Following the remarkable commercial and critical success of the superb 2012 video game adaptation of The Walking Dead (based in the comic book universe rather than that of the TV show, though not following the main storyline or characters of either series), Telltale Games seemed to have settled on a winning formula, with games that featured stunningly dramatic narratives alongside satisfying – albeit simple – interactive elements including quick time events and basic point and click style object combining and puzzle solving scenes. The dialogue driven scenes, with tantalising touches whereby you’d be told if a character would remember a certain choice, were compelling and gave a – perhaps illusory at times – feeling that you were shaping the narrative and having a completely unique experience.
Batman: The Telltale Series doesn’t deviate much from this approach, though it does add some excellently thematic touches that feel right at home with the DC character and his universe. It’s the story of Bruce Wayne’s struggle to maintain order and composure during Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign, with a number of devastating events causing chaos for Bruce along the way. Characters such as Catwoman, Penguin, Jim Gordon, Vicki Vale all make an appearance, along with a few other familiar faces from Gotham City.
It’s brilliantly written, as you’d expect, with a fantastic sense of escalation and drama unfolding across its five episodes. Each episode ends with a gripping cliffhanger (even the final episode, though wrapping up many loose ends, gives us a tantalising glimpse at what’s on the way in the sequel, with a cleverly written line from a major character who only features briefly in this initial series). Though many fight scenes are little more than timed button presses and quick pushes of the stick in a specified direction (yep, that’ll be the aforementioned quick time events), there’s also several scenes where Batman gets to plan an attack on several enemies by scanning the environment and choosing which objects or furniture to use as he takes out multiple bad guys in sequence.
Other stages see Batman linking multiple pieces of evidence together to reconstruct a crime scene, which truly does feel like you’re playing the part of DC’s so-called World’s Greatest Detective™ in a way that’s rarely explored in video games. Speaking of little seen approaches to Batman in video games, there’s a refreshing focus on just being Bruce Wayne for much of the game’s running time; you’ll also need to choose between Batman’s presence or Wayne’s for a number of key scenes, which changes the way that certain characters react to you.
It’s all very smartly done and feels entirely true to the Batman mythos, even though there’s a number of key, huge twists that are entirely original to this series. The voice acting is superb and the score is absolutely fantastic. There’s a few technical issues – I had one scene that played out with a character being completely invisible for an entire conversation – but for the most part the visuals are really well done, using the trademark Telltale cel-shaded style. It fits the comic book adaptation perfectly. Though there are scenes of somewhat extreme violence and gore, the comic book stylings do somewhat – and thankfully – take the edge off of the potentially shocking brutality.
There’s an obsession in Batman fiction – movies, video games and the comics themselves – with re-enacting the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. At this stage, it becomes almost an exercise in tedium and – when you realise it’s happening yet again – an opportunity to roll your eyes. Yet here, there’s a fresh spin put on the scene that makes it entirely integral to the plot of the story being told, giving Bruce a new moral struggle to deal with in the present day. It’s great to see something new done with Batman, even though a little bit of old ground does need to be stomped on somewhat.
It’s a wonderfully compelling series and one that doesn’t outstay its welcome; though each episode is pretty brief, the five episode series as a whole feels like just the right length. It’s incredibly eventful too – both Bruce Wayne and Batman are put through the wringer emotionally and physically, with an awful lot of supporting characters also being changed fundamentally by the end (some predictably – hello Harvey Dent – and some not so much. I’d highly recommend Batman: The Telltale Series to anyone with even a passing interest in the Dark Knight – especially if they’re up for a well told, gripping thriller that takes in an awful lot more in the way of politics and personal relationships than you may expect from the usual vigilante action of a man dressed as a bat.
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