**Season Spoilers Below**
Telltale’s take on Batman through 5 episodes in a slightly reimagined Gotham should have been a slam dunk.
I should preface this by saying that Batman is my favorite superhero. I enjoy the typically darker stories that DC sets up for our dear Dark Knight. While Batman: The Telltale Series is a 12 hour campaign that I consider to be good, the ending of the season has me reflecting back and wanting more.
Telltale can be a masterful storyteller that makes the slightest of actions and dialogue choices relevant. From The Walking Dead to The Wolf Among Us, the ultimate satisfaction upon finishing those respective stories are some of my most memorable times in gaming’s interactive drama genre. It was no small task in taking on a property such as Batman, but the untapped potential, messy story, and brutally jam-packed references to past Batman lore leave the game in the shadows.
If you’ve never played a Telltale game before, the following is what I consider the “Telltale Formula.”
- Take a well known property from the world of Geek, such as Batman, The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us (Fables), Borderlands, or Game of Thrones, among others.
- Create a narrative driven game that spreads across a season’s worth of episodic chunks, much like a Netflix show series.
- Base the game around choice, both in dialogue and actions.
- Fill action sequences with Quick Time Events, or “QTE.”
In Batman Season 1 (with an absolutely obvious tease to a second season), things start off as promised, with the theme of duality at the forefront. You control one character, but two personas in Batman and Bruce Wayne. The thought was thrilling. The game’s first episode tackles this in a superb way, setting the stage for a thrilling season. Sadly, that’s about as far as the focus on two personalities goes. Well, unless you’re Harvey Dent. Rather than develop the season surrounding the potentially super fun premise of having to lead two separate yet interweaving lives, you really end up simply playing as two characters who might as well have nothing to do with one another. Can you imagine trying to hide one identity over the other? Perhaps a scenario could arise where you know something because, well, SPOILER, you’re really the same person, and you have the challenge of not blowing your cover. It was not to be.
In past Telltale games, particularly TWD & Wolf, every choice and every bit of dialogue presented a weight to it that ensured you were on your toes at all times. Choices would rear their ugly consequences two and three episodes later. In Batman, you feel like a largely innocent bystander, who is on one of those airport walkways that has a predetermined, slow path. I can’t truly recall one particular decision that made me sweat. I should rephrase that; I can’t recall one particular decision that genuinely mattered. Sure, as a Batman fan, it was cool to see if my choices resulted in Harvey Dent’s full dissent into the gruesome Two Face. The problem is that it’s more aesthetic than substance.
In terms of the actual story, I like the changes to the established core that Telltale made. Batman’s parents aren’t the saints you remembered – they were part of the problem in Gotham, earning their fortune in less than admirable ways and essentially creating Arkham Asylum to eliminate their political enemies. In short, they were falsely remembered as martyrs. Elsewhere, Oswald “Ozzy” Cobblepot grew up with Bruce as his best friend. Aside from Penguin’s totally out-there accent, the friendship feels largely irrelevant. And though Selena Kyle aka Catwoman has some brief action sequences with the Bat, her part in the story is inconsequential.
The Children of Arkham – led by Lady Arkham – are a confusing group. I’m not quite sure if they just hate rich people or if they’re simply a bunch of whiny millennials, or both. Though Lady Arkham is revealed to have some deep and disturbing emotional issues due to atrocities she encountered as a child, the rest of her followers make little to no sense, appearing as a random, name-grab of an enemy. The other character complaint I had was the appearance of the Joker, or whatever name they decided to give him. There were simply too many characters and recognizable Batman entities stuffed into the season, whereas a more confined cast developed slowly over the 5 episodes would have provided for a more highly focused, quality campaign.
Action sequences in the game are slightly more hands-on than past Telltale games. The gameplay gets tighter and more refined as the episodes march on. Telltale introduced us to a few new recurring sequences in these episodes with some being outright awesome and some leaving me feeling like I wasted my time. The without-a-doubt best new bit of gameplay is the planned attack sequence from Batman. You scout a room of baddies, check out the environment for any opportunities to take down said foes, and then execute. Though it would produce the same result, I appreciated the option of different ways to clear out a room.
The Batcave is unfortunately a room full of point and click options that actually slow the story to a crawl. Instead of being able to decipher a clue or complete a mystery’s puzzle, the game makes you click through each option that doesn’t add anything to the story. Another gameplay element that is sorely lacking in execution is when Batman comes across a crime scene and searches for clues. It’s a rather boring game of connect-the-dots that doesn’t always make sense.
One aspect in which I felt the series was accomplished was the final showdown between Batman and Lady Arkham. The final major decision is promoted as an important one, but I believe that my outcome would have been favorable no matter what. Telltale couldn’t kill off this prominent character with clear plans for a sequel season. The action sequence between Batman and Lady Arkham was intense and exciting and despite the relative ease of QTEs, felt like I needed to be on my game in order not to fail. If only more segments of the game could have ended up like that!
Though my score might not reflect it, Batman: The Telltale Series is a good game. If you are a fan of either Batman or Telltale, it is absolutely worth a playthrough. Despite its flaws and lack of depth, I am glad I made my journey through a somewhat alternative version of Gotham.
+ Room clearing sequences.
+ Alternative Gotham history and variance to well established Batman tropes.
– Meaningless decisions are rampant throughout the game and feel like filler material.
– Unclear motives for major players and unfocused story.
– Lack of duality of Bruce and Batman after episode one.
Check out these other reviews from The Geekiverse:
The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series Season 2
Game of Thrones: The Telltale Series Review
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