“A Different Kind of Dark Knight”: Batman: The Telltale Series Review

Posted in Kulturecade by - December 21, 2016

Telltale Games has tackled grim comic book material before with their ongoing series based on The Walking Dead, but Batman is still new territory for the developer. Expectations were always going to be high; Batman has been around for over 75 years, so the pressure to tell a new, original Batman story without retreading familiar ground was probably massive. The good news is that Batman: The Telltale Series is a very different kind of Batman story. The not so good news is that its efforts to be different can sometimes prove detrimental to the story itself.

One thing the game definitely has going for it is a plethora of solid performances across the board. Lead actor Troy Baker may be a bit overexposed at this point, but he manages to perform a masterful balancing act of making Bruce Wayne and Batman sound very different from one another while still having a common inflection. Indeed, this series actually puts the spotlight on Bruce Wayne himself more than his alter-ego, and the experience is better for it.

Every supporting character gets their moments to shine, as well. While Catwoman and Two-Face are still somewhat familiar versions of their past incarnations, their relationships with both Bruce Wayne and Batman are smartly recontextualized in a number of instances. The Penguin also has a history with the Wayne family that provides the basis for a good arc over the course of the entire season.

There are some weak links in the mostly solid cast, however. Later episodes include cameos from other Batman villains, and while I will not divulge major spoilers in this review, suffice to say that their appearances were fun but entirely unnecessary, even distracting from the main plot at times. The biggest issue is, unfortunately, the main villain of the entire game, the leader of a shadowy group called the Children of Arkham. Players are led to believe that this character is entirely new, but without giving their identity away, they are actually someone who should be recognizable to most people familiar with Batman lore. The twist reveal of their identity lands with more of a thud than a pop and left this reviewer wondering why this character was positioned as the main antagonist at all if doing so required such drastic revision of their backstory. Perhaps an entirely original character would have been better.

Gameplay in Batman: The Telltale Series is exactly what you would expect from a Telltale game. Choose dialogue options, move around a room, do some light puzzle solving and occasionally complete an easy action sequence, then repeat. The action sequences are well choreographed and exciting, but the sole new addition to gameplay is an emphasis on examining crime scenes and doing rudimentary detective work. While these sections are never challenging, they do make the player feel more like Batman, even if they tend to be just a bit overlong. The gameplay is mostly smooth, but when the framerate drops, it drops to abysmal levels, making some scenes look like slideshows. These issues are not new to Telltale games, but their appearance here is disappointing nonetheless.

Despite a weak main villain and some technical issues, it is hard to stay mad at Batman: The Telltale Series. The game goes to great lengths to surprise the player and tell an engaging story, and it mostly succeeds. Even if some of those attempts fail to deliver, it is easy to appreciate the effort. Batman: The Telltale Series is a solid game overall that Batman fans and newcomers alike can enjoy, even if it is not one of Telltale Games’ finest offerings.

Final Say: Play It

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