Batman isn’t held back by his technology, but unfortunately Telltale is.
Batman got to be the hero gaming deserved and needed when Rocksteady showed us last generation that superhero games don’t have to suck. However, much like the Caped Crusader himself has more than a few tricks up his utility belt, the completed season of Batman: The Telltale Series shows off far more angles to the Dark Knight than the Arkham series could hope to achieve.
The flow of a Telltale game is well established by this point, and you are either down for what ultimately amounts to Quick Time Event the game, or you find the idea appalling. Calling back to the point and click adventure games of old, these kinds of titles need to lean on their storytelling more heavily than most.
Events are largely guided, with the player making inputs to keep the action flowing or making split second decisions that can guide the story in different ways, and influence how characters react to Bruce or Batman in small or large ways. How you toe the line and present yourself to the various characters you interact with can alter the story in subtle ways, and guide your decisions as you progress.
"They were allowed to play with the Batman mythos in a very interesting way, breaking down the very core of the character and what he fights for."
Of course, it’s kind of known at this point that the deviations are small, and sometimes don’t have all the impact they should because they still have a single story they’re trying to tell. One moment at the conclusion of Episode 2 stood out as a decision that should have had consequences more severe than presented, if not completely changing the direction of the story as opposed to simply destroying trust with certain characters.
I don’t want to give the impression that the story they’ve got is poorly done, in fact they were allowed to play with the Batman mythos in a very interesting way, breaking down the very core of the character and what he fights for. They also give plenty of screen time to Bruce Wayne, which is something that hasn’t been explored much in video games. Focusing on Bruce more also allows some great interplay between characters who don’t usually share screen time in other media, and brings up some interesting choices where you might be forced to make decisions, such as a deal with the devil for the greater good.
"Batman is very much a character about his duality. There is no dark without light, and the struggles of one have their effect on the actions of the other."
Batman is very much a character about his duality. There is no dark without light, and the struggles of one have their effect on the actions of the other. Some intersections even offer the choice to act as one persona over the other, perhaps offering a harder path to spare the reputation of the alter ego. Sometimes the relationships between characters will dictate that Bruce gets his hands dirty as well, something not often seen.
With the focus on the interplay between the two, there comes a natural segue into focusing on the brains of the world’s greatest detective. The best sections of the game involve putting together crime scenes through logically linking together bits of evidence to deduce the chain of events. These sections play on classic adventure game tropes without getting to the obscure level they would rely on.
"Played as a cohesive whole, some of the weaknesses of individual episodes melt away."
Played as a cohesive whole, some of the weaknesses of individual episodes melt away such as lack of screen time for either Bruce or Batman, or the lack of a detective section from one episode. Each arc lasts just as long as it needs to, and certain decisions, inconsequential as they may be are called back to and tie each arc into each other well. There are legitimately good twists from episode to episode that will have you questioning who you’ve chosen to trust and how to react to changing characters around you. The villains are all quite fun, including the new (and I thankfully don’t mean Arkham Knight new) villain for the series. It’s also quite refreshing for a Batman game to not lean on the Joker.
While the story is there, the presentation of it all is where the Telltale engine begins to show some serious age. With a kinetic kind of hero like Batman, the stiff animations and muddy textures take a lot of the impact away from the fight scenes, and though I have nothing to complain about regarding the voice acting, we’ve seen games where facial expression can take a lot of the work away from the writing.
"Perhaps it’s not fair to ask Telltale to get up to the production values of Uncharted, but with frequent frame rate stutters and full out crashes that both figuratively and literally pull you out of the game, the engine clearly isn’t pulling its weight anymore."
Perhaps it’s not fair to ask Telltale to get up to the production values of Uncharted, but with frequent frame rate stutters and full out crashes that both figuratively and literally pull you out of the game, the engine clearly isn’t pulling its weight anymore. I wouldn’t put so fine of a point on it in any other game, but with a catalog that lives and dies on the stories they tell, the fact that those stories are being hamstrung by limitations loses a couple points.
Even with the technical difficulties brought on by the aging engine, Batman: The Telltale Series takes a deep dive into the world of Bruce Wayne and his crusade, dissecting them both in a compelling way and telling a great story in the meantime. Taken as a series, the smaller weaknesses of each episode disappear within the larger story and the minor dissonance of some decisions not carrying the impact they should is quickly forgotten.
Not a perfect knight, but this is a damn fine one.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Telltale takes a deep dive into the dual characters of Bruce and Batman in a very interesting way, playing to their mind and the struggles of the double life instead of him simply beating up goons. Detective sections let you feel like you’re piecing something together and playing the episodes back-to-back help prop up some of the otherwise weaker episodes.
The voice acting and writing is almost the only positive I can say about the presentation. Elements clip each other all the time and stiff animations destroy the action sequences. Framerate going all over the place and a few crashes further prove the engine isn’t keeping up. Some decisions don’t have the impact they should.
Though I do have to knock it quite a bit for failing on the presentation, as that is a rather large part of a game like this, the story that Batman: The Telltale Series has to tell is strong enough to carry it through the technical hiccups. Telltale clearly understood Batman as a beloved character and then used that to turn it on its head and fan or not, this is worth a look.