Batman has been a household name for years- heck, generations even. Inspiring movies, television shows, comics, and even video games, Batman continues to be a staple in human culture, providing insight to morality and the human condition. It just so happens that a game development company called Telltale Games that focuses heavily on allowing players to make moral choices and explore stories about the human condition recently released a video game in the Batman franchise. Sounds like a match made in heaven.
Being known for story driven games, Telltale Games continues to push the boundaries of storytelling – providing each tale with a new way to shine through the modern medium of an interactive story (also known as video games, maybe you’ve heard of them). Popularized mainly by their Walking Dead series, Telltale has been releasing more and more titles under known names such as The Wolf Among Us. The cool thing about the application of Telltale’s art style and game mechanics is that Batman’s classic comic book feel is never lost, flourishing through every nook and cranny that the game has, creating a full and immersive enough experience.
Now, when I say “immersive enough”, I’m commenting solely on the technical aspects which, if you ask me, are very important to know and be aware of going into this game. Don’t get me wrong- I don’t ever believe that the limitations of what a machine can deliver should ever hold the quality of a game back, but when my Playstation 4 crashes 3 times in 2 episodes, I gotta say something. It very well may be that I was playing the game on a Playstation 4 over a PC that caused the multiple moments of lag that made the game nearly unplayable, but I stand by the fact that when a game releases a title on a system, they should be 100% confident that the title operates properly within the confines of it. I do not believe it is acceptable for a game that I am playing to crash in the middle of a heartfelt exchange between Batman and Catwoman- especially not when I’m trying to get them to hook up.
Alright, now that I’ve gotten the technical problems out of the way lets get on with the review.
As most Telltale games are, Batman is separated in an episodic format. This both enhances and magnifies the feeling of the series, allowing for the player to develop a unique emotional connection to what’s actually happening in the game. I found during the experience that while it was easy for me to step into the shoes of Batman, I was also able to perform the duty of the audience and watch the story unfold. I genuinely enjoyed the experience that was presented in Batman’s very humble 5 episodes. It was thrilling as the pace in the episodes picked up, and comprehensive in how the story pieced together.
Most Telltale games have a fun little gimmick that sets them apart from their brethren- in The Walking Dead it was the ability to use a gun, while in Wolf Among Us it was a unique take on investigation that allowed players to inspect evidence. Batman upped the ante by combining both of these in the neat Link system and advanced fighting system. In the Link system, Batman performs his duties as the world’s greatest detective and uses his million dollar technology to relate objects to each other in order to allow for explanation of circumstance. The only problem I have ever had with this mechanic is that Batman and his alter ego, billionaire Bruce Wayne, both walk too slow, making linking together large-spread out crime scenes time consuming. There also is this annoying fact that when you make an incorrect link, you need to de-select the link manually in order to link other objects to it, which leads to a lot of back tracking and slow walking (then again, that might also just be punishment for being an idiot). The most I can say in regards to the fighting system is that it is just really, really cool. Like- really cool. Imagine your inner child has just overdosed on pixie sticks and you are hallucinating your local Batman cosplayer beating up bad guys in slow motion through integrated quick time events. That’s honestly the best way that I can describe it aside from simply calling it a treat for the eyes. A neat little point about the fighting system is that as the game progresses and players are expected to be better at it, it begins to feel more fluid and Batman begins to perform more parkour-esque stunts, making for a natural and truly (pardon my french) badass experience.
The one thing I hated about this game aside from the fact that my Playstation 4 didn’t seem to want to run it is the terrible, jarring, and weird death screens. This might just be me, but I really don’t like it when I miss a quick time event, see a mediocre reaction, then without even a sound effect, get thrown into a death screen with a still in the middle and comic book font that says “Game Over”. I understand entirely that it is done in an effort to reflect the style of comic books and to keep death scenes short enough to not take away from the game, but I feel very strongly that it was a form of mockery for the intensity that Batman was going through. It felt like the game was building up to an intense fight and an epic death or accident, but instead it fell flat and delivered a weird and out of place screen taking you entirely out of the moment. While these were a let down, there was the definite point that I giggled at it 9/10 times (the tenth time was me being frustrated because I got stuck in a death loop).
One of my favourite moments however can be found in episode 4. Now, spoilers entirely intended (though if this matters to you maybe skip this paragraph and don’t look at the picture), Billionaire Bruce Wayne spends a vast majority of time at the Bat computer-shocking, right? Well, during episode 4 BBW (short for Billionaire Bruce Wayne) needs to read information about his company that was recently taken over by the surprisingly decent looking Oswald Cobblepot.
Now, the following image is why I have decided that this joke makes up for every fault that this game has, even the fact that I am bad at quicktime events. Please try to remember that while I took this picture with my phone- this is a legitimate moment from the game and the picture of Oswald Cobblepot is in fact most likely taken from a cutscene in which Batman was confronting him.
I get it, the mixture of comic sans- the use of penguins- the screenshotted picture from the game; it looks ridiculous. Now- this is where you might be surprised. The reason this moment is my favorite moment from the game is not merely because of how ridiculous it is, it is because it truly demonstrates Telltale games’ ability to maintain a stories reality and integrity in every way possible. The Billionaire Bruce Wayne and the butler who raised him, Alfred Pennyworth, even make note of the fact that Oswald’s sense of humour has remained the same since him and Billionaire Bruce Wayne were kids. Oh yeah, I forgot to say that- this game has multiple inaccuracies to Batman’s canon (I apologize to the die hard Batman friends for this terrible news).
I’ll be entirely honest, I like this Batman universe the most out of any world that has been explored in the franchise. The characters feel real, the story is immersive, and this Joker is certainly unique and expressive of how the character has evolved throughout the years. Though all this may be true, it still is important to note that there are some differences to be found in the game. I wont go too in depth with them in order to preserve the experience and allow for the game to tell you the story, but don’t surprised when you find out that Billionaire Bruce Wayne’s dad is a piece of trash.
All bad stuff aside, Telltale continues to allow incredible choice making, filling every moment it can with moral decision. While some of the major choices opportunities are hidden, others are made blatantly obvious and allow for as much time needed to mull over what is truly the proper route of action in the given situation. An example of such choice would be choosing to speak with Harvey Dent as either Batman or Billionaire Bruce Wayne.
Speaking of Harvey Dent, I will tell you now to pay ever close attention to the notifications of how characters react to your choices in the top left of the screen. You just might be able to pinpoint the exact moment that Harvey snaps and begins to base his decisions off of the flip of a coin.
Now, I know I have been speaking about the five episode game as a whole but I do feel it’s important to break down the game episode by episode for you so that you can truly understand how the game operates. I also will state the choices I made in the game so that the integral “choose your own adventure” aspect of the game is as thoroughly explained as possible, I’m also including it just in case you wanted to compare. I promise to try and not spoil too much of the game, but no promises.
Episode One, in my opinion, was the weakest episode of the bunch. It may have been the fact that the world was establishing itself or simply because not much action had the chance to build, but it certainly felt less immersive than the rest. Even though the episode begins with an action sequence that boasts its realistic gore and choice based system it still stands a bit below its following episodes. It is also important to note that the games cool new combat system is initially a little challenging and disorienting. At times the text that was telling you what buttons to press blended in too well with the background and the time given to perform events felt slower than needed, but it can be understood that it is acting as a hidden tutorial that is only preparing players for the combat to come. In this episode, I chose to defy Falcone, provide Vickie with a quote, show a merciful side of Batman, provide data to Lieutenant Gordon, and hand Falcone over to the police.
In Episode Two, the story picks up. Harvey Dent’s political campaign progresses and criminals ravage the streets of Gotham, no spoiler alert needed there because these are all very typical Batman events. This is both spectacular and annoying. Spectacular because seeing Batman in this way is exciting, boring because it is literally the same old Batman that is known and players haven’t gotten to mesh into the wild world of Gotham quite yet. With moral choices coming up left right and center this episode manages to place focus on the fact that Batman always has a choice in what he says and does. This is the episode where we really start to wonder- “Harvey Dent, can we trust him?” In this episode, I chose to ease Falcone’s pain, kiss Selina, visit the mayor as Billionaire Bruce Wayne, fund Harvey, and save Selina.
The third episode is when the story really begins to pick up. With the gameplay now meshing fluidly with the story, the experience starts to unravel into a full series of moments, leaving players consistently ready to press buttons and to decide whether or not they want to punch Cobblepot right in his weirdly handsome face. A thing to note though is that this episode has an almost uncomfortable scene of intimacy between Billionaire Bruce Wayne and Selina that will either leave you feeling weird about every choice you have made leading up to this moment or wishing you had more popcorn. In this episode you get to become acquaintances with the Children of Arkham, and get to watch Harvey go insane. In this episode, I chose to back up Harvey, keep my composure, get Lucius to keep his job, spend the night with Selina, and not physically assault Harvey. I successfully romanced Selina- score.
Episode Four is by far my favorite episode. Waking up in Arkham Asylum, Billionaire Bruce Wayne gets to meet the Joker and through the actions of a (spoiler alert) drug in his veins act passionately and aggressively towards those around him. This episode, I feel, focuses deeply on character development. Introducing new factors to Billionaire Bruce Wayne’s way of thinking and new ways that the safety of Gotham could be threatened, episode 4 delivers when it comes to story and character. In this episode, I agreed to owe Joker a favour, follow Joker’s plan, pay off the enforcer, talk to Harvey as Billionaire Bruce Wayne, and stop Harvey from wrecking my house.
Being the climax of the series, episode 5 focuses heavily on intense combat and moments. That both fortunately and unfortunately is the most I can say about this episode without giving much away, but trust me- the dark tones and incorporation of every mechanic makes the lag, crashes, and bugs worth enduring. In this final episode, I failed in distracting the penguin, I comforted Alfred, told Selina she was more than a thief, removed my cowl, and addressed the public as Billionaire Bruce Wayne. Also it’s not a cataloged choice but just in case you were curious, I told Selina that I loved her- it did not change her mind (RIP Billionaire Bruce Wayne’s feminine side).
Another quick thing to note, as I’m writing this and struggling through a crashing game, I noticed that in my code I have 9 empty slots, not too sure if that means that my choices prevented me from going to certain places or meeting certain people but this could hint toward some missable items, hence replayability, or possibly a surprise episode (these are just speculation I actually have no idea if these even are important please do not believe this entirely I am not a psychic).
All in all, Telltale Games’ Batman is truly an experience to be had. Whether you are aware of who Batman is or not, it is an excellent way to kill approximately 5-7 hours. I wouldn’t recommend it for players who enjoy high action games, but for those who are looking for a story with immersive writing and enjoyable, thought out characters let me be the first to say that your search is over.
Story – 9/10
While the story was engaging, the earlier episodes predictability and focus on teaching players how to handle the game removed opportunity for a genuinely new Batman story. A few inaccuracies to known canon also existed and played key parts in conveying the tale, though it is plainly obvious to anybody that these could be enough to turn certain lifelong fans off of the game. All of this aside, the story grew immersive and utilized characters and the environment well in order to tell the story.
Characters – 10/10
Perfect score. This is simply because of the game’s amazing ability to stay true to this vital aspect of any story. A few key examples of this would be the Penguin (especially the moment I spoke about in this article), and the presence of the Joker in Arkham Asylum. The characters in this Telltale series are both charismatic and personable, even at moments making heroes and villains feel like real people to empathize with. I believe that the best way to word how the characters in this universe exist would be to say that everyone deals with conflict, it simply drives individuals to make different choices. Some decisions are made based off of insanity, some based off of moral ground, and others simply based off of boredom.
Gameplay – 7/10
Following typical Telltale style gameplay, Batman is quite predictable. The only reason I removed points is that certain controls require getting used to and the quick time events can feel unbalanced. It is also important to note that the speed characters walk at does have an effect on the gameplay, making moments feel slower than they are and taking away from the intensity of moments.
My game did crash over five times though, three over the span of two episodes, and twice in the last episode alone. At times, there is unbearable lag, which even caused delays in sound effects and other issues.
Thanks to Telltale Games for providing us with a review copy of Batman: The Telltale Series.