Steps are taken towards this goal, but not striding enough that we can fully shake the feeling that our last outing might be somewhat scattershot. The omission of a customary teaser for what’s to come further stokes the flames of uncertainty, but hopefully it’s to avoid spoiling what’s all killer no filler - laser-focused - rather than carrying a negative connotation.
Though pacing issues produce another slight lull and perpetuate the series’ alternating ups and downs, from an interactive perspective, Guardian of Gotham
is on the stronger end of the spectrum. A gruesome crime scene maintains engagement, even if the links are blindingly obvious to draw, while a Scarface
-inspired action sequence is the best one yet. Whether you actually see the latter depends on the decision you make in closing, which finally seems to make good on the promise of choice carrying significant consequence, though we won’t truly know until we see how the wider picture pans out.
Despite starting and ending strong, these moments simply bookend a mostly uneventful middle that comprises a majority share of the short episode. Guardian of Gotham has more redeeming qualities than episode two, but having been bitten then and nipped now, it’d be easy to become shy.Pros
+ More significant choices
+ Stylistic opening and introduction to The Joker
+ A desperate, darker side to Bruce Wayne
+ Strong interactive gameplay segments
+ Eager to see how Batman will fix a Gotham in shambles...Cons
- … but there’s so much to do we don’t foresee being satisfied on all fronts
- Antidote makes a mockery of the Children of Arkham’s drug
- Fizzles out in the middle
- Short runtime 7/10Episode 5: City of Light
The battle for Gotham reaches its climax as Bruce and Batman fight to their very limits in an engaging and affecting finale; though we came in with a healthy dose of scepticism, suffice to say, Telltale largely delivered the goods.City of Light
opens in one of two places, depending on your past decisions, though both scenes unfold in much the same fashion. They share key events and structure, only swapping out the setting and villain, making the goal of quickly converging to restore a more linear timeline transparent. Though this ensures players don’t miss out on anything substantial, it doesn’t meet the promise extended when loudly proclaiming to possess a story tailored by how you play.
Unfortunately, those opening segments also suffer abysmal frame rates that reduce them to little more than slideshows. The pairing makes for a deflating start - one that might even make us think twice before requesting more divergence in future, should this be the cost - but things soon recover (and then some).
When Lady Arkham, leader of the Children of Arkham, kidnaps a close personal friend of Bruce Wayne’s, the episode adopts a deeply personal tone. With the series’ events already eroding his faith in humanity, Wayne can’t afford to lose one of his few remaining confidants. This kickstarts a significant investigation that, whilst still overly simplistic, gifts a nostalgic hit of classic Telltale adventure gameplay.
During the course of his detective work, Batman uncovers a dark secret that leaves him shaken. It continues the theme of evoking empathy for an antagonist - in this instance one with an abused past and a resulting thirst for revenge - rather than portraying an entirely one-dimensional caricature as can often be the case with supervillains. That said, the development feels somewhat forced as it comes so late in the day. Though it’s understandable Telltale would want to use as many characters from a library of pre-existing icons as possible, a more focused approach would have ensured even deeper engagement with the supporting cast.
City of Light has a decidedly game-y feel.
One final encounter with the frustratingly flakey Selina Kyle and a tease from the maniacal John Doe at least hint we could see an established suite of characters return for a potential second season, which should help combat the issue by both allowing the time to further flourish and (in theory) any newcomers more screentime to grow.
When the World’s Greatest Detective inevitably cracks the case, he uncovers both the whereabouts of Lady Arkham’s captive and her plan to free the inmates of Arkham Asylum. Chances are a good portion of people will begin to roll their eyes at the thought of retreading this ground, perhaps even see it as an attempt to piggyback on the success of Rocksteady’s Arkham
series, but Telltale seek to pay homage with a few sly references. It also feels like a declaration of intent, an indication that they can stand alongside the industry’s biggest and best.
You’ll carve a path through deranged inmates by utilising the returning attack planning phase, but while it illustrates Batman’s unparalleled powers of deduction, the fact it’s impossible to botch (and Bats manages to handle a vast majority of fights without you providing this input) makes the segment ultimately unfulfilling.
It leads, however, to perhaps the most satisfying QTE combat sequence ever conceived. The breakneck-paced showdown is beautifully choreographed, smoothly animated, and, importantly, runs without a hitch - it’s about as close as you’ll get to a boss battle in a Telltale game.
The encounter melds with the classic adventure game vibe, as well as a more prominent ability to move through scenes manually, dodging booby traps all the while, to give City of Light
a decidedly game-y feel. It’s to the episode’s benefit, leaning on the medium’s strengths to maintain engaging and varied pacing throughout without any detriment to the central narrative.
With a few lazily executed episodes in the mix, Telltale went all out on ending their first Batman
foray. City of Light
certainly still has some shortcomings, but by providing a satisfying conclusion to one of the more unique Batman
stories out there, while simultaneously improving gameplay to nail the pacing, there isn’t much more we could have asked for. Pros
+ Manages to satisfyingly wrap-up the busy story
+ Engaging, more traditional game-y structure
+ Stunning fight scene with Lady Arkham
+ Ends the series on a high, when it could so easily have gone the other way
+ Offers a tantalising tease of what might be to comeCons
- Severe technical issues early on
- Attack planning phases are still pointless fluff8/10
As with most Telltale episodics, all achievements are linked to natural story progression for a nice and easy completion.Originally written for Pass the Controller, a season pass was provided for the purpose of this review.
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