Video Game: Batman: The Telltale Series
Way back in 2016 Telltale studios released their episodic Batman game. With their current ongoing release of their second entry into the series, and the game’s release as one of the two free games of the month for January for PS Plus members, it seemed a fitting time to go back and take a look at this game and see just how well Telltale did with their first foray into the comic universe.
For those that are unaware, Telltale is a games developer who specializes in story driven games. Their past endeavors include games for The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Minecraft Story Mode. The games have little in the way of traditional game play with player input usually limited to selecting options in a branching dialogue tree. That’s not to say their games are boring; in the case of their Batman series there’s action aplenty.
Sadly action in the game is boiled down to that bane of the gaming industry: Quick-Time Events. QTE’s are considered some of the laziest forms of development in the gaming industry and essentially turn what should be a test of skill into a reflex test wherein the player must press a button or move the left stick in the direction indicated on screen to have the action occur. My biggest gripe with this combat mechanic in the game is that you’re often so busy watching for the next button prompt that you often miss what’s actually happening in the scene itself. For a series such as this one this style of combat seems fitting but still seems a little disappointing. But then again, as mentioned above, Telltale is all about the story elements. If you want amazing Batman combat then go check out the excellent Arkham series from Rocksteady studios.
So let’s talk about that story. This section will remain spoiler-free but I’ll make sure to let you know when the spoilers start slipping in. This five-episode game tells the tale of a still relatively new Batman as he struggles to gain the trust of the public and the Gotham City Police Department. What’s unique about this game that other Batman games don’t really do is that they shine a lot of the focus on Bruce Wayne as well. During the course of the game you spend just as much time as Bruce Wayne and as you do Batman. You might feel that that would be somewhat boring but this game is selling itself as the full Batman experience and you can’t have a true Batman experience without Bruce Wayne. As Bruce you get caught up into situations where you have to make crucial decisions, some of which will come back to haunt Batman, as well as decide how the public perceives Bruce’s alter ego. And to add a little more of an immersive element, dialogue decisions must be made in a snap; almost every choice in the game must be made within 5-10 seconds leaving little room for second guessing, just as in real life.
The actual story itself is very well done as well. During the first episode Bruce is helping pre-Two Face Harvey Dent to win his election as mayor of Gotham. While schmoozing at a party at Wayne Manor, Bruce must decide what kind of image to portray for Harvey and as to whether or not to accept the aid of the crooked mob boss Carmine Falcone. Decisions made at the very onset of the game continue to have ramifications felt all the way down in Episode Five. You truly get the sense that you are guiding Batman in his decision as to what kind of hero he wants to become, both in and out of the cowl. Later in the episode Penguin shows up and starts talking about a coming rebellion of the oppressed people in Gotham and you must decide how you will react to this new threat backed by a new group known as the Children of Arkham.
Alright this is pretty much all I can talk about without entering spoiler territory so consider this your official
As the story progresses your decisions affect those around you. Now I have only played through the game once at this point so I can only reflect on the choices that I made during that playthrough. I found it incredibly intriguing though to watch as your actions ultimately decided whether or not Harvey Dent would give in and slip into the madness of Two-Face, which I sadly can admit I allowed to happen (hey I didn’t want to let Catwoman get injured and put out commission or worse, killed).
Making Penguin a childhood friend of Batman was also another interesting choice which I rather enjoyed. I personally am a big fan of Hush as a character and Penguin’s character in this game mirrored Hush’s storyline and motives from the comics. In my opinion though, if they were going to mirror the Hush storyline I feel like they should have just made the character Tommy Elliot instead of Oswald Cobblepot. Sure Penguin has the name recognition, but you literally already had a character in Batman’s mythos who has the exact goals and motivations that they ultimately gave Oswald. And as much as I would like to say they could just do Hush in a future installment, by giving Penguin an identical storyline they’ve essentially locked themselves out of that opportunity for fear of gripes and frustration from gamers of simply retreading the same story.
--Massive Spoiler Warning!--
Lady Arkham. The big new baddie in the room. As soon as I finished Episode Three I remember gasping and/or yelling a bit when the big reveal finally came as to Lady Arkham’s identity. Vicki Vale has never been a villain in Batman before so this twist literally came out of nowhere and I loved it. I’m all for adding new depth and complexities to comic book characters that we haven’t seen before. I’m no comic purist who believes that the source material should never be altered (within reason. I’m looking at you Gotham). Her story may have been a fairly general revenge story but the sudden and steep descent into depravity that we see with Vale is shocking to say the least. Learning that she was not only tortured as a foster child but then coming back and murdering her foster parents just adds this extra level of insanity to her character and makes her all the more enjoyable.
I also particularly liked the new insights into Arkham Asylum that we learned from this game along with looks at other popular Batman villains such as Zsasz and Scarface. And somehow seeing Joker as a calm, non-psychotic patient was almost more unsettling than anything he's ever done before and I am very much looking forward to where they go with his character in the sequel.
Speaking of altering the source material, giving the Waynes a darker, more sinister backstory was a bold move. For this type of game though it worked. It’s easy to come up with reasons why the public shouldn’t trust Batman; he’s a literal madman dressing up as a bat and running around the rooftops at night. The challenge lies in giving them a reason to distrust Bruce Wayne, Gotham’s golden child. The story they wove worked because it was a believable, well-written look into an alternate definition of what it meant to be a Wayne.
--OK Spoilers Are Done--
While a very different type of Batman game from the ones that I have played in the past, this one was no less enjoyable. I found myself instantly engaged in the story and hesitant to make decisions on a whim knowing full well that they could come back to bite me in the ass later. The Rocksteady Arkham series were wonderful games, however Telltale’s Batman series captures what it truly means to be Batman.