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Having perfected their episodic formula with the likes of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Amongs Us, Telltale Games has become synonymous with titles which featured players having to make tough choices, which effect how each story plays out. At the same time, these games have largely been dialogue-driven affairs, making us wonder how they would handle a property like Batman, whose previous games have been more focused on the action than the talking aspects of the Dark Knight, so of course there was a great interest to see how Telltale would handle a more-action heavy game.
The short answer is that they don’t … though that’s not entirely true as there is certainly no shortage of action per se in this first five-episode outing for their version of Batman, its just perhaps approached in a way many fans of the previous Batman games–such as the Arkham trilogy–will either enjoy or find a grind as Telltale combines quick time events and pre-planned attack sequences to handle this side of things. Needless to say, it should come as little surprise that Telltale would opt for a more dialogue-driven story after all, as this aspect has time and time again proven to be their strongest suit.
Set during the early years of Batman’s legendary career, we join him on the campaign trail to get his good friend and mayoral candidate Harvey Dent elected as part of his ongoing campaign to clean up Gotham City. At the same time, he also has to contend with the return of his childhood friend Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot (aka The Penguin) who has plans for his own revolution. Even as Batman, things are nonetheless complicated for Bruce with the appearance of the seductive Catwoman in Gotham and a new terror group calling themselves “The Children of Arkham” threatening to bring the city to its knees.
Considering the expansive history of the character of Batman, it’s great to see Telltale managing to find a plot that not only provides an entry point for newcomers or those who have only a vague idea of what Batman is, but at the same time, provides a plot that the more established fans can also enjoy. To their credit, Telltale here equally proves themselves more than happy to rework the mythos to match the story they are telling as highlighted by the Penguin once more having his character reworked into being a young anarchist complete with Penguin gas mask at the same time ignoring the usual traits which earned him the moniker in the first place.
This of course is not the first time that Batman has seen its characters reworked with the Penguin previously being portrayed as a Sammo Hung style martial artist in The Batman while Christopher Nolan at one point was rumoured as portraying him as an English arms dealer played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his Dark Knight trilogy so to see Telltale portraying him as an anarchist wasn’t especially jarring though it did leave me wondering why they didn’t just use either “Anarchy” or “Hush” in his place, the latter especially for the childhood connection he shares with Bruce, though it could be assumed that Telltale were just wanting to go with name recognition.
While choice may be a big factor throughout the game with numerous little nods being given in the dialogue and events throughout the game supplied to the established mythos so we get the option to call Harvey “The new face of Gotham” if we so wish much like option to play a brutal Batman or one who knows when to pull back. Of course here lies one of the issues with the game for the real fans will more often than not find themselves leaning towards the options which feel closer to the Batman mythos they know than to try and take the character in a unique direction. Ultimately though the choices you make will still bring you to the same destination despite the game placing such a heavy emphasis on your choices mattering when all they really do is effect things mainly on a cosmetic level.
The plot itself is fun to play through and perfectly suits the Telltale template with large portions being focused on you playing as Bruce as he attempts to clear his family’s name while dealing with his friend Harvey’s decline over the course of the story. We even get to meet Joker in Arkham Asylum or John Doe as he’s identified here though it’s one of the weakest performances of this character to date, making me hope that they draft in a stronger voice actor for the sequel, especially if he’s to be the focus as it seems to be hinted at by the finale.
Catwoman’s appearance on the other hand is certainly a welcome one as her parts are unquestionably some of the strongest, with praise going to Telltale that they opted to use her Year One costume rather than to try and recreate any of her live-action costumes, especially that Halle Berry monstrosity. Here, she is at her playfully seductive best and yes there is a path which allows you to pursue a relationship with her the same way there is one to ignore her seductive ways. Less welcome though is the morning after sequence where your forced to go through the motions of raiding her fridge and making bagels because despite being a billionaire he is seemingly too cheap to take her out for breakfast.
Breaking up the usual sections of dialogue, we do get to enter into the Telltale version of detective mode as you scour crime scenes for clues with fun re-enactments rewarding the player for putting clues together. The fight scenes meanwhile are broken into quicktime events or alternatively using the bat-drone you identify your opponents before working out a stylish plan of attack as seen during the raid on Falcone’s club which forms the climax of the first chapter. Yes this might be perhaps not as exciting as the face breaking action of the Arkham series but it is a good work around for Telltale and certainly makes it all the positive for their future titles such as the forthcoming Guardians of the Galaxy.
A fun series to play through regardless of if you’re an established fan or a newcomer, it’s just a shame that at times it feels too hampered by its mechanics and plotting choices and with too few difference between option outcomes, it’s doubtful you will return to it after the initial playthrough.
Game description: Telltale Games bring their unique style to the Batman universe for their first comic book adaptation, all with mixed results.