It’s been a week of DC Comics related releases. One hasn’t hit the mark for critics. Another has been inexplicably released to home video with a cut longer than the wait for a blood test and is just as entertaining (you can read my thoughts on Batman Vs Superman’s failings here). So it’s left to video games once again to produce an entertaining folly for Gotham’s favourite son.
Thankfully, as I’m not really a comic book guy (I keep saying this but I get the feeling no one believes me), I’m not as tarnished by the expectations of 70 years of canon, ideas or accurate characters. Which is why I feel that Telltale have probably done the most entertaining Batman story that we’ve seen in recent gaming times. However it’s not without its faults which are, sadly, all down to the game devices. So, in an unusual turn, I’m going from negative to positive in this review.
Telltale’s key formula hasn’t changed since they struck gold with The Walking Dead Season 1. On the one hand why should they change it? It works, it requires very little costly redesign between titles and can be adapted to a multitude of franchises with simplicity. It hasn’t changed as the generation of consoles have progressed which might be why people are more down than usual on the formula. It hasn’t progressed with newer features or ideas. Again, this raises even more questions. What should be changed, what would that do to the way the game plays and its accessibility, is there anything that would actually benefit the Telltale formula or just make it bloated and incohesive? The short of it is that the style is tried, tested and possibly a little tired but with the most successful contemporary to the style (DONTNOD’s Life is Strange) manipulating the world rather than character choices, it’s definitely open for improvement.
The positives with not changing is the refinement in the engine. The cel shaded graphics are quite a staple for Telltale games but Batman is probably the one game that benefits the most from it. It’s something we already artistically associate with a comic, and it’s incredibly clean, which only highlights when areas and characters are not. It owes a lot to Telltale’s experience with The Wolf Among Us that Bruce Wayne and Gotham is excellently realised with it’s dark gothic aspect mixed with realism.
There’s also the fighting sequences which, compared to the last Telltale games I played (Minecraft Story Mode and Game of Thrones) feels a lot more fluid. There’s motion in the fight sequences that continue even when faced with quicktime events. This helps the flow of the fight and means you can and will miss some of them, which only gives the action more kudos. It’s only sad that there isn’t more of it in this first episode. Whilst establishment is key for the story, there is an awful lot of dialogue and it’s interspersed with choices. Possibly there’s a bit too much or could have been refined.
It’s worth it for the story though. Telltale have been given full freedom to create their own story and it is an incredibly interesting one. Taking a mix of cues from the comic book style but with Gotham (the TV series) like characterisations, the story questions the background of the Wayne family and their relation to Gotham. How their fortune and reputation was earned, what that means for Bruce Wayne and how much he truly knows about his family’s past. After negotiating the choices between harm vs good, playing god to the decisions that will affect the criminal underworld and having to juggle Bruce Wayne’s philanthropic ambitions with his friend and mayoral candidate Harvey Dent, you certainly come away wanting to know more. It’s a great narrative that explores something different about Batman that can’t be solved by technology or blind rage and punching.
To establish this, the large amounts of dialogue do make this a motion comic at times rather than a game, and that’s fine if you’re in to that. Just don’t expect this to be a swing fest like Rocksteady’s outings. This does allow for some intriguing set pieces in the game. There’s a great riff on the detective mode with piecing together the events of a crime scene. There’s also a great drone sequence where you can plan an incursion. The game takes advantage of the unique tools available to Batman.
Whilst it’s entertaining and the characters are all well realised in the story and in their art design, the game does lack a certain pace that is hinted at in the action. The familiarity that’s inherent in the Telltale game structure does negate some of the fun because it’s something we’ve done many times before, however the game does utilise the abilities of Batman to create different things, if only in set pieces. But this is an entertaining start to an intriguing Batman story that we have never seen before.
Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode 1
- An interesting story
- Well defined art style and movement in fights
- Fun set pieces with a Batman twist.
- All to familiar play style
- Slow to get in to the narrative
- Very dialogue heavy at times, like a motion comic