Bat­man: The Tell­tale Se­ries

The Dark Knight talks a good fight

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Martin Kitts

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.

Bat scan

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.”

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