By Jarrod Jones. This is LOAD FILE, where — hey, we’ve seen ‘The Dark Knight’ too! This week, Jarrod reviews Telltale Games’ morally undulating ‘Batman’, out now for literally every console and platform you can imagine.
It’s almost tempting to ignore Batman: The Telltale Series, primarily because the premise itself seems like the worst idea in the history of worst ideas. Here lies a Batman game where you get to make the far-too grown up decisions of the Batman, but without the years of training and suppressed trauma that generally inform his suave-as-hell life choices. Batman may be the World’s Greatest Detective, but I’m not even the World’s Greatest Toenail Clipper, so what right do I — or you, for that matter — have in attempting to fill the cranial space of one of the greatest superheroes ever?
And here’s another punch to our soggy midsections — what kind of a good time waits for us when our Batman game can’t offer us the dexterity of the Arkham series? Or even that SNES Batman Forever game that was pretty much a shittier version of Mortal Kombat? The answer? All of the good time, actually, if it’s moral quandaries and snap judgments you’re looking for.
Telltale Games, the undisputed master of decision paralysis, is now in charge of the goddamned Batman, which means that we’re in for a particularly murky swamp of no-win situations, knee-jerk reactions, and stammering faux pas. If nothing else, Batman: The Telltale Series will hone your reactionary pluck into something that more closely resembles a steel-jawed resolve. Soon, you’ll be gallivanting around parties, impressing everyone with your ability to know which hands you just don’t shake. Because you’re Batman.
‘YEAR ONE’ IS THE MOST FUN (EVIDENTLY)
Batman: The Telltale Series is a contemporary redo of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, a rightfully appreciated DC Comics story that has already long been stripmined for all it’s worth (like most DC stories published around the same time Whitesnake was a thing). The familiar faces are there — pretty boy Harvey Dent, pretty deadly Selina Kyle, grumpy-bum Lieutenant Gordon, your gross uncle Carmine Falcone — but Telltale splices the tried and true with characters cherry-picked from other Batman tales.
Vicki Vale turns out to have the most vital moments in this first episode (titled “Realm of Shadows”) as the plucky reporter looking into corruption within Gotham City, with Bruce Wayne usually about five minutes behind her as far as the time of day is concerned. (Come on, Bruce, keep up!)
The dialogue is primarily phony tough guy posturing and it’s dramatically tin-eared in an earnest, Batman Begins sort of way, but it’s malleable enough to make your choices feel like they’ll actually amount to something. In fact, certain sequences leave behind tantalizing variables that make you want to replay the episode almost immediately. It features slick cel animations akin to Treyarc’s pretty killer Ultimate Spider-Man game from 2005, but it’s the painterly colors that give Batman that nigh-cinematic autumnal feeling, like a mid-career Woody Allen movie only with far more broken arms.
And that’s the funny thing about Batman — it’s far more violent than I thought it was going to be, and it also has far more of that naughty language that always sounds so juvenile in a superhero story. Bruce Wayne (voiced by Troy Baker, of all people) is wound tight enough to snap, leaving pools of blood for Alfred to clean up all over Wayne Manor. When I played, Bruce was the strong, silent type who kept his mouth shut no matter what insane things people said to him at the time, which left plenty of room for characters like Oswald Cobblepot, who I guess is canonically English now (because Arkham) to indulge in the game’s PG-13 carnage.
MAN OF STEEL (RESOLVE)
The moment I knew Telltale was serious about immersing us into the nightmare monster truck rally that is the Batman’s brain was when it asked me to select the color of my Bat-tech. Choosing from four different selections — basic-ass blue, Sinestro Corps yellow, Tropicana orange, sumptuously purple — we were given a unique perspective on the Dark Knight that I had never once considered: just how does he decide to color those wonderful toys?
I went with purple, primarily because I was anticipating the game’s investigation sequences to look and feel identical to the shiny holographic extravaganza of the Arkham series’ Detective Mode, and blue would have only made me feel like Telltale was openly borrowing from Rocksteady instead of cooking up a distinctive experience of its very own. My decision proved to be the right one, because holy moley, Telltale’s investigation sequences are damn-near identical to Rocksteady’s. (Also my choice of hue revealed that I share more in common with Catwoman than just our mutual appreciation for leather-bound rough play.)
The slight difference here is that Telltale’s Detective Mode makes the player “connect the dots” by lining up a sequence of events that amount to the horrific crime you’re currently investigating. That’s practically ingenious compared to Arkham Origins‘ “find the red bit and then scan the red bit” gumshoe shenanigans, but considering the environments only allow you to see so much — Telltale likes its fixed camera angles — there’s only so many ways to screw it all up. Maybe that’s the point. I mean, we are the Batman, so why shouldn’t the detective sections be a breeze?
I know that I’ve been drawing comparisons to the Arkham games, but that’s because it’s practically impossible to not think about them when you’re put in a situation that wisely flips the script on Arkham‘s Predator missions but removes almost all the agency that came with them. When you’re in control of Batman, he moves with the grace of a Queen’s guard with an exceptionally large hockey stick up his bum; there’s hardly any freedom of movement, and even when the game lets you plan your melee attacks, there’s zero urgency to them — you chart your wanton violence via an oh-so timely drone that will hover there like a good murderous boy until you finally decide whether you want to put Goon A’s head through the wall, or merely crush it under the weight of your boot. Bet you’ll never once feel like you’ve actually accomplished anything.
Which is fine, because this is a Telltale game, and that means the bulk of the gameplay is found in steering your character down one of maybe six roads towards its inevitable outcome. The emotionally-charged minefields that are your day-to-day conversations are really the only reason you’ll want to play Batman: The Telltale Series, because the rest of it will make you feel like kid who scraped his knee in the race and dad came to carry you to the finish line. Makes for a pretty picture, but damn if it doesn’t bruise the ego. (Those quicktime action moments? They don’t matter at all — you can stop pressing buttons whenever you want, and it seriously doesn’t matter in the least.)
YOU’RE BRUCE WAYNE, THE PRINCE OF GOTHAM
“Realm of Shadows” is an amusing enough introduction to Batman: The Telltale Series, provided you know precisely what you’re getting yourself into. Like its Game of Thrones and Walking Dead entries, Telltale takes a well-established property and puts its moral quandaries in the hands of people who are the least qualified to suss them out — us, the players. So as long as you’re comfortable stepping all over situations that would otherwise be met by an A+ tap dance from the Batman, then this game is all you. But if it’s a new and thrilling Batman story you’re looking for, may I suggest that odd-smelling comic book store next door to the neighborhood bar. It’s likely you’ll enjoy your afternoon more thoroughly by going outside.
Developed by Telltale Games.
Published by Telltale Games
Distributed by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
Platform(s): Android, iOS, Microsoft Windows, OS X, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
4.5 out of 10