Telltale has released a staggering number of episodic games based on popular franchises, with their latest, Batman: The Telltale Series, currently in the middle of its five episode release schedule. Two episodes, “Realm of Shadows” and “Children of Arkham,” have been released so far, and although we only have less than half of the story, these two chapters provide a pretty good picture of what the game as a whole is all about. Despite the Batman focus, this is still a Telltale game through and through, so if you’re not a fan of their particular brand of point-and-click adventure gameplay, this one probably isn’t going to suddenly make you a convert.
Still, if you’re a Batman fan, but are a bit hesitant about playing a Telltale game focused on the Dark Knight, you may still want to give Batman: A Telltale Series a shot. It has its fair share of issues (most of which crop up in every Telltale game) and isn’t quite on the same level of quality as the action-oriented Arkham series, but as a different kind of Batman video game experience, there is a lot to like about Telltale’s game, to the point where it’s an easy recommendation for any fan. Here’s why:
8. Bruce Wayne Is Given The Spotlight
One of the most surprising things about this game is that it puts you in the shoes of Bruce Wayne more than it does Batman, which may be a first for a Batman video game. Many Batman stories tend to focus more on the Dark Knight than they do the man under the mask so it’s a refreshing change of pace navigating the world of being a billionaire playboy who has to contend with a very public scandal. Donning the cowl is still the highlight of the game, to the point that when faced with the choice between vising the Gotham City mayor as either Bruce or Batman, I chose the latter just so I could spend more time in the Batsuit. Still, Telltale should be commended for taking the time to really develop Bruce Wayne as a character and not just make the game about Batman 100 percent of the time.
7. Catwoman Is Purrfect
Well, almost anyway. Catwoman, a.k.a Selina Kyle, plays a prominent role in the first two episodes of Telltale’s game and it must be said that she is much better characterized here than she has been in the Arkham series. Rocksteady’s games may have actually let you play as her, but their Catwoman felt more like eye candy than a worthy adversary/ally for Batman. In contrast, the scenes between Batman and Catwoman in Telltale’s game are highlights, as the writers nail the playful nature of their relationship and present a Selina with complex morals, as it’s never quite clear whether she’s going to help Batman or stab him in the back. It would be cool if one of the upcoming episodes let you play as Catwoman, but since that’s unlikely to happen, at least Telltale got the character right where so many others have not.
6. The Voice Acting Is Fantastic
While not quite on the level of the Arkham series (it’s hard to compete with the combined might of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill), Telltale’s Batman has a strong cast of voice talent across the board. In particular, praise must be heaped on voice acting superstar Troy Baker, who does his best Conroy impersonation as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Additional highlights include Laura Bailey as Catwoman/Selina Kyle, Richard McGonagle (Victor “Goddamn” Sullivan from the Uncharted series) as mob boss Carmine Falcone, and Enn Reitel as Alfred J. Pennyworth.
5. Better Storytelling Than The Arkham Games
To be fair, it’s difficult to compare the storytelling between these two franchises as one of them is focused on open-world game design, while the other is essentially an interactive graphic novel, but it is certainly refreshing to get a comprehensible story in a Batman game for a change. The Arkham games tend to take a kitchen sink approach to storytelling, where they toss in multiple characters and arcs that, while enjoyable on their own terms, tend to get in the way of the main narrative. In contrast, Telltale’s game reigns things in by focusing on a smaller cast of characters and telling a personal story about Bruce Wayne and his family’s legacy.
While Telltale’s game certainly falls back on a few familiar Batman story beats, it does an admirable job of telling a story that feels surprisingly fresh in many ways and most importantly, makes you want to play the next episode as soon as the previous one finishes. I never really cared all that much about seeing how the story ended in later Arkham games because it was simply more fun to fly around and beat up random bad guys, but I’m all-in for seeing where Telltale’s narrative is headed in future episodes.
4. Batman Is A Natural Fit For The Telltale Style
While Batman still suffers from the same issues that every game made with Telltale’s engine does (namely, incomprehensibly sluggish performance), the developer’s familiar art style is a great fit. Telltale’s games already look like a comic book come to life to begin with, so it’s only natural that their style would look good on something like Batman. According to Telltale, the game’s style is inspired by the art of DC comics artists Jim Lee, Greg Capullo, and Neal Adams.
Admittedly, some characters look better than others (Harvey Dent’s overly chiseled features and humongous frame just never feel right), characters in costume fare much better, as both Batman and Catwoman look fantastic. Doing comic book adaptations certainly plays to the strengths of Telltale’s engine and art design, so it’s only fitting that the company is releasing a Marvel game next year. If Batman: The Telltale Series is any indication, that one will be a looker too.
3. Tough Moral Decisions
Making hard decisions in a Telltale Game? You don’t say! Yes, it should come as no surprise that moral dilemmas and on-the-fly decision making are a major component of Batman: The Telltale Series, but this overly familiar design actually works really well with a character like Batman. After all, this is a character who is constantly toeing the line between doing what’s right and doing what’s necessary in his crusade against crime, and it turns out that it’s really difficult being presented with the kinds of moral dilemmas that Bruce Wayne/Batman would face in his everyday life.
So far, most of the decisions you have to make aren’t quite as intense as the ones presented in other Telltale games like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, but the game also doesn’t pull its punches either. A particularly harrowing decision late in Episode Two had me second-guessing myself quite a bit and demonstrated how well the Telltale structure fits into a Batman story. I can’t wait to see what other hard judgment calls I’ll have to make in future episodes.
2. It Actually Puts A New Spin On The Death Of Bruce Wayne’s Parents
I admit to rolling my eyes a bit when Telltale’s game brought up the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, as every modern Batman story is apparently contractually obligated to do. Imagine my surprise then when I quickly realized that Telltale was taking a much different approach to the well-worn origin story by adding in a new wrinkle that makes Bruce Wayne question everything he thought he knew about his parents. Without going into spoilers, the game’s story is very much concerned with the Wayne family and while I’m not really sure if I’m a fan of the dramatic tweaks Telltale is making to Batman’s origins, my hat’s off to them for having the audacity to take things in a bold new direction. We’ll see if it pays off for them as future episodes reveal more of the story.
1. It’s A Refreshing Departure From The Arkham Series
Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum ushered in a whole new era of superhero gaming back when it was released in early 2009 and the franchise remains one of the best in modern gaming. While still a great game in its own right, the most recent entry in the franchise, 2015’s Arkham Knight, showed that the Arkham series is beginning to get a bit long in the tooth and could benefit from some major design overhauls (Batman: Arkham VR is more of a tech demo distraction, so it doesn’t really count).
While Batman: A Telltale Series doesn’t exactly represent the next evolution in Batman games, it is refreshing to play a different kind of Batman game after so many years of playing Rocksteady’s games. If you’re finding that you’re burnt out on Batman games, you may still want to give Telltale’s game a shot because it has nothing to do with the Arkham franchise and shows that Rocksteady isn’t the only developer capable of making a good Batman game (although they’re still far and away the best in the business).