The caped crusader is in an interesting in-between place right now. With Christopher Nolan’s film series concluded for years now and Rocksteady’s game series closing on a rather sour note with Arkham Knight, it’s an open question where the Batman is going to get his next big break. True, Ben Affleck made a valiant attempt at portraying the dark knight in Batman v. Superman, but that film and Suicide Squad have merely served to cement the DC Murderverse Exteneded Universe as a joyless, try-hard slog. Bat-fleck seems to be the only silver lining out of that whole sordid idea (I think they should scrap and reboot the whole thing as a bad dream he was having), which begs the question, where does Batman, and his associated video games, go from here?
Straight to the world of Telltale Games and their stable of rebooted point-and-click adventures, apparently. Telltale have had enormous success with their hard-decision-based, story driven games over the past years, with particular acclaim for the artistic tour-de-force in The Wolf Among Us and the soul-crushing tragedy of their Walking Dead adaptation. While acknowledging the stellar quality of their word, I had to wonder how Telltale would fit their admittedly stalwart, step-by-step genre to a hero as dynamic as batman.
They also chose an interesting point in the dark knight’s career, placing him very early in his war on Gotham’s underworld. I understand that this is an enticing period to explore, but including Batman Begins, Arkham Origins and the bits and pieces in Batman v. Superman, this is the fourth reboot in a little over a decade based loosely on the Batman: Year One arc. Telltale’s series clearly takes inspiration from several comic and film sources, but it’s a little tiresome to have yet another Batman continuity to keep track of. It’s a shame they couldn’t slot it into Rocksteady’s Arkham series somewhere, but after Arkham Knight fouled up that otherwise stellar spinoff, from both a technical and gameplay perspective, perhaps it’s best to keep the Arkham book closed.
I think Telltale might have had the same idea, as the game begins with Arkham Asylum being vacated and condemned, and Bruce Wayne breaking new ground on the Thomas and Martha Wayne Memorial Psychiatric Hospital. This new hospital—and a sizeable amount of campaign contributions from Bruce—are wrapped up in District Attorney Harvey Dent’s bid for Gotham’s mayor seat. The only problem is incumbent mayor Hamilton Hill, a career politician as corrupt as they come, also happens to be in the pocket of Carmine Falcone, mob boss of Gotham’s biggest crime family. Falcone and Hill’s machinations make life difficult for both Bruce Wayne, who falls into the crosshairs due to his support of Harvey Dent, and for Batman, who is trying to maintain order during an increasingly grisly war between the mob and the GCPD.
It doesn’t help that a mysterious new cat burglar has appeared in Gotham and wastes no time in crossing paths with Batman. It’s a heady, multi-threaded web to kick off Telltale’s particular Batman story and I hope they have the writing chops to see it through to a satisfying conclusion. That’s going to be exciting to follow up on because Telltale’s Batman is just as chock full of tough decisions—both obvious and subtle—as any of their other games. In episode 1 it’s more about swaying conversations and exerting influence on supporting characters, but there is one major choice early on that determines Falcone’s attitude toward Bruce Wayne.
In fact I was surprised that for the majority of episode 1 you do more Bruce-ing than Batman-ing. Previous games haven’t really focused on the fact that Bruce Wayne is the mask and Batman is the secret identity, so I appreciated how much the game emphasizes keeping up appearances as Bruce and maintaining his affable but somewhat clueless billionaire playboy façade. That said you can cultivate a more thoughtful Bruce Wayne or even an immovable moral figure, but taking a stand as Bruce can really foul up your relationship with Dent, who is trying to be everything to everyone to get votes. Standing up for what’s right, no matter the personal cost, is a job for Batman.
The world’s greatest detective does get a few moments to shine in episode 1, albeit constrained to Telltale’s now-signature format of daisy-chained quick time events. The game kicks off with Batman thwarting a heist by Falcone’s thugs, and then meeting Catwoman for the first time, which escalates into a thrilling hand-to-hand duel on a rooftop. Later the game introduces a fairly straightforward crime scene investigation mechanic, where you examine a site, draw links between pieces of evidence, and reconstruct the crime in a holographic extrapolation very similar to the detective vision introduced Arkham Origins. This scene culminates with Batman interrogating a thug, allowing you determine just how much force is needed to loosen his tongue.
These moments were cool, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want a little more, you know, Batman in my Batman game. It makes me wonder how Telltale will strike the balance between superhero and alter-ego in the future episodes. It also raises questions about how appropriate the admittedly constrained point-and-click genre is for superheroes, especially one who is a freaking ninja-turned-vigilante. I love the social aspects of Bruce Wayne’s gameplay, but I chafe under the limitations of Batman’s quick time heavy combat. It makes me long for the freeform close-quarters battle of the Arkham series. I would love to see a hybrid of the two styles, which frankly makes me yearn for a Batman game developed by the Deus Ex people at Eidos Montreal.
Whether Telltale’s gameplay mix will remain compelling for Batman remains to be seen. What aren’t uncertain are the production values. Telltale brings their typical painterly style to the series but with graphic novel flair, sporting heavy outlines and bold, if not garish colors. The clean lines and high-contrast noir influence are a sharp and welcome change from the grimy, overly cluttered appearance of the Arkham games. The art style also takes inspiration from a number of sources. For example, Batman’s armor takes cues from the early batsuit designs from Arkham Origins, but the cowl sports the truncated ears of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Catwoman has her stylish red goggles from Arkham City, but her costume resembles Anne Hathaway’s more utilitarian jumpsuit from The Dark Knight rises, eschewing the slightly sexier, unzipped Arkham City catsuit.
I was also struck by how good the facial animation is in this game; the dangerous flirtatiousness sizzles between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, coming through with every subtle glance and smirk. And when Bruce furrows his brow in reflection, you really can see the weight of Gotham lying heavy on his caped shoulders.
The voice acting is top-notch too, although I’ll admit to some personal bias here. I’m sorry, but Kevin Conroy will always be the ultimate Batman to me. Troy Baker is…well Troy Baker in the role. He’s not bad by any stretch but he seems to play the same kind of character one too many times. I actually prefer Rodger Craig Smith (Ezio Auditore, Chris Redfield) and his raw, headstrong portrayal in Arkham Origins for a young Dark Knight. On the flip side, Troy Baker can now boast that he’s voiced Batman and the Joker, as he played the clown prince of crime in Origins, opposite Rodger Craig Smith. Laura Bailey is excellent as always, although I’m pretty sure this is the first time she’s voiced Catwoman, and Enn Reitel is an evocative new Alfred. Veteran anime actor Travis Willingham rounds out the cast as Harvey Dent.
In terms of music, they just can’t get away from that iconic Hans Zimmer soundtrack, with many of its cues closely emulated in the Telltale game’s music. I understand that Zimmer’s score is the Batman touchstone for an entire generation of new fans, but why not revisit the thundering John Williams theme from the 1989 Tim Burton film, or the excellent animated series music it inspired? In any case the game’s music is effective and at times understated, as long as you don’t mind the game sounding a bit like The Dark Knight.
All in all, the first episode of Telltale’s Batman series is a solid start that establishes several intriguing plot lines and offers some new takes on familiar characters. I definitely recommend picking it up…but who knows if you can get the darn thing running. To be fair this game isn’t as much a dumpster fire as the No Man’s Sky launch, but it’s still been plagued with optimization issues. I had to do some Steam forum sleuthing and install an obscure Windows Update hotfix just to get the game to boot. These issues are particularly galling for a game with such meager system requirements; a Telltale game shouldn’t need the actual Batcomputer to run smoothly. On the whole the first episode is great, but consider the technical caveats before pulling the trigger.
To be honest, I’d actually recommend waiting a few weeks before picking this up on PC, to give Telltale some time to iron out all the bugs. Once it’s all patched up though, this episode is a must-buy for longtime Batman fans. It’s an intriguing direction to take the dark knight, and a well-balanced opening for what hopefully will be a gripping superhero crime procedural.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Sean Colleli has been gaming off and on since he was about two, although there have been considerable gaps in the time since. He cut his gaming teeth on the “one stick, one button” pad of the Atari 800, taking it to the pirates in Star Raiders before space shooter games were cool. Sean’s Doom addiction came around the same time as fourth grade, but scared him too much to become a serious player until at least sixth grade. It was then that GoldenEye 007 and the N64 swept him off his feet, and he’s been hardcore ever since.
Currently Sean enjoys a good shooter, but is far more interested in solid adventure titles like The Legend of Zelda or the beautiful Prince of Persia trilogy, and he holds the Metroid series as a personal favorite. Sean prefers deep, profound characters like Deus Ex’s JC Denton, or ones that break clichés like Samus Aran, over one dimensional heroes such as the vacuous Master Chief. Sean will game on any platform but he has a fondness for Nintendo, Sega and their franchises. He has also become a portable buff in recent years. Sean’s other hobbies include classic science fiction such as Asimov and P.K. Dick, and Sean regularly writes down his own fiction and aimless ramblings. He practices Aikido and has a BA in English from the Ohio State University. He is in his mid twenties. View Profile