Batman: The Telltale Series (Episode 1) – Review

For a developer specialising in choice-based story games, everything feels horribly fixed

Originally posted by Luke Kear

The first choice in Telltale’s new Batman series is for the colour of your Bat-tech. It’s exciting stuff and will surely affect the game’s final episode, whenever that’s released. I chose the classic yellow, knowing this would make my playthrough more immersive than a dull blue.

Jokes aside, this is a typical Telltale game, replete with timed dialogue choices and QTEs but with additional Bat. The Bat makes everything better, right? Well, considering the recent panning of both Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, 2016 really isn’t supporting this idea.

Telltale promises to delve as much into the story of Bruce Wayne as The Caped Crusader, and the first Episode lives up to that promise with just enough unique takes on the familiar story to keep it interesting, revelling in politics, crime families and the Wayne reputation. Problem is, just as things are looking up, the conventional backstory swoops in with a thwack, like the Bat himself.

Do we really need to be reminded of Bruce’s motivations? We get it, his parents died and he’s upset. Fair enough, but a quick mention would suffice. Instead, Alfred and nearly everyone else reminds Bruce constantly or talks to him like the tragedy happened yesterday. Admittedly, the scene in which Bruce recalls the events outside The Monarch Theatre is done quite well but it’s made totally redundant thanks to your faithful manservant’s constant muttering about legacy and ancestry prior to this.

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The phrase familiarity breeds contempt never rang so true, for both the rehashing of backstory and Telltale’s games in general. Telltale really should consider giving the Telltale Tool engine some much-needed TLC – no, not DLC, TLC. The frame rate drops constantly – although this has reportedly been largely fixed in the recent patch. The resolution settings would not save on a few occasions, even after I finally figured out how to save the settings. You must completely return to the main screen, but if you re-enter a specific settings option before doing this, it will return to the previous settings. This isn’t only unintuitive, it’s downright stupid.

Then there’s the art direction. While the style looks gorgeous in stills, in motion it’s far from jaw dropping and feels wooden, like you’re taking a ride on Disney’s It’s a Small World. It’s very similar to The Wolf Among Us but with, sadly, a lot less neon and slightly less cartoony character models. Speaking of the character models, at times it’s difficult to know if some of the weird blemishes that appear and quickly vanish are an aesthetic choice to add to the impression of a living sketch or just odd graphical artefacts. 498240_20160803123310_1

But at times, Telltale strikes gold. Its interpretation of Oswald Cobblepot, who is yet to be named the Penguin, has great potential, despite an annoying accent. Oz, as he’s known here, apparently acts as a foil to Bruce like Dr. Thomas Elliot in Hush before him. Oz lacks the calculating menace of Elliot but it’s a well-made and surprising decision as he’s reimagined as an old friend of Bruce who lost control when his parents met a tragic fate – obviously due to the cesspit that is Gotham. There’s also a great moment between Bruce and Selina Kyle, while the clash between Batman and Catwoman pales in comparison.

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Before the climax, you must choose how to take down four guards before entering a swanky club run by the mafia. However there’s no challenge and you’re only choosing between cutscenes that you are practically shown before the events occur. If Telltale had allowed for some strategy during this, the moment would have been a really engaging. Instead, it’s a reminder that Telltale can’t trust the player to decide much. Most of the choices that keep up the appearance of a real Gotham feel patronising and mundane. For a developer specialising in choice-based story games, everything feels horribly fixed.

That being said, Telltale has made Bruce’s plight more appealing than the Bat’s. Instead of just being a brooding chin or a flippant playboy, he is concerned for his own reputation. Telltale has successfully achieved this by hitting him in his true heart: not Gotham, but the Wayne family name. If the series continues to explore Bruce’s potentially flawed lineage, this tale might actually be arresting, even if the gameplay isn’t.

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