Expert Storytelling with Batman: The Telltale Series

Telltale Games is a company known, as of late, for games featuring interactive storytelling: Games in which you, the player, are capable of influencing the story due to the choices you make as you progress through the game. Since Telltale’s The Walking Dead, many of these games are sold in small, individual episodes that release over a longer period of time. Batman: The Telltale Series is no different in this regard. Now that the series is complete, it’s time for a full review of the overarching story touched on each part of season one: You could say, perhaps, that it is now open season.

Peek a boo, Kitty!
Peek a boo, Kitty!

For those unfamiliar with DC Comics because you’ve been trapped in a hole, forced to place lotion in a basket, Batman: The Telltale Series is the story of a man named Bruce Wayne. Bruce lives in a dangerous city called Gotham (it’s apparently as bad as one Detroit and two-and-a-half Chicagos), and is a man who suffered loss at a young age. Watching his parents die in an alley as a child caused him to spend his formative years training his mind and body to fight against crime, so no one else would have to grow up filthy rich like he did, with a cool butler. Aforementioned Gotham City is full of psychopaths and criminals, and Bruce dons the cowl of Batman in order to protect the innocent people of Gotham.

Hello alter-ego!
Hello alter-ego!

The episodes of Telltale’s Batman move along at a fairly brusque pace: The first episode, for example, features a juxtaposition of Batman fighting against random burglars in quick time event-filled action scenes with the party hosting activities of Bruce Wayne for added exposition. This element is fairly constant among the whole season, as players will even have the opportunity to decide how entire scenes play out by being given the choice to coerce someone as Bruce Wayne, or flat-out threaten them as Batman. The Telltale games of late commonly have quick time events that players must respond to as you progress through dialogue, and this game is no different, though there are a lot more of them during action sequences in comparison to previous Telltale games.

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Telltale’s Batman features a revolving door of familiar faces, from Bruce’s devoted butler and geriatric extraordinaire Alfred, to investigative reporter Vicki Vale, cat aficionado Selina Kyle, as well as a variety of villains including Szasz, Two Face, a heavily remixed Penguin, and more. Fans of the Batman franchise may balk at how some characters were changed to more accommodate Telltale’s story, but it is refreshing to see familiar faces while events unfold.

Here we are inside the ultimate man-cave, or I guess, bat cave.
Here we are inside the ultimate man-cave, or I guess, bat cave.

One interesting concept that Batman: The Telltale Series uses is the ability to actually roleplay the world’s greatest detective: Moments where players must investigate the scene of a crime pop up every so often, requiring players to link clues in order to craft a hypothesis for what happened in the scene. Another enjoyable idea is when Batman is faced with multiple foes at once, sometimes you will be given the choice of how to take them down- whether you would like to toss a statue bust at an enemy to knock him out, or swing from a chandelier and kick him unconscious, that sort of thing. Not exactly the most robust of choices since it is presented in binary, but it does give the player some more agency in how the action scenes unfold.

What happened here? The world's best detective will figure it out, with your help of course.
What happened here? The world’s best detective will figure it out, with your help of course.

Those who greatly enjoyed the ability for their actions to result in the death of a particular character, or influence how they died (a la The Walking Dead) may be sorely disappointed by Telltale’s take on Batman: Many of your choices have very few ramifications outside of a sentence or two of changed dialogue. For example, without giving too much away: Harvey Dent becomes Two Face in this game, which makes sense since that’s always been his character. However, due to some actions the player can take, you may wind up with a normal-looking Harvey Dent who acts just as deranged as Two Face, and the action you took in the prior episode may change only one or two lines of dialogue, total.

There are other cases in which the choices the player makes doesn’t even change dialogue. When tying up a criminal and threatening information out of him, you may torture or simply scare the man into talking; no matter which you choose Alfred still reprimands you afterward for beating a man half to death. Even if you didn’t harm him. It’s a moment that completely pulls you out of the story and breaks immersion, which is sad as that is one of the more important aspects of this style of game since there is such an overwhelming focus on storytelling.

Incomming quick time event!
Incoming quick time event!

Outside of some complaints like the above, however, Telltale’s Batman was actually quite a fun ride. The overall plot was fairly enjoyable, but what was most entertaining was the exploration of a variety of in-universe Batman characters in ways not yet used in a DC comic. Several of the villains are freely written in compelling ways simply because the writer was not forced to shoehorn in established canon, which makes specific moments of the story a breath of fresh air. Fans of Batman should be able to enjoy this game simply due to it being another reasonable story in the Bat’s repertoire.

The graphics are great- the cel shaded aesthetic fits a very comic book feel. While the engine is definitely showing its age at this point in time, Telltale’s Batman does look what most would expect from something drawing inspiration from a comic and cartoon. The music is extremely fitting for a game representing Batman- decidedly derivative (think of the main theme from The Dark Knight and you have what the main theme of this game drew heavily from), but still suitably appropriate and audibly pleasing.

Whenever there's trouble, he's there on the double!
Whenever there’s trouble, he’s there on the double!

Players who dislike quick time events may want to pass on this game, however, because as mentioned previously: There’s a plethora of them. Similarly, those who want their choices to matter when playing a Telltale game may find themselves frustrated by the lack of impact many player decisions have on the story, individual characters, and more. The complete tale can be completed by players in eight to nine hours, though, which while not bad for a story-driven game, can cause some concern with overall play length. Those who enjoy story-driven games, and fans of Batman, however, will most likely strongly appreciate the direction Telltale takes with an extremely popular DC character.

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