Batman. The Bat. The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne. Reinvented by many a filmmaker, comic writer and games company over the years, but somehow his story still manages to hold interest for both creators and fans alike. As a hero with a heavy reliance on technology he fits easily into the role of a game protagonist, his expansive skillset and collection of gadgets making taking on the role of this caped crusader a thrilling and varied experience. The Arkham series allowed players to step into the shoes of Batman the action hero, but it (like many adaptations of Batman) didn’t have a whole lot to say about Bruce Wayne. We know what kind of choices Batman would make in his fight for justice, but what about Bruce Wayne? What would Bruce do? Masters of choice-driven games Telltale have taken on the challenge of answering these questions in their latest title Batman: The Telltale Series. But can they do it? Or have they bitten off more than they can chew?
Personally, I’ve never cared much for Bruce Wayne. We all know his origin story: orphaned as a young boy, his parents murdered in front of him, an inherited fortune and legacy that puts him very much in the public eye while he tries to maintain his secret identity as Batman, vigilante of justice. He’s the classic brooding hero. He rubs shoulders Gotham City’s rich and famous, some of whom also maintain some occasionally villainous secret or not-so-secret identities and who have turned Gotham into a hotbed of crime and depression. It’s an almost dystopian world at war, where the police are losing control and the criminals can be free to play. This is the world Telltale’s Batman lives in too, and we’re shown it right from the very start: this is not a story for kids. This is some gritty stuff.
Telltale excel at telling deep and complex character-driven stories and here they have a whole host of familiar names to choose from, all of whom come with their own intricate combinations of motivations and personalities. This fresh start has Bruce following mayoral candidate and friend Harvey Dent as he attempts to win the hearts of the people, and it’s up to you how Mr. Wayne approaches this task. Will he remind Gotham of his parents and the inspirations they were, or will he play up the clueless rich boy persona for the media in order to distract them from Batman? In true Telltale style, the choices you make will influence your relationships with Gotham’s more powerful members, as well as the public perception of both Batman and Bruce Wayne. As this is only episode one it’s hard to know how much these choices will influence future events, but there seems to be some promise there. Plus, it’s nice to see Batman/Bruce talking out his issues with his rivals instead of immediately punching them in the most convenient non-lethal area.
Not that the action sequences aren’t there. Fight scenes are navigated as quick time events (as is the Telltale way) and when they work they’re a great way of keeping things fast-paced without shifting the focus of the game from narrative to combat. The problem is, they don’t often work. During review, I experienced lag that made getting through fight scenes almost impossible and endlessly frustrating. I was failing sequences before I was even presented with the buttons I’d be required to press. For quick time events to work, the game needs to run smoothly, and this is where this game fails – it doesn’t often run smoothly. It’s easy to see what it could be: Telltale’s classic cell-shading textures bring the gritty streets of Gotham to life, but this is lost when you’re forced to turn the graphics quality down to get the game to run at an acceptable speed. Some of the in-game items were loading with black lines across them that left the whole thing looking unfinished and blacked out some important props entirely.
Outside of the quick-time events, I’d almost be willing to forgive the fact that the game runs slowly to play through this story. Added to the usual Telltale trademarks are some new detective abilities that have Batman reconstructing a crime scene and connecting clues to piece together events and trace criminals, a mechanic which easily fits in with the feel of the game. Moments like this show what the game could have been and what it still may be in future chapters, and there’s something to be said for the fact that even though it was an unplayable mess at times, I still wanted to find ways to play the unplayable. There’s so much promise here, and my hopes are high for episode two.
“It was fun. Yes, it’s only a 6, and we’re getting in to the mediocre-range of numbers here, but anything rated a 6 was still enjoyed by the reviewer. It’s still got more going for it than going against it.”
DISCLAIMER: Many players (myself included) have experienced an abundance of technical performance issues with the PC version of this game. Some have reported unexpected shutdowns (if they managed to get the game running at all), some game-breaking glitches that can only be fixed by reloading an old save file and some (like me) have encountered serious lag and frame-rate issues. Unfortunately, due to Telltale’s trademark focus on quicktime events, these issues can pretty much make the game unplayable, and recent reports suggest some of these problems might have carried over to the PS4 and Xbone versions of the title. Because of these issues the game’s score has suffered, and I hope future patches and episodes manage to fix these problems so that it can get the treatment it deserves.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Batman — The Telltale Series for PC.