Batman: The Telltale Series
The Dark Knight talks a good fight
Having made such a huge success of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, Telltale’s latest graphic adventure is its most eagerly anticipated licence to date. But how do you squeeze an all-action superhero into a format that’s decidedly slow-paced?
The answer the designers came up with is mostly longer and bigger quicktime events, and the game is strewn with fight scenes where you have to tap the correct button to keep the action moving. Given the nature of the character it’s no surprise to see action sequences taking a much more prominent role than in previous Telltale games, but the studio still hasn’t quite figured out how to make these scenes genuinely exciting and interactive.
During the most important battles there’s a little bat logo that gradually fills with colour after each successful move. When it’s full you’re prompted to activate a finishing move, ending the fight, but it’s hard to tell exactly how much control you have over this process. It doesn’t seem possible to play it any more skilfully, and the button cues stay on screen long enough to allow multiple attempts if you keep getting your Xs and Ys muddled up. You’ll have to try hard to fail one of these scenes, although there are a few moments where missing a prompt causes Batman to be killed by an environmental trap.
Batman’s technologically enhanced abilities are featured prominently throughout. In battles against multiple enemies there’s a pre-fight visualisation stage where you can choose which bit of scenery to smash over which character. Do you kick him through the door or smack his head into a coffee table? Decisions, decisions… It’s all entirely cosmetic, and the resulting slow-mo carnage plays out as the same sequence of button-presses regardless.
Upon encountering a crime scene Batman scans the area for clues which you then have to piece together via the Batcomputer. It’s a feature that might have provided some good puzzles and even some alternative branches of the story – for example, if you could reach an incorrect conclusion and end up letting the bad guys go free. But you can’t do that, as it’s impossible to leave a crime scene until you’ve correctly paired up all of the glaringly obvious clues.
When it comes to dispensing justice, though, you do get a lot more freedom of choice, and this is where the game really shines. The villains are a vicious bunch of amoral murderers, and although Batman’s no killing policy is always in effect, there’s often a violence/pacifism choice to be
“Batman has a no-kill policy but you still choose between violence and pacifism”
made. We opted to brutalise Batman’s enemies when possible, which turned out to be a surprisingly unpopular route among the wider userbase.
As ever, your key decisions are listed at the end of each episode, where you find out how many other players made the same choices. There’s a perverse satisfaction to be had from learning that your play style was massively unpopular, although we’ve no idea how anyone managed to stop themselves skewering that smug crime boss on a protruding rebar in the first episode. Perhaps most people are role-playing as 1960s camp Batman instead of the post- Dark Knight hardcore version.
Friend or foe
Given that the action sequences are just for show and the crime scene puzzles basically solve themselves, the plot is where Batman stands or falls. For the most part it does deliver, with enemies worth hating
Vox pop Crowd play is a new feature that allows spectators to log in to your game via Telltale’s website and vote on the choices as they happen. One mode allows you to overrule them, which sort of negates the point of it, while the fullfat version picks the most popular choice in real time. It’s currently recommended only for people in the same room, due to latency issues, but you can expect future games to support large scale crowd play over Twitch.
and friends who you won’t realise have burrowed so deeply into your affections until you’re faced with a choice of which one to save.
This being the first season of Telltale’s involvement with Batman, an awful lot of familiar ground gets retrodden. It’s hard to be surprised when you’re being introduced to the likes of the Joker because you already know them so well from countless appearances in films, TV, games and comic books. That said, we hadn’t previously encountered Penguin looking the way he does here, and we did feel a brief pang of remorse when condemning Harvey Dent to lifelong disfigurement as Two-Face purely because doing Catwoman a solid was the other option.
While the revelation of the supervillain’s true identity in the third episode is a high point that the game doesn’t quite reach again, there are a lot of tough choices to make throughout its 10-hour running time. It’s hard to tell if the whole thing is just smoke and mirrors, but at times it really feels as if the story is being fundamentally reworked with each major decision, which is surely a hallmark of some expert interactive storytelling. Is it worth a replay once you reach the finale? We’d recommend not, as while the illusion of choice is strong, the time-honoured Telltale formula, all flow charts leading in one direction, is at work in the shadows.
left Catwoman knows Batman’s true identity from the start. She’s unimpressed.
right “Hmm, let me log in to the Batcomputer and analyse these spectacles in great detail.”