I fell in love with episodic graphic adventure games with Telltale’s The Walking Dead and have played most of what they’ve produced since. The first season of Walking Dead is still my favorite of the bunch, but Tales from Borderlands and The Wolf Among Us are close behind. I’ve always enjoyed Telltale’s stuff, even Game of Thrones, which was limited by its source material (by that I mean you knew about certain events ahead of time from the show/books and knew your decisions would have no effect on certain characters since their fates are also well-known from the show/books) and, man, that rippling effect on the backgrounds looked atrocious. But I’ve noticed the “illusion of choice” more and more and have found games like Life is Strange and Until Dawn to do Telltale’s thing better than Telltale because those games offered a greater level of freedom. And that’s what I desire most from these episodic adventures: choices that not only matter, but branch off into captivating and unique stories. There’s nothing more deflating than finishing one of these games, calling up a friend to discuss your journeys and discovering that– no matter what– you both ended up in the exact same place.
So to take the edge off my more cynical/seasoned view, Chris will be contributing to the review as well since this will be his first ever Telltale experience and he can approach it with a greater since of wonder. Whereas he goes into the game with more curiosity, I approached a Batman game set in the first year of The Caped Crusader’s career with more concern. How much freedom could there be when you’re playing as Batman and we know the origin story so well? Why am I not playing as a Gotham cop with the choice to be clean or corrupt? Or, better yet, why not play as a goon who has to pick what super villain to hench for? Going through Batman’s first year doesn’t sound all that surprising for a die-hard fan and it’ll no-doubt mean the writers have to change certain elements just for the sake of changing them– and after seeing Zero Year, the Gotham TV series, and Batman: Earth One in just the past couple years, I’m fatigued from tinkering with the story of Batman’s early days.
Here’s what I think about it now that I’ve completed episode one…
On the Technical Side
Telltale has a new engine for this game and the graphics do look a lot cleaner, a lot smoother. But I still experienced a few scenes with frame-rate issues and overall gameplay remained relatively unchanged. There were more quicktime events that required the pressing of two buttons or a direction + a button, but that only took combat from “very easy” up to “easy.” A huge improvement to combat came in a later portion of the game where you could choose how Batman would infiltrate a building and the player is given two options for how to bring down each gangster. After making your final selections, the QTE (quicktime event) commenced and you would do the typical button-press when prompted, only it was much more satisfying. However, these combat ques still come off as pointless at times. There were many instances where I’d totally refuse to press a button when prompted and although I’d get a fail buzzer, Batman would go ahead and deliver the blow anyway with no repercussions. I think the more prompts you pass, the sooner you can deliver a “finishing blow” but my point is that combat is not all that challenging.
A Rocksteady-inspired Detective Mode segment was also part of the game’s offerings and while fun and adding much-needed variety, it wasn’t exactly rocket-science. In Detective Mode, players see a crime scene full of highlighted clues and you try to match the two clues that are likely connected by cause and effect. There’s really nothing like selecting giant scorch marks leftover from an explosion, connecting that to the smoking pile of entrails in the corner of the room, and your PS4 rewarding you with the trophy “World’s Greatest Detective.” I like the moments in the game where you can roam freely in a stage and examine your surroundings, but these moments are very few and far-between. I think there were only two such scenes in Episode 1, once with the detective mode and once with Bruce in a city park.
Basically, gameplay mechanics are the same you’ve come to expect from Telltale. Easy for anyone to pick up and featuring simple puzzles that can be solved quickly so you can get back to the story, which is the heart of a Telltale game.
Other new details include a “Crowdplay” feature where 6-12 individuals in the room with you can use a mobile device to vote on what choices you make, which means that the whole room is participating rather than just watching one individual play. Also, for a bit of fun customization, after the usual brightness settings are in place you have the option of picking the color of the Bat-Tech scene throughout the season (five episodes). I gave parts of the suit and the Batcomputer a purple hue in keeping with the current DC Rebirth costume (the PS4 controller’s light, unfortunately does not change to the color you picked for the tech and remains bright blue). Lastly, the game will feature periodic updates with behind the scenes videos titled “Batman: Unmasked” which could be interesting.
I think episode one is a decent start to the season, but I didn’t walk away from it with the sense of excitement I had from other Telltale games perhaps because I’m so overly familiar with the story being told. The first half of the game, gameplay-wise, was kind of dull and I felt incredibly bored with the Bruce Wayne missions. It wasn’t until the mid-point Batman detective-mode scene that I started to feel engaged in what was happening. From then on I wasn’t bored again, I was hooked. Searching for clues was a simple task, but it was enjoyable, choices felt like they were more important, and combat became increasingly intricate as well as entertaining to watch.
As for the tale… It is the Year One story we’ve seen a dozen times with tinkering here and there, but for the most part it’s probably going to hit all the same beats you know. In episode one we see Bruce endorsing Harvey Dent in the upcoming election (he’s already DA and is running for Mayor, which is new and honestly makes more sense because who has actually seen a District Attorney election in real life?), Carmine Falcone is controlling Gotham’s underworld, and Catwoman just started bumping into Batman for the first time. Been there, done that.
For the newer elements making this version more unique we have:
- A potential new Wayne Memorial Hospital that’s about to replace the outdated Arkham Asylum
- A mystery involving the Wayne family
- Maybe the most surprising thing: Bruce’s long-lost friend, Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot has come back into Bruce’s life.
This “Oz” character looks more like David Tennant than Danny DeVito, is British like the Rocksteady portrayal, and is a bit of a brawler. He’s Penguin in name only, which I dislike, but I very much like the idea of him and Bruce growing up together. It reminds me of a line from Batman Returns where Max Shreck says, had things gone differently, Bruce and Oswald would’ve been buddies in prep school.
There are a number of other characters with aesthetic changes as well, but they’re pretty minor by comparison and their personalities still ring true. Alfred has a full head of hair and no mustache, Vicki Vale is a brunette, Harvey Dent is friggin’ huge (like Bane big), and Falcone is fat and bald (and using the Nolan pronunciation for his name rather than the Gotham TV one– which was one of the few good ideas Gotham had). Overall the character designs are nice and the world of Gotham feels appropriate enough, albeit a little cleaner than expected. Telltale even threw in the Batman Begins monorail! However, I do hope beyond hope that Telltale throws us a curveball and we get something like a Harvey who never becomes Two-Face or an option to actually save him! That’s a story I haven’t seen: what would Batman’s war on crime look like if Harvey had never fallen?
As for Batman himself, he looks excellent and Bruce is also good (maybe a little reminiscent of FX’s Archer). What’s bad is the way Bruce is presented. Not only did I find his sections of the game to be a bit dull, but his characterization felt…off. I like to view Bruce in three parts: Batman, Public Bruce, and Private Bruce. Telltale’s game seems to be lacking a Private Bruce. He’s the same in the cave as he is at the podium of a press conference. Troy Baker (excellent in every other Bat-game from LEGO to Arkham) doesn’t differentiate the voice at all between public/private and the way the lines are delivered is so laid back that it just didn’t feel right to me at all. This is a Bruce who sends texts like “What’s up?” when Alfred has something urgent to tell him. It’s a Bruce who calls Alfred “Al.” It’s a Bruce who says everything with such levity that no matter what I pick him to say, he often comes off as an impostor. And much of the time the spoken dialogue would deviate a great deal from the dialogue option I selected. For instance, I wanted Bruce to speak with authority after analyzing some data with Alfred. So I chose “It’s not a coincidence.” but what he says is a high-voiced “You think it might have something to do with the break-in? That can’t be a coincidence!” I wanted certainty, not doubt. And avoid choosing “silence” as an option, that’s just going to play out very awkwardly.
Playing as Bruce was aggravating for me. Batman, on the other hand, was a blast. The combat animations were slick and interrogating thugs was also cool because you are often given the option of going too far with your techniques or not far enough. Getting too brutal could get you in trouble with Alfred, the police, or the public, but it might also get you the information you desperately need. While I feel that Telltale failed to capture the complexity of Bruce Wayne, I think they did a fine job of presenting a novice Batman trying to figure out what kind of myth he wants the citizens of Gotham to believe. As for the Bat-voice, Telltale went with a voice-modulator like what we saw back in Batman v. Superman.
When it comes to the choices in the game, the big thing I said I was looking for in a Telltale game… it’s still too early to tell. Sorry. I’ll have a better idea of what kind of impact my decisions have and I’ll go into more detail on that account in reviews for the next four episodes. But for now I’ll say that Chris and I tried to take The Caped Crusader in different directions on our individual play-throughs and, from the sounds of it, we ended up in exactly the same place for when Episode 2 rolls around.
You’ll hear Chris’s opinion on Episode 1 next! And since this is his first Telltale game, he’ll be able to offer a totally fresh perspective to readers that’s free of my awful cynicism. My score for Episode One? With 1/10 being awful, 5/10 being average, and 10/10 being absolutely amazing, I’d give this a 6.5/10.
As Andrew mentioned above, this was my first time playing a game by Telltale. Based on the conversations I had with Andrew and fans, I knew to expect a completely different kind of gameplay experience than I was used to with the Batman: Arkham games, and that’s exactly what I got!
The game starts you off as the Dark Knight and walks you through how the gameplay works, which I found useful as someone who was new to this series. There’s not much to it, you just have to press a button, or combination of buttons, that you see flash on the screen during combat.
Things got more interesting later on in the game when you got to use Batman’s detective skills. This part of the game felt similar to the detective mode that was made popular in Batman: Arkham Origins and Batman: Arkham Knight. You get to walk around freely, scan for clues, and then put together different pieces of evidence to figure out what happened at the scene of the crime.
In between being Batman, you get to play as Bruce Wayne. I enjoyed being able to choose how I wanted Bruce to react in certain situations, and the entire game feels like an interactive comic book.
Overall, I really enjoyed playing Batman by Telltale. The experience was fresh and exciting for me, and the story, which is the most important part of the game, kept me interested and wanting more with its cliffhanger ending. I’d give it a score of 8/10.
What did you all think of Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 1? Let us know in the comments below!