PUT A DENT IN CRIME
Batman is a character of near endless possibilities, with a variation for every color of the rainbow and beyond — including an actual rainbow Batman! Does Telltale Games’ iteration stand proudly among the best?
Telltale sure does have a lot of properties under its belt, huh. Licenses like Back to the Future, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead are incredibly popular, but Batman is on a whole ‘nother level. With 75 years of pop culture relevance under his utility belt, Telltale’s latest series was always going to be held to intense scrutiny. Can any game hold up to that? Well, this one does — to an extent.
Episode One of Batman: The Telltale Series is off to a good start, though the pacing is a bit odd. The opening tussle with armed goons is thrilling and also does a great job of introducing us to its various gameplay mechanics. Keep in mind, those of you expecting the refined free-flow combat of Batman: Arkham Knight will be disappointed. Combat consists entirely of quick-time events (QTEs) where you simply press the correct buttons when prompted. It’s simplistic, yet challenging as these prompts often come at lightning-quick intervals, and sometimes the action on-screen distracts from them. It’s perfectly fine on the surface, though I’ll circle back around to this later.
When the initial encounter segues into Catwoman’s introduction, Telltale’s strengths truly shine. The scrap is rough and furious, with appropriate banter present to begin building these characters — though the player takes responsibility for Batman’s side of it. Dialogue options for different sides of our hero’s personality will appear during every conversation, and it’s in these moments when the fun reaches its peak.
However, the action is fleeting and soon falls to the wayside in favor of these conversations. Batman does have another life as billionaire Bruce Wayne, after all, and seeks to save Gotham City through other methods during the day. For my money, molding Bruce Wayne in my image through choices he wouldn’t traditionally make is more intriguing than anything Rocksteady did with the character story-wise. As Batman, will you be a heroic figure or a violent, destructive monster? Do you treat Alfred with respect, or would you prefer if he was seen and not heard?
While getting a chance to publicly disrespect Carmine Falcone had me giggling gleefully, I can imagine other players being bored to tears for the remainder of this episode. If you somehow don’t know the role of Harvey Dent, or are unfamiliar with Gotham’s mobsters like the Falcone family, your attention may not be adequately held. It’s entirely possible the average gamer or general Telltale fan will still appreciate the story on its own merits, but that depends largely on the remaining episodes and how well they tie together.
Gameplay and characters aside, I’ll say this about the story: it ends with a fantastic hook, one that threatens to shake up everything we know about Bruce Wayne’s history. I’m particularly impressed by the Catwoman/Selina Kyle plot thread, which would seem rushed if not for the expert execution. Telltale is making some huge deviations with certain aspects and people (like Penguin, for example), but it’s being handled with great respect and reverence for the existing lore. This is basically an Elseworlds tale like any other, yet it retains all of the recognizable elements Bat-fans expect and hope to see.
The art style helps in this regard as well. Telltale’s Gotham City is more realistic and subdued than previous incarnations, but is still very much overrun with crime. Dense shadows and thick black outlines lend the graphics a very comic book-esque look, and most of it is outright beautiful. Character faces are slightly more problematic, due mostly to jaggy expression lines and wrinkles that disappear and reappear to a distracting degree. However, the visuals are definitely one of the best aspects, and they mesh well with some slick directing during lengthy scenes.
Sadly, there are nearly as many negatives as positives. Animations are stiff and often wonky. During a speech early on, Harvey Dent was twitching oddly when transitioning to different camera angles. Lip syncing is also an issue, which goes hand-in-hand with frequent slowdown during highly populated scenes. Telltale video games are notorious for such technical hiccups, but Batman is running on an upgraded version of the developer’s usual engine. Things like this shouldn’t still be happening.
Other recurring Telltale issues are still hanging around too. Action scenes that require aiming switch from the left and right thumbstick randomly. That’s inexcusable at this point. Sound effects (footsteps, gunshots) also cut out during the climactic action scene and didn’t return until it was nearly over, ripping me out of the experience when I should be most engaged.
Most glaring of all, missing the combat QTEs seemed to make no difference. Batman still ducked out of the way when he should’ve been shot in the face, and also caught a punch when I panicked and hit the wrong button. I don’t know what the difference would be if the prompts were successful, but the player should never feel like these actions are pointless when the entire experience hinges on them.
THE VERDICT: 7.0 OUT OF 10
The overall storyline, some superb voice acting, and a clever investigation mechanic used briefly near the end, are enough to keep me interested in this episodic series — for now. The gameplay fails to pack a punch, and the general glitchiness of Telltale’s games still lingers. This is not the Batman game we deserve, but it’s the one we have right now.
For more information about our review scale and what it means, click here.