Played on Windows
Available on Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Android, iOS
Batman: The Telltale Series is another storybook from Telltale. I really want to say something different but the fact is that Telltale has consistently made choices that make it hard to talk about their series in terms of “gameplay” and I find that these game are judged based on the story
I had some problems with the original The Walking Dead Series due to its simplicity and my lack of love for the series. Even having grown into the TV show since then, I don’t find my opinion of that series to have changed greatly.
Yet, I am a fan of Batman and, while I’m more of a Marvel fanboy, I find Batman to be my favorite DC character. I grew up watching old reruns of Adam West’s 60’s Batman with my father. I remember Frank Gorshin as the Riddler and Cesar Romero as the Joker. I enjoyed the two Tim Burton Batmans. I won’t mention the sequels, but I then enjoyed all three of Nolan’s Batman movies and all of the Rocksteady’s Batman games. So I think I’m a Batman fan. I don’t know the huge history of the comics, but I know a majority of the characters.
I think that’s important to look at because I feel like Telltale really sells games to fans. I have Wolf Within and I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy that as much as I might enjoy Tales of Borderlands, or Guardians of the Galaxy. The familiarity with the license does have a huge impact with enjoyment in these series.
So let’s see how it actually is.
The first thing that pops out at you when playing Batman: The Telltale Series is the graphics. Telltale likes to use this cel-shading technique that makes the game look like a comic, and I wasn’t a huge fan of it in the Walking Dead’s use of cel-shading, and part of it was the subject matter. There’s a gritty attempt at some realism that didn’t speak to me on a level.
Batman: The Telltale Series though works better. Batman looks great, and it feels like many scenes are ripped right out of a comic book. It has an awkward feel some of the time, but the aesthetic really highlights the graphics of the suit and the characters. Batman looks so damn good with the cel-shading due to the lines and contours of the outfit, I’m blown away. The problem is for more than half the game, Batman is in his secret identity of Bruce Wayne, and the graphics just don’t feel as amazing.
Good looking, but this is the level of quality you get through the game.
It’s not that the graphics are noticeably worse, it’s that Bruce Wayne does a lot of mundane stuff, and that doesn’t utilize the visuals in the same way that Batman’s battles does.
I did notice a few graphical glitches along the way. Nothing to really complain about but I saw some odd texture glitches, mostly on Batman’s upper body when he was shirtless. Odd but nothing too bad.
The one area of the game that does need to be talked about is the engine and the writing within that engine. This engine I believe was rewritten for The Walking Dead: Season One back in 2012, Batman: The Telltale Series was released in 2016, so this should be a relatively mature engine in my opinion. Of course, the game is going to have to customize it for its own use but the engine feels limited.
There are odd moments like when Batman lands on a rooftop to talk to Jim Gordon and Jim turns to him and says “Just to be clear …. You and me …. We’re on shaky ground.” There are only a couple of moments like that, but it feels very stiff as if the game is trying to decide what to say.
In the first scene of the game, there’s a great juxtaposition between Batman fighting enemies, and Alfred tending to the wounds he got from the fight. Well… it would be great, but the game has these hitches when changing the locations. It’s a significant hitch and kills the flow of the scene. It’s one of the few places where it’s extremely noticeable but I don’t understand why it even has that issue. It’s a simple transition and it seems to struggle and never does so again? Why at the beginning of the game?
I feel like this game constantly rides a 90/10 line in almost everything. 90 percent of the transitions are smooth, 10 are odd. 90 percent of the dialogue is excellent, 10 percent is disjointed. 90 percent of animation is great, 10 percent looks extremely odd. It’s pretty much across the board, and the problem isn’t the 90 percent that’s good. It’s that 10 percent because when it’s bad, it’s noticeably bad. There’s a facial animation in episode 3 chapter 5 that was just hideous and I couldn’t stop staring at.
There are other moments that feel odd. Most of the crowd scenes feel you can count the crowd. There are huge gatherings here, and a lot of time there’s only 10-15 people. This might work for a small party, but we’re talking about Bruce Wayne, the playboy billionaire, or a police briefing for the city. These are major events, and they just feel empty.
Looks ok in a still image but everyone claps in sync.
I will say the voice decisions in this game are fantastic. They are all timed responses but it makes the narrative flow along well. There’s again 10 percent of them are a bit awkward, but they work well and it’s one of the only 90/10s that I noticed how great they are when they worked correctly.
Finally the oddest part of the engine is that when I play an episode the game will play a “Next time on Batman: The Telltale Series” I would understand completely why this would be included if the next episode wasn’t released but I have the full game and I still have to sit through the “next time” for the first four episodes. Then to start the next episode I have to watch “previously on…” Both of these feel unnecessary since I’m immediately switching to the next episode.
What’s worse though is by playing the next episode right away, I can see how bad the “Next time” teasers are. Almost every “Next time” lies. I believe the dialogue is always somewhere in the next episode, but almost every “Next time” shows scenes that aren’t in the next episode. These are combined with the audio to give a false image of what’s coming next. The combination of scenes, angles, shots never occur in the next episode at all. It’s more disappointing than anything but it is disappointing to feel a bit lied to.
So now that we got that unpleasantness out of the way I can talk more about the game itself and the fact is that I’m thrilled to. As I said I’m a Batman fan, and Batman: The Telltale Series delivered on that.
The game starts with the dichotomy of “Batman” and “Bruce Wayne” and hints at some of the classic discussions of which is the main character. It doesn’t go heavily into the psychology of Batman, even when it gets the perfect chance to, but it does really make you enjoy the character and experience some of the hard decisions that Batman and Bruce Wayne have to make.
Though, I think someone at Telltale likes Batman a bit too much. There was a number of bat bulge shots and a few of Bruce’s package. This isn’t just a camera that captures the crotch of a character, but rather a focus on his package, as if Telltale wanted you to know Batman has a lot to show off. It seemed like an odd choice, but I supposed that’s a supporting character in this game. The Bat Package.
On the other hand, the game has a great actual supporting cast. In the first episode, you get the majority of them to show up. There’s Catwoman, Harvey Dent, Carmine Falcone, and Oswald Cobblepot as some of the big names here.
The first three are well done. Catwoman and Dent get a lot of great character development here and I really like both of their designs. However, it’s not exactly new area for most of these characters. It’s a shame because you know how each of these characters is going to act.
Yet, I’m not totally sold on Oswald Cobblepot’s character. Rather than the rotund classic penguin motif you have a Cobblepot that looks more like the Gotham version. I suppose this is the way WB wants the character to be shown from now on, but every time he used the word Penguin I rolled my eyes. When you have the ability to really bring out the cartoon aspect, using the television drama doesn’t work as well. It felt more like just using a name than a real use of the famous character then having Oswald Cobblepot be a Batman villain.
Cobblepot is also significantly younger in this version. In classic comics he’s a contemporary of Bruce’s parents, in the television show Gotham, he’s at least ten years older than Bruce. In the game, they grew up together making it clear they’re almost the same age. It works for the story, but I feel like they could have used another character in his place. They chose Cobblepot because fans of Batman and Gotham know him and can instantly tell “he’s a bad guy” by the name. It’s a shame they didn’t use another character for the role to make it more of a surprise.
However, the use of the multiple villains does work here. There’s a question of what’s going on and who’s doing it and the fact you see Dent, Catwoman, Cobblepot, and Falcone makes you second guess the story a bit. The writing is excellent and uses the cast of characters to great effect.
There are a few pieces of the story that I really take issue with, and they’re huge spoilers. I feel like there are changes to a key part of the Batman mythos that is unnecessary, and I feel like someone’s political ideology got mixed in with the story. I am willing to discuss this in the comments, however, at this point, I’ll leave that unstated,
I’ll also say that the fourth episode sets itself up as one of the best episodes in the series and squanders before the first chapter is up. What could have been very thought-provoking and deep became a side tour and I’m just disappointed because that could have evolved the story quite a bit. Again, I’ll discuss this further if asked.
One last thing I love about this is that the villains are villains, people die in this, and it’s from direct murder. Batman is the hero, but I always have this thing about comic adaptations (and even comic books themselves) that bat guys tend to be ineffectual, or unable to successfully commit crimes. In this, there’s death and violence, which does drive Batman on.
Overall though the story is excellent. However Telltale games stories are always pretty good. They have a great team of writers, it’s just they tend to have problems following through on the story, which brings us to the gameplay.
There’s three types of gameplay in Batman: The Telltale Series. First is action sequences such as the game starts with. The player is taken through rather elaborate action scenes where they have to fight enemies. The sad part is how simplistic the controls are. Most of the time you’re told to hit a button or make a motion with either stick on the controller. If you do it, you move on to the next piece of the scene. If you don’t… you also move on to the next piece of the scene. Your actions have only the barest interaction here. Sometimes you’ll get an interesting different animation to show your failure, but often the change doesn’t seem to modify the screen.
There are “failures” where the enemy gets away and shoots you, and that is interesting, so your actions do matter some of the time, but overall I’m not sure. There’s a bat symbol in the bottom left corner that is never properly explained but I believe the more moves you do correctly in a fight, the more it gets filled up and eventually, you can use your “finisher” and end the fight.
About as complicated as it gets, but always satisfying.
It’s a good concept but there’s no benefit between doing excellent and doing only half the moves. The only real difference is potentially the length of the fight. You can see the “Death” scene but you have to miss a lot of moves to get there.
There are about two action scenes per episode, and they’re visually cool, just barely interactive.
The second part of the game is investigations and these are some of the better moments. Batman walks around a crime scene and looks at what happens, trying to recreate the scene. There’s always an interesting piece or two here, and Batman needs to make connections between evidence. Almost all these connections are a touch obvious but it’s great to have to link up two pieces of evidence to recreate what happens.
This is really where the puzzle solving happens but there’s no failure in the system. Still, I love the feeling of it, and it remembers that Batman is the “world’s greatest detective” rather than just an action star. In fact, I wish there was a few traps or tricks to these investigations so you could make incorrect assumptions. Maybe instead of having 6 items that have 3 links, have 10 items, 4 of which are unrelated to the case?
There’s one of these per episode and they’re always interesting because looking around it’s not always clear what caused everything until batman pieces it together.
Finally, there are the dialogue scenes where you choose what to say or to say nothing. These are timed sections when you’re talking to Harvey Dent or Alfred, and you can agree disagree or try to walk the middle line. I have to say I felt compelled to never stay silent because there’s always something you want to say in character or out. The dialogue works well and I have to say I enjoyed the talking parts of Batman: The Telltale Series far more than I should, and part of the reason is the imposing figure of Batman, and the other characters. I played Bruce as a little meeker than he normally is portrayed but I felt that gave a better illusion of when Batman appears.
But that leads us to the choices, Telltale’s famous feature of these games since the Walking Dead, and probably the most controversial part. So do your choices matter?
I’ll just start with the answer “No”. But it’s not a flat no. The game does well at trying to integrate the choices into the story. Falcone shows up to Bruce Wayne’s party, do you shake his hand or not? I did shake his hand because my Bruce is a bit of a wimp, he lets Batman stand up for him. The handshake appeared in the paper later and was brought up. It’s an effective way to bring the choices into the narrative.
The big decision, do you spit in your palm or go for the wet willy.
However, if I didn’t shake his hand, it wouldn’t have changed the narrative. I still will go from point A to point B it’s just the path I take.
A few choices are interesting and they will change a chapter. I might go to visit a character to interrogate them, and I can choose to go as Batman or Bruce Wayne. The scene plays out differently, but I still get the same evidence and the story continues. It does feel like a nice change from The Walking Dead where it seemed most of the choices were “how long do I want these two characters to live?”
It’s the illusion of choice that these games offer. Yet they continue to claim there are meaningful choices here. The “meaningful” part seems to be the decision matrixes at the end of each episode. How many people shook Falcone’s hand. But really these matrices show how binary the game really is.
The worst one is the last matrix, it’s a summation of the game, and I like the idea, but it seemed to ignore the fact that I was Bruce Wayne for half the game, and tried to combine my Bruce Wayne choices with Batman, and when I roleplayed Bruce Wayne I would make different choices. The game seems to fundamentally miss the most exciting aspect of the character. The ability to have two different personas and to utilize them both. The final matrix is more about how the story reached you as a player not who your character was.
There’s a rather major choice at the end of episode 2 and I was amazed at it. However I checked online and again the choice seems important and does change the way the story flows like I mentioned, but it doesn’t really change the endpoint nor change the characters in a meaningful way.
It’s a shame because good storytelling with branching pathways have been done. Games like Zero’s Escape, or Until Dawn can branch their stories and have different endings. Telltale just doesn’t take that extra step that’s necessary for it.
So is it bad? Well no. The story is top notch in my opinion, even with the major complaints I had, they’re complaints due to how I know the character, the changes they made work well in the story, and the story is solid.
Telltale did a great job at bringing Batman to life along with the famous characters they portrayed, and I enjoyed seeing the entire thing. I was excited to play all the episodes rather than doing it to see more of the story.
The choices are disappointing, but by this point, I’m not expecting more. It’s a huge problem for all the Telltale games, and I wish they would fix it for the future. At the same time, I came for the story, and the story kept my attention throughout, even when I felt like I was going through binary decisions.
Overall if you’re a fan of Batman, this is a good game. If you like the character and know his history, you’ll probably have a good time here. I think the Batman Arkham games are superior to the Telltale game, but at the same time I think the Telltale Game is worth playing and has more of a focus on the story, and I do enjoy the story here.
Final words: Batman is a great use of the license. It may take a few liberties, it still delivers a great story with good pacing. The engine may be weak, but the writing is on point for fans of the Dark Knight.
Stats 9.8 hours played, 30/30 achievements earned. 1 playthrough (no achievement is missable).
Purchase source: I purchased this in the Humble Telltale Bundle. I picked up the bundle at the 15 dollar tier specifically for this game.