Batman’s history with video games has been a rocky one, to say the least. Until 2009’s Arkham Asylum, Batman was part of the packed crowd of superheroes whose video games were mediocre at best, failing to take full advantage of what made the character become so prominent in their comic books, amongst other mediums. With Rocksteady closing the book on their take on the Batman universe in 2015 (despite a brief return to it in VR earlier this year), the chance for a studio to become the representative for this popular hero was anyone’s for the taking. After seeing success with a lesser-known DC comics franchise in The Wolf Among Us, episodic story-teller Telltale has decided to take up the cowl and create a five-episode season based on the gruff Bruce Wayne and his cave of many gadgets. Simply titled Batman: The Telltale Series, Telltale has produced a strong, if inconsistent, first season based on the hero, thanks to unique takes on character and lore, a larger focus on gameplay and an improved presentation.
With little shown off before release, many assumed that Telltale’s take on the world’s greatest detective would be fairly standard, telling a generic Batman story but with the studio’s known flair for top-tier writing and cinematic abilities. Fortunately, the team decided to make some brave alterations not only to Bruce Wayne’s backstory, but those of his allies and villains as well, and many of these changes work out for the better, resulting in a more personal and unique Batman tale centered around the Wayne family. The voice acting delivers a real boost to the story as well, with some of the industry’s most noteworthy bringing their skills to Telltale’s latest licensed story. By focusing not only on the caped crusader but the man underneath it, Telltale’s Bruce Wayne is one of the most compelling iterations of the man seen in any medium, and makes the surprisingly frequent choice of confronting villains as either Bruce or Batman to be that much more difficult, resulting in some truly distinguished scenes. While the choices are rarely as intense as those found in Telltale’s take on The Walking Dead, the dialogue in each character interaction does a great job at capturing the player’s relationship with that member of Gotham, allowing one to fully embrace the Batman they wish Gotham to see.
While Telltale is rarely known for their groundbreaking gameplay, the team has introduced some smart new gameplay mechanics to further immerse the player in their version of the Batman persona. The quicktime-based action sequences are now accompanied by a meter, which, while relatively easy to fill, allows the player to pull off some truly epic finishers to cap off the well-choreographed fights. Additionally, new investigative sequences present crime scenes for the player to decipher and uncover the series of events that occurred. While these puzzles are also fairly straightforward, they add some welcome diversity to each episode, and provide an additional step to further put the player in Batman’s black shoes. Although the strength and weaknesses of each episode usually lies in the story, the more interactive portions do an effective job of keeping the player invested in the events on screen.
Telltale’s Batman introduces an improved engine from the studio, and the season certainly takes full advantage of it, with a more realistic graphical presentation being supplemented by a strong, fitting soundtrack. However, Telltale’s studio-characterizing amount of bugs, frame drops, and game crashes are still present in full force, with the game’s final episode being the beneficiary of most of them. While releasing two hour, fully interactive episodes on a monthly basis is impressive, even the most desperate fans would probably be willing to wait a bit longer if meant a more polished experience. The series also introduces the Crowd Play feature, allowing local viewers to take part in the player’s dialogue and event-based choices. While our testing with the feature was not extensive, it did seem to work as intended, although one could hope that this mechanic will eventually be better suited for a streaming audience, instead of merely those who happen to be around.
Perhaps Batman: The Telltale Series’ greatest flaw is inconsistency; playing each episode separately can make some of the weaknesses of the lesser episodes, like technical issues and poor pacing, more apparent in a way that most other Telltale series do not suffer from. But, for players who can dive into the full series all at once, Telltale’s Batman easily stands strong as one of the Dark Knight’s greatest video game outings, providing a gripping tale that clearly separates itself from a standard Batman affair. Add in more interactive gameplay sequences and improved visuals, and you have not only one of Telltale’s best seasons to date, but the return of a promising video game future for Bruce Wayne, Batman, and the city of Gotham.