I have to admit that comic books aren’t my first choice as a storytelling medium, though that’s not to say I’m not a fan of superheroes. Batman is, without a doubt, my favourite comic book hero—from The Animates Series to the Dark Knight trilogy, and, of course, the Arkham series, the Caped Crusader and I are longtime pals. I’m also a fan of Telltale Games; more specifically, their work on The Walking Dead. I’ve enjoyed their other games, but with each new series I’ve found myself less and less invested. The whole illusion of choice trick worked well when funnelled through a story threaded with heavy emotion, but it’s never quite had the same impact since. I also dislike that Telltale won’t commit to a release schedule. However, for the love of Batman, I was willing to give them another go; even if it’s still a mixed bag.
Before I even begin, I need to address the fact that I was playing the PC version; which has been heavily panned on Steam for a number of technical issues. At first, I thought I was in luck, but after no less than 10 minutes, the game hard crashed and was totally unplayable. Fortunately, however, after updating drivers and then completely uninstalling and re-installing, I was able to get it working again. For the record, this is the second Telltale game that has given me headaches on PC. Game of Thrones is still completely broken, so it goes without saying this game and I got off to a bad start. Once it was working, though, the engine continued to run mostly okay. I noticed it was janky in some areas and the mouths didn’t move properly sometimes, but that’s not unusual for these games, so I was able to look past it.
All things considered, I think there’s good potential behind Batman: The Telltale Series. In the past, almost every game based on the Dark Knight has been heavily driven by action, which, to be fair, makes sense—but there hasn’t been a lot of time for Bruce Wayne. The Arkham Series took fantastic strides in capturing the more investigative side of being Batman and introduced gadgets beyond those simply used to beat up bad guys. However, these experiences also had to be contained to a Gotham City devoid of people. On the other hand, Telltale allows us to experience first-hand the struggles of balancing the life of Bruce Wayne with Batman, and for that reason alone it’s interesting and provides story branches more complex than whether to be a valiant hero or break a few arms for justice—though, there is that.
I think what threw me is that the game takes place during the Harvey Dent political campaign—which, in my opinion, is a story that didn’t need to be reimagined again. Players take on the role of Bruce Wayne, who is serving as a key supporter of the Dent campaign, and must deal with political allegations that arise after crime boss Carmine Falcone makes an unexpected appearance at a private fundraising event being held at Wayne Manor. The problem, for me at least, is we all know Harvey is destined to become Two-Face, so having us make impactful decisions with him on the scene feels like a glaring conflict. Fortunately, there are a few original plot points to keep the narrative interesting—it’s not just The Dark Knight as a game, but do expect to see a lot of focus placed on the death of his parents like always.
I do have to admit I was pleasantly surprised with this rendition of the Caped Crusader. I think may even be one of my favourites in terms of suit design, gadgets, and voice synth. Then again, I also thought the style of the Batcave was generic, and that this version of Alfred serves no purpose other than to be arrogant and give you a hard time—he’s a far stretch from the endearing Michael Cain. It’s all a bit hit and miss, but everything is decent overall. In episode one, the character of Batman takes a narrative backseat to Bruce Wayne, though he naturally serves as the main source for most of the action. Batman first steps into the scene in the opening to bust some mercenaries on a break-in, but encounters Cat Woman in the process. If you know how Telltale’s games work, what happens next isn’t too surprising.
While I that admit the quick-time-events that make up the most of the action are nicely stylised, they’re almost entirely superfluous. If you miss a few buttons, it’s no big deal. Otherwise, on a few occasions, you might encounter a hard fail and restart the scene without consequence. If you can ignore the fact the QTEs are mostly for show, you can still have a fun time beating up bad guys. There are plenty of fun action scenes, and if the Batarang-shaped power bar in the bottom-left of the screen fills up, you get to execute a brutal finishing move. The investigation side is not much more meaningful—you walk around an environment, examine points of interest, and then link a few things together to form a conclusion. It’s basic and a little mundane, though one instance of planning out an attack strategy was a fun concept.
Honestly, right now, the best component of Telltale’s take on Batman is when you’re role-playing as Bruce Wayne, and I don’t mean to imply that as a criticism. If anything was ever going to come close to making you feel as nervous when making decisions as you do in The Walking Dead, it had to be crime and politics. It’s a messy business, and anything you say and do can have significant ramifications—or implied as such. So far, it’s proving to be interesting enough, and there is a fresh take on a character I was not expecting to see, which was a nice surprise. As I mentioned, I have a few concerns with the setup, but how this plays out is still to be seen as the cliffhanger of the first episode is going in an unexpected direction. I would definitely say I feel invested enough to push on, even if I don’t care for the gameplay.
As it stands, Batman: The Telltale Series has good potential, but there’s nothing incredibly special about it just yet. It’s exactly what you would expect from any Telltale game, so your enjoyment will depend on whether or not their tried-and-true approach still appeals to you. That being said, Telltale’s rendition of the Caped Crusader is actually one of my favourites, although that’s negatively countered by a rather unlikable version of Alfred and a story setting I don’t think needed to be reimagined again. When you’re role-playing as Bruce Wayne, the game is at its most interesting, offering compelling choices and consequences—which is what Telltale excels at. However, when you’re playing as Batman, it’s primarily superfluous QTEs and mundane exploration. It all looks badass while it’s unfolding, at least, and it’s not unenjoyable by any means. I just wouldn’t expect anything world-shattering. It’s still got a way to go, though, so avoid it on PC for now, and check out a full review once it’s fully released–though, goodness knows when that’s going to be.