Batman – The Telltale Series (Episode 1)

Batman – The Telltale Series (Episode 1)

Batman!  Yep…yet another Batman game.  So what makes this one special?  Well, if you’ve ever played an episodic game from Telltale, you know they’re heavily focused on point and click gameplay with an emphasis on narrative.  Batman is no different in this regard, which sets the stage for a much less action oriented iteration of Bats than most gamers are accustomed to.  Telltale balances this out by giving us substantial time as Bruce Wayne, which provides a unique spin on the Dark Knight’s video game legacy.  Does this deviation pay off?  Stay tuned to find out!  For this initial installment, I’ll be looking at the game features as a whole, with a more specific dive into episode 1.

Genre: Point and Click
Developed by: Telltale Games
Published by: Telltale Games
Release date: Episodic release from August 2nd through December 13th, 2016
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed on PC)
Price at time of review: Episode One FREE on Steam, $24.99 USD for the full series

Batman Features

  • QTE based combat: The game doesn’t avoid physical conflict, and in fact has a good amount of it done in Quick Time Event style
  • Narrative based experience: The story frequently takes the driver’s seat.  Both Bats and Bruce interact with the world on a more personal level than a batarang
  • Get to know Gotham: Telltale’s signature point and click style allows the player to navigate iconic Gotham locations at their leisure
  • Canon free story: Telltale’s Batman will be instantly recognizable to any fan. The story though is brand new and Telltale’s own spin on the classics

Story & Setting

Batman – The Telltale Series is AAAAAALLLLLL about the story.  Episode 1 shows us familiar faces such as Harvey Dent and Oswald Cobblepot (or just “Oz” to Bruce).  The episode starts off alternating scenes between Bats and Bruce and immediately shows a strong desire to dig into the inner recesses of the Dark Knight.  It’s soon revealed that our initial Batman time occurs as flashbacks of stopping a heist earlier that night. Bruce recalls these events as he and Alfred have a heart to heart before Mr. Wayne hosts the political gala of the season.

batman-1

The heist in question starts off as a squad of masked intruders in what looks like your ordinary, run of the mill high tech robbery.  Soon after, we’re introduced to a certain cat burglar interested in an odd souvenir. That naturally sets off a chain of further events. Dialogue and QTE combat rule the day as Batman.  As Bruce Wayne steps into the light, we’re thrust into a fundraiser for Harvey Dent in his bid to become the next Mayor of Gotham.  As you might expect, the social event is not entirely without a hitch.  Bruce is tasked with navigating through several conversations.  I’d reveal more of the story, but…well I can’t nail it down exactly.  You’ll see what I mean below.

The episode continues to lay the foundation for many other characters. Story is a tremendous strength for this episode.  Bruce Wayne is compelling and Batman is convincing because of the narrative, rather than violence.  I didn’t know how much I wanted to be Bruce in a game until now.

walk-in-the-park

Just a billionaire out for a stroll

Gameplay

Telltale is well known for point and click games.  If you’re familiar with Telltale, there’s not much left to describe for you.  For everyone else…as noted, combat occurs in QTE style, with a heavy emphasis on arrow keys.  Episode one makes perfecting your feats difficult, with some inputs needing high levels of precision (and reaction time).  However, successful fights don’t require perfection and I found that “winning” in battle was relatively easy. WARNING: Fight scenes contain very graphic depictions of violence

While I feel that the combat is done quite well, I’d be remiss in saying that this part of the gameplay is a major strength.  QTE fights often rely on attempting to create a cinematic feel to heighten the drama of specific experiences.  This becomes a double edged sword for Batman.  Fighting is intensely cinematic.  However, the player is stuck in a perpetual “react” mode where they often have a diminished sense of control compared to other combat gameplay styles. Sure I can’t make Batman look silly by doing something idiotic (like handsprings 13 times in a row around a very confused enemy).  And that’s great for character immersion.  This is a dark and bloody game, and my impromptu dance routine isn’t welcome here.  But again, you never feel totally in control of the fight.

batman-2

Contrasting this are the more “Bruce” elements of the game.  Conversations carry a surprising amount of weight.  Highlighting this is the presence of a timer that creates a sense of urgency to any responses you need to make in conversation.  Silence is not always golden, and you’ll feel a twinge of panic if you wanted to say something but ran out of time. Other characters react to your choices and you’re frequently reminded that “____ will remember that.”  Did you piss off a mob boss (like I did)?  He’ll remember that.  Being a billionaire socialite trying to do the best he can for Gotham does NOT come with a lot of easy answers.  And Batman – The Telltale Series does a great job of making you #dealwithit firsthand.

Exploration is a traditional point and click.  You walk around environments and see what they have to offer, and maybe even do a little detective work.  This comes in the form of collecting evidence and linking pieces together to create a crime scene narrative.  A slightly more gruesome bit of work than the usual point and click, but it works well and adds another facet to the Batman experience.  Environments are incredibly detailed and Telltale does a good job of showing you what’s important to make the story progress.  To make it work, there’s a balance to be had between hand holding and clicking every leaf or sidewalk crack for the obscure thing the game wants you to see.  Telltale  has a bit of experience in the genre and manages to navigate this fence well.

It could be argued that Telltale games rely on somewhat niche gameplay, but it’s their niche and they still reign supreme in this corner of the gaming world.

bruce-and-oz-3

Bruce Wayne in “action”

Visual & Audio

The first time I remember hearing the term “cel shading” it was in a lengthy write up I stumbled on regarding why Wind Waker was such a deviation from the past.  Batman’s art style is immediately recognizable as having copious use of cel shading.  This technique in the wrong hands can turn things “cartoony.”  Telltale is NOT the wrong hands thankfully. Through the use of lighting and detail in their environments I often felt like I was looking at a comic come to life.  The filth of Gotham is captured well, as is the opulence of Wayne Manor.

For a story driven experience, visuals MUST be spot on to deliver the depth of interactions.  Character animations I’m happy to say are right where I’d want them to be.  Bruce Wayne’s face conveys an often alarming sense of emotion. Which to be candid made him way more fun to play for me than Batman.  Other characters respond in emotionally accurate ways to your responses which delivers on the immersion.  Spoiler alert, but to illustrate what I mean: during a conversation in which Bruce must decide to “play along” (or not) with the mob to help a friend, I chose to let that jerk know exactly what I thought of him.  Telltale has the reactions become increasingly frustrated with me and then turn threatening. Dialogue trees are difficult beasts to manage, but conversations felt organic, in large part due to convincing voice acting.  The timer limiting your opportunity to select Bruce’s response helps ensure that there’s never any dead time to kill the flow of a conversation.

Audio is nearly as good as the character renderings.  Bruce/Batman steals the show (thank God).  Alfred, Catwoman and many others are done very well.  Some characters do approach over the top (Harvey Dent) and characters with bit roles certainly show less depth than primary pieces.  Batman’s voice goes through a modulator which changes it from Bruce’s.

9
Summary: Batman is a superb game in the point and click style. The overall narrative and Bruce Wayne driven interactions in Episode 1 really pull you behind the cowl and are a unique take on a fan favorite. The art style sells the whole thing and the majority of vocal performances add a strong sense of life to what's happening. The heavy use of QTE does feature in the replayability score as it severely limits the possibilities in combat situations. Batman or Telltale fans should get their money's worth at the current price for the full series. I rated this review as I did, due to episode 1 currently being free. You can't beat that. And it should give players a great idea on whether the rest of the game is worth it for them.
Gameplay (8)
Visual/Audio (8.5)
Replayability (6)
Story and setting (9)
Pricepoint (10)
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