Batman – The Telltale Series Review: Fresh take on the Bat
Telltale Games has been a pioneer of the episodic graphic adventure game genre and has been producing genre adaptations of beloved franchises like Back to the Future, Monkey Island, Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Borderlands for more than a decade. With Batman – The Telltale Series, Telltale Games looks to try its hand on the Batman franchise and make use of its decade long experience, update what worked in previous games and adapt its genre defining mechanics to Dark Knight’s own unique world.
Telltale has done a decent job integrating its 5-episode structure with what people expect from a Batman game and have come up with a game where none of its staple gameplay mechanics feel out of place.
Batman – The Telltale Series follows the same ‘Choose Your Adventure’ gameplay template that has been the staple of all Telltale game titles. It uses gameplay that is equal parts Dialogue Decisions, Quick Time Events and basic Point and Click mechanics to progress the game.
These mechanics are used to different affect; each not only provides a different degree of control on Batman’s actions but also is applied in-game to change and mix-up the flow of the game.
Point and Click sections are staple of all traditional graphic adventure games and are used as a backbone for the gameplay elements of the genre; Batman – The Telltale Series is no different in this regard.
These sections allow players to take their time and explore their environments, learn different story elements and figure out plot details.
Batman – The Telltale Series goes even further with this mechanic, and uses point and click elements to add to Batman’s detective skills; by asking players to link clues together to construct a crime scene, as well as catering to Batman’s fighting techniques by allowing player to plan course of action before implementing a physical ambush.
These adaptions are a nice touch that not only serve to add to the variety of activities the player experiences, but also adapt familiar gameplay elements to the needs of Batman as a character, as well as his mythos.
Whenever the game decides to pick up the pace, players are given control of the action via Quick Time Events (QTEs) which requires them to press the designated buttons within a short time frame to successfully accomplish set pieces like brawling, grappling objects and chasing an enemy.
These Quick Time set pieces are the only segments in the game where players are shown a game over screen due to their actions, and are required to redo the QTE actions to proceed.
And lastly, Dialogue Decisions are usually employed to give player the agency to select through potentially branching narrative trails, in timed and tense situations, that can result in differences in character relationships, as well as how the game’s story takes shape and progresses.
The combination of these gameplay elements allows the game to decently pace its progress without bogging down in too much slow exploration or risk relentless action moments overwhelming the narrative.
However, Batman – The Telltale Series constantly repeats the pattern and order of dialogue decisions, quick time events and point and click segments in each of its 5 episodes, which makes things quite predictable with respect to its gameplay.
With respect to its narrative, it is important to realize from the start that Batman – The Telltale Series is set in its own world; it is not part of Rocksteady’s Arkham game series, nor is it beholden to the canon of the classic Batman Animated Series, the WB movies or even the comic book stories.
DC has given Telltale Games the creative freedom to take a bit of creative license with its precious intellectual property, which has allowed the developers to add a grounded quality to characters and an added complexity to many of the established relationships that dictate the mythos and history of Gotham City.
This gives the game’s narrative freedom to use its range of characters to properly service its story instead of being beholden to any established continuity or character limitations.
Batman – The Telltale Series cleverly plays around with player’s expectations and provides an engaging narrative that builds up Bruce Wayne and Batman’s relationship with Gotham’s Crime, Law Enforcement, Politics and Media; creating stakes that raise questions which receive a decent payoff by the game’s end.
Aside from Bruce Wayne/ Batman, the game features fleshed out characterizations of important NPCs like Alfed, Vicki Vale, James Gordon, Catwoman, Harvey Dent, Carmine Falcone and other familiar faces from Batman’s past and present.
Complementing the well written characterization of such iconic characters is the excellent voice acting and dialogue delivery that gives life to their words. Batman – The Telltale Series does not feature the usual Batman voice cast like Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Grey DeLisle or Tara Strong, but the new voice talent does not feel out of place and perfectly captures the feel of each character.
Even though Batman – The Telltale Series stands apart from most Batman media, the game’s presentation does take a lot of inspiration from several other sources. This includes matching the tone of the characters to the Arkham games and Animated Series, as well as the soundtrack taking a lot of cues from Hans Zimmer score from the Nolan films.
Similarly, the game also takes a lot of visual design cues from prior Batman appearances; this is especially true for most of the costume designs that are clearly inspired from the Arkham games.
However, these designs do create a clash of sorts with the deeply inky highlights of the cel-shaded art style that is staple of all Telltale game titles. While it may have created a good comic booky feel for adaptations of Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us, it is not indicative of the coloring and inking style used in contemporary Batman comicbook art.
It is also unfortunate that despite it being a cinematic game, Batman – The Telltale Series features a lot of inconsistencies with its presentation. From animation glitches and clipping, to uneven transitions and noticeable presence of duplicate NPCs, Batman – The Telltale Series has this lack of visual polish that is disappointing for a game that is fundamentally a compilation of in-game cutscenes.
Despite these presentation related kerfuffles, this is nothing new for the game engine used for Telltale titles, and while it creates immersion shattering moments, it doesn’t stop Batman – The Telltale Series from delivering on its promise of a good ‘Choose Your Adventure’ Batman story.
And while it features a good narrative structure that lasts a decent amount of time, Batman – The Telltale Series does not have the level of replay value as one might expect from a ‘Choose Your Adventure’ type graphical game.
While the decision-making aspect of the game offers a very welcome addition of tension and stakes, with each timed choice acting as an interesting moral dilemma, the changes it creates are much smaller and more superficial then what the game might have you believe.
With its branching pathways approach to story and character relationships, Batman – The Telltale Series takes a very choice versus destiny or free-will versus predestination approach to how it treats the results of choices made by the player. While the player decisions do affect things in-game, the change is mostly shallow and short-term, as the story eventually funnels back to the same narrative beats and reaches the same conclusion regardless of what player does.
Therefore, no matter how much the player character seems to deviate from a path, the game is designed in a manner to bring him back to its customary set piece, making multiple playthroughs less engaging and diverse. The fact that the QTEs are repetitive and the point and click puzzles are very simple does not help the matter as well.
Batman – The Telltale Series is not for those players who are looking for real time controls and a story that delivers significantly branching pathways and multiple endings like Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls. The game does not deviate much from the Telltale formula and does not offer enough innovation to dissuade those that did not enjoy Telltale Games’ previous offering.
While flawed and relatively unpolished, it is important to note that Batman – The Telltale Series is not a AAA game, and for its $30 asking price, it is a game that offers a fresh narrative that does a good job adapting traditional point and click mechanics to service Batman’s world, but also has definite room for improvement in its presentation and gameplay elements for its inevitable sequel.