In a digital space completely dominated by Rocksteady Studios, Telltale has decided to throw their hat into the ring. Albeit with an incredibly different experience, but still one worth enjoying for any Bat-fan.
Batman: The Telltale Series is the latest of Telltale’s narrative point-and-click adventure games. From August onwards, an episode has been released once a month, with four of the five episodes for this season currently being available at the time of this review. Episode 5 is likely to drop sometime in late December.
Without delving too much into story specifics, this season follows Bruce Wayne/Batman (voiced by Troy Baker) as he lives his secret double life. By day he supports his close friend Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign to rid corruption from Gotham City. By night he strives for the same goal, just with different methods. However, his double-life is turned on its head when an old friend returns to town, and dark secrets from his family’s past begin to resurface.
While it’s difficult to discuss the plot as a whole without the final episode, so far Telltale has proven that they know how to write a stellar Batman story. While it draws inspiration from the comics, the studio has crafted a brand new Bat-mythos with clever twists on old ideas and fresh faces on familiar characters. All of the changes make it tough for even the most experienced Bat-fan to predict exactly what is going to happen. Telltale’s Batman has more twists and surprises than M. Night Shyamalan fan-fiction, coupled with impressive writing and performances. The story so far has formed a daring Batman narrative that’s likely to end in spectacular fashion.
Along with the story comes Telltale’s trademark decision-making and light point-and-click adventure elements. Like other Telltale games, many of the decisions don’t have a dramatic influence on proceedings, but are written in such a way that it feels like they do. The biggest boon with this being interactive is that it allows you to develop relationships with characters that other mediums such as film and comics can only dream of. This gives the entire season an emotional wallop, as it’s so much harder to punch a former friend in the face when you’ve spent three episodes by their side, sympathising with them.
As for the rest of Telltale’s typical gameplay, it’s a bit hit and miss. Combat is as simple as a straightforward quick-time event, forcing the players to press specific buttons as the prompts appear on-screen. While the action sequences themselves are well choreographed and exciting, the minimal player input doesn’t give it the same thrill as the Arkham franchise. There’s also a number of moments that ask you to play detective, through investigating crime scenes and piecing together evidence. Unfortunately, however, it never gets more complicated than clicking highlighted items and drawing links between them. It doesn’t make you feel particularly smart, which is not a good thing when you’re supposed to be ‘The World’s Greatest Detective’.
Sure, there’s the possibility it will get more complicated in the season finale, but judging on the first four episodes that possibility seems just as likely as Alfred being revealed as the Joker.
The biggest issue by far is of the technical kind. It’s clear the one type of problem Batman can’t solve is of the performance variety – everything from the framerate to broken audio is a culprit throughout the four episodes. The worst thing is, Telltale hasn’t fixed it. Even though each episode was released a month apart, there is almost no improvement over the course of the season. Episode one is just as broken as episode four.
Here’s hoping Batman has some bug repellent on that utility belt to use during the season finale, as the bugs heavily undermine what is otherwise a great game.
Combining one of the most popular franchises in history with one of the best storytellers in videogames seems like a formula for success. And in many ways, it is. Batman: The Telltale Series represents the peak performance of writing and plot Telltale can offer, and it’s been a joy to see a wholly original and unique Bat-story take shape over four episodes. If it wasn’t for the swarm of bugs and flat detective gameplay, this would be worthy of Batman himself. But otherwise, any Bat-fan worth their batarangs owes it to themselves to check this out. Just wait for the final episode (and a hefty patch) before exploring Gotham.