Although fans, writers, and even sociologists can surely list dozens of reasons why Batman is so popular, a big reason why he has grown to be perhaps the single most popular superhero in the world is because of the many timeless stories that surround him. The nineties cartoon, Batman The Animated Series
, introduced kids to a dark, art deco style that pulled surprisingly few punches. The Christopher Nolan trilogy gave the world the most realistic Batman to date, painting him in real world light even when fantastical elements remained intact. Scott Snyder brought new life to the character with some of the best on-paper work in years, with recent arcs like The Court of Owls
After a long run of forgettable video games, Rocksteady gave fans the best Bat-sim to date in the Arkham series
, borrowing elements from the best comics and even these other aforementioned iterations while leaving their own unique mark on the character. Despite being around since World War II, the right creators have found ways to reinvigorate or even re-invent the Bat over the years. Now Telltale Games is bringing their award-winning brand of story-first adventure gaming to Gotham. If the first episode is any indication, players should expect nothing less than another fantastic work from the studio and property.
Initially, BATMAN – The Telltale Series
is a game like any other that Telltale has developed since 2012. Their winning formula that they found with The Walking Dead
, adventure games where the adventure comes from narrative rather than puzzles, has been the basis of almost all of their efforts since then. That's no different this time around... at least, not initially. You play as Batman as you navigate a city choking on the stench of its own corruption, Gotham. The game doesn't bother delivering a long-winded introduction to characters. For the most part it correctly trusts that Batman, along with his allies and enemies, are pop culture icons who need no introduction. Later in the Batcave you can still dig into character bios that are presented as files that Batman keeps on key figures in the city. While most characters remain familiarly written, like Vicki Vale and Lieutenant Gordon, others are reimagined in minor or even major ways that prove that Telltale has been given the keys to try something different.
This version of Batman is meant to be a fairly young one -- pre-Robin, pre-Batgirl, still learning and still fallible. The role-playing moments as Batman are one of the game's best attributes. The branching dialogue usually takes you down several very different paths, and even if the conversation always end up in the same place just like the studio's decision trees, the path along those branches works very well in Batman
because of that variety. I definitely got a sense for the type of Batman that I'm building, although the sole episode is not enough to begin seeing the outcome of most of my decisions; the game's player-chosen dialogue system lets you craft your Batman to whatever you think is best.
You'll decide what type of Batman, and Bruce Wayne, you'll become.
A lot was made of Telltale's emphasis on putting players in the role of Bruce Wayne as much as Batman and this premiere episode definitely delivers on that promise. After an opening scene that puts you in the cape and cowl while interrupting a violent break-in, the episode slows down for the majority of the two hour playthrough as you're left playing politics as Bruce. In public, Bruce is faking it, pretending he is too busy living lavishly while the watchful eyes of Gotham look on. But when we have access to doors behind which even Gotham's elite cannot venture, it's there that we get to really role-play the character as he tries to explain to Alfred, for the millionth time seemingly, why he must undertake his quest as Gotham's protector. He speaks reflectively about his murdered parent. He expresses doubt when a lead falls apart, anger when an enemy gets away, or frustration when the puzzle is missing a piece. Many avid Batfans will happily tell you that it's Bruce, not Batman, that is the true mask of the character. While this is true, Batman is still Batman even when he looks like Bruce and that's what this game portrays very well.
Telltale promised an original take on Batman, one where we witness a tangled dichotomous web that is spun in new and interesting ways; the premiere indicates that this decision might prove polarizing. The 50/50 split in gameplay time between Batman and Bruce Wayne is unprecedented for games and for most any version of the mythos in the decades-long history of the character. Players looking for a Rocksteady-like action game should know better than to come here for it, but even some otherwise informed Batman fans might not enjoy how much time is spent out of costume. I believe that purists will find the take refreshing, however. The story arc that's hinted at in the premiere is one of personal interest to Bruce Wayne, the real Bruce Wayne before there ever was a Batman. Even when the premiere episode takes its time with the out-of-costume middle portion of the game, there are plenty of threads that should make any fans of the studio or character eager to return when the next episode arrives.
You'll spend just as much time in your Bruce costume as you will in the cape and cowl.
A few series-specific gameplay mechanics were added to make Batman feel like himself and to help to separate this game from the others under the studio's umbrella. He's not just a master martial artist or a tech-savvy non-lethal assailant -- Batman is the world's greatest detective and an expert tactician. Recreating crime scenes by finding and linking evidence puts some of the adventure gaming back in the series, although they were left pretty obvious in a move that felt like a fear of scaring off those who didn't want anything but story in the series. Hopefully the team behind Batman
commits to making these crime scene moments more difficult to piece together in future episodes. You don't really feel like the world's greatest detective when the answers are so plainly laid out for you.
A better addition to the usual Telltale formula is the ability to occasionally plan your assault. Before dropping in on a suite full of armed cronies, Batman can scope out the area and plan his exact route and method of attack. As the player you can choose how to eliminate each enemy while running the simulation, until it has met your exact specifications before you have to put it all together. You still need to wait until the game is presenting a fight in this manner (just once in this episode), but it's immensely satisfying to plan it all step by step before swooping in and executing it with the precision that only Batman possesses. The QTEs are much more involved this time around, too. You won't occasionally swipe or button-mash in Batman
's altercations; you'll be constantly firing off face button and analog stick inputs to keep ahead of the enemies who are usually shooting or swinging at you. This faster paced QTE combat takes what was a relatively passive and forgiving system in other Telltale games and turns it into something that is much more involved.
There's some of those "enhanced interrogation techniques" I heard about on the news.
The voice cast was highlighted often before the season premiered and for good reason. Such illustrious actors as Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, and Travis Willingham -- all of whom are Telltale alums -- are all featured prominently in Batman
. While it is taking time to get used to a non-Conroy Batman, it's no fault of Baker's who has proven over the years to be capable of any role. He sounds great as the playboy Bruce Wayne. Murphy Guyer's role as Gordon and the aforementioned Bailey in the role of Selina Kyle steal every scene that they're in, especially the latter who at one point delivers the funniest line of the episode.
Thankfully the game's improved engine seems to have fixed the studio's long-running issues with games skipping and lagging. Not once did the playthrough freeze between or within scenes. However, that same engine does show its age in the way that characters move and emote. The programming is always hidden just beneath a thin veneer of the game's otherwise awesome visual palette. Their stiffness and apparent lack of motion capture is something that was acceptable four years ago, but now it's really beginning to wear out its welcome. It shouldn't be underestimated just how far lifelike movement and emoting can go to selling the emotions of a scene or series, something on which the studio's games rely. I would think by now that Telltale could use their money from hit after constant hit and give the engine a serious upgrade, rather than just repairing the most egregious legacy issues.
The announced voice cast reveals some alter-egos likely on the way, but it's smart to expect even more, too.
One of the most exciting non-story developments to Batman
is Crowd Play
. Telltale games have long been communal efforts in my family. My siblings and I gathered by the TV to play all of their past games and to make group decisions, like many surely have before. With Batman
, you can tune into a local playthrough with up to 11 others and vote on decisions that are being made in the game's story. Ties defer to the controller holder and he or she can also alter the rules to where the democratic ruling can be struck down if the player really wants to do so. It's worth connecting to this if you're already playing in a group.
There isn't much to say on the achievements and you probably know why. Telltale games almost always include only a short list of unmissables that you'll surely unlock by the time you finish each episode. In Batman
, each episode will have six achievements for 200 gamerscore. It's an easy completion alongside an excellent game. However, at the time of writing some people are reporting that their achievements aren't unlocking as they should be. This is another issue that Telltale has shown in the past. There are workarounds to it and at the very worst you can just replay the two hours, even if that is far from ideal itself. Just be forewarned that this simple list might cause you some minor grief en route to the completion.
Telltale made several promises leading up to the release of Batman
, chief amongst them were an all-new standalone story for Batman and a better game engine that would improve visuals and performance. In these respects, their latest saga is a huge success. The Bruce Wayne gameplay accounts for half of the episode and it lets players wear that mask in a meaningful way for the first time ever. Along with that, friends and foes are altered in ways that are fresh without feeling needless. There's plenty to look forward to with Batman - The Telltale Series
. Fans of the studio, and especially fans of the character, can rightfully get excited for the season ahead. Under the cowl, and just as often not, "Episode One: Realm of Shadows" is a worthy introduction to comics' greatest hero.
- Excellent voice acting
- Understands all aspects of Batman, including Bruce Wayne
- Rewrites familiar characters to introduce wholly new plotlines
- Not a moment of stuttering throughout
- Dated presentation still leaves some stiff character interactions
- Puzzles return but only in small and simple ways
The reviewer spent two hours alternating between endorsing mayoral candidates and breaking thugs' arms. It was a busy night. He unlocked all six achievements along the way. A digital season pass was supplied by Telltale Games for this review and those of all future episodes in the series.