The caped crusader becomes a lot less intimidating if you pronounce his name wrong. He is the night, he is the darkness, he is… The Batmun. Not to be confused with the Megamun, Aquamun or Butman, Batmun’s legacy is so long that it would take a uni degree to scratch the surface. Batsy has been immortalised through comics, movies, TV shows and plenty of other video games, but we rarely see much of Batmun’s other half. Telltale’s narrative focuses more on the totally average squillionaire, Bruce Wayne, but fails to deliver a compelling story overall. There are good bits, there are okay bits, but there are plenty of crap bits.
Batman needs no introduction, so I won’t introduce him, but Bruce Wayne? There’s a guy you might not know about. Believe it or not, Batman is just a regular everyday normal mothertrucker named Bruce Wayne. His parents were killed when he was young, so he used the inherited wealth of his family’s fortune to create the badass we all know as Batman. Bruce represents a fascinating counterpoint to Batman because of his public status, and this is – unless I’m horribly wrong – the first game where we see his character come into play.
Telltale manages to make Bruce just as significant within the story as Batman. You play most of the game as Bruce, but there are critical moments where you’ll have to pick between tackling a situation as Bruce or Batman. Both options are valid, but each allows different approaches to a delicate situation. Focusing on Bruce is an excellent way to explore both Batso and Brucie’s different ideals, which you get to pick and choose when other characters start trying to hammer down why you do what you do. I was surprised at how compelling Bruce’s sections were and how he allowed characters to open up to us as the player, but this was because Batman just sucked.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the guy who deals with situations through intimidation doesn’t add a lot to the story. The only time the dark knight adds anything to the narrative is when he’s investigating crime scenes. Sure, he provides revelations when they’re needed, but Bruce is already the detective, Batman’s just the muscle. He’ll converse with the baddies, try to make them stop being so bad, but the candid moments with Bruce are far more interesting. The horrific combat emphasises the lacklustre approach to Batman.
The only time combat has worked in a Telltale game has been in that alternate dimension with the sun that sings sea shanties for Suzie Q. QTEs are the worst way to do combat, but they’re back again like an ugly step-cousin. Sometimes failing one button press will mean game over, but other times it’ll be a slap on the wrist, and you won’t know which is which until it’s too late. I even had a QTE fail to show what button to press, so I died because it looked like a cutscene was playing when it was just my death animation. There’s nothing satisfying to be found in the combat, and it doesn’t get much better with the linking system.
The title of World’s Greatest Detective doesn’t come easy, but you won’t feel that smart in the game. The Telltale Series employs a links system for you to put together all the pieces of the puzzle at a crime scene. Connect the blood splatter on the wall to the bloodied belt, hey presto, you’ve got a working theory. The thing is, there’s usually only six links in a room, and you can’t link multiple things to each other, so the detective aspect of the game feels trivial. There’s no red herrings, nothing that pops up after connecting two other objects, just obvious markers that go hand in hand with each other. I would have liked to see these sections fleshed out more because there’s a lot of potential there, but it’s obvious where all the effort went.
The voice acting on display is about as good as you’re going to get within the video game realm. Troy Baker, Travis Willingham and Laura Bailey are the Triforce of voice actors, voicing Batman, Harvey Dent (Two-Face) and Selina Kyle (Catwoman) respectively. Turns out hiring actors that know their craft pays dividends, and these guys bring legitimacy to the characters’ portrayals. Not once did I think, “Wow, this is the best take they got?” to the dialogue, but the constantly shifting volume levels ruined some of the acting. The cast nailed the vocals, but the graphics don’t help with their performances.
The game looks bad. I don’t care what anyone says, I don’t care if you try to swing the stylised angle at me, the game looks atrocious in motion. Animations are rigid, textures are pixelated, lip syncs don’t match, the black outlines on people can go weird, and some of those facial expressions are terrible. The choreography and animation in the combat are great, but outside of these tiny sections of higher quality, things are not pleasant to look at. This all hits home when you start making out with Catwoman, but your heads are inside each other. Nope. Nopenopenope. Not good. It’s just not a good game to look at, but it is fun to look back on what you did.
At the end of each episode, you’ll be faced with a comparison of what you did compared to others. For instance, if you’re a sad loner like I am and decided to keep things platonic between Bruce and Selina, you could see that 9.7% of people are just like you. Stats like these also highlight particular choices you’ve made, like forgiving someone instead of scolding them, arresting instead of killing, etc. Looking back on these choices made me wonder what would have happened if I went the other way, but it feels like the story would have disappointed no matter what.
The game starts with Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent’s political campaign just taking off. Immediately, I stopped caring. I know Two-Face is going to show up, so why bother getting attached to Mr Dent? Anyhow, Vincent Falcone shows up, Penguin makes a less than subtle entrance, and all hell breaks loose with the Wayne legacy. Soon enough, Harvey goes off the rails (shock horror), Lady Arkham causes some anarchy, and Oswald ‘Pingu’ Cobblepot takes over as CEO for Wayne Enterprises. You’re locked up in Arkham with pasty-face-laughing-man-iteration-93 (renamed John Doe), break on out of there and make sure everything goes back to normal. Yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyeeuuugggghhh it’s passable at best.
The plot’s a stock standard jab into the Batman world, and I wasn’t expecting Alan Moore level writing, but I hoped there’d be more than what I got. For the first couple of episodes, I was waiting for the payoff, but some of the events in the later episodes are tenuous at best. Bruce gets sent to Arkham to oh so naturally meet Joker. We glossed over Bruce regaining his CEO title in a single sentence, which felt like a remarkably important detail to brush under the rug. The characterisation was certainly there, but everything is so shallow and rushed that I couldn’t help but wonder if I was even having any effect here.
The most important thing to take away from all this is that I felt like my choices had microscopic impact. If I pursued Penguin before Two-Face, I’d become CEO again and deal with Harvey just in time. Make a promise to Joker? Well, I didn’t see any opportunity to capitalise on it. Relationship with Selina? Harvey would still assume you two slept together. Nothing felt like it would disrupt the narrative or change how events would unfold. There were some nice moments in there, but nothing felt significant. I could be totally wrong, maybe the plot is way out there based on a few choices, but I don’t see how that could have been the case.
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A dull narrative mixed with technical issues makes Batman: The Telltale Series Review a disappointing experience. There’s certainly potential in the systems, but none of them are engaging or thought-provoking enough to be interesting. The story is a bland romp, but nothing more. There are certainly moments where the game shines, but it’s surrounded by mediocre conversations and awful combat. If Season 2 can build off of what’s being presented here, then it might garner some interest from me, but as it stands, there’s not much to see here. Poor Batmun.