Batman: The Telltale Series (Review)

Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Release Date: August 2, 2016 – December 13, 2016
Copy gifted

In Telltale’s attempt to adapt every conceivable license to their particular brand of “choose your own adventure” video games, they decided to try their hand at crafting a story about everyone’s favorite caped crusader, Batman. As a fan of both Telltale Games and Batman, this project was pretty much a dream come true. So, as I’ve done with almost every Telltale release, I waited until all of the episodes were finished before sitting down and marathoning the series in its entirety over the course of a weekend. Now, after finishing all five episodes, I have a lot to say about the Dark Knight’s most recent outing.

First of all, forget everything you thought you knew about this universe.
Telltale decided to take more liberties with the Batman mythos than they’ve taken with any other franchise they’ve adapted. This is most noticeable in the main plot running through this game, which is a drastically different take on the Wayne legacy. When Bruce Wayne discovers that his parents made their fortune and gained their influence by affiliation with the Gotham mob, Bruce finds his world shattered. What’s even worse is that this information has found its way to the public, resulting in a city that now despises the Wayne name and wants nothing to do with Bruce. Reeling under the hate and scorn of the city he protects while disguised as Batman, Bruce finds his world in shambles.

Where most Batman stories focus on Batman overcoming tough villains (no worries, there’s plenty of them in this tale), this story focuses more on the mental and emotional ordeals that Bruce faces. While seeing the emotional toil of Bruce Wayne has been done before, this is one of the best depictions of it, showing a man we all know for his fearlessness and self-assurance slowly descend into doubt about his very being. I’ve always appreciated super hero stories that focus more on the human aspect than the traditional “good guys vs. bad guys” trope, which is why I think this story is special.

Likewise, there’s a ton of tweaks and liberties taken with several familiar faces and locations in Gotham. While revealing some of these changes would fall into spoiler territory, let me at least say this: as someone who has loved this world and the characters who inhabit it since I was a child, I never once felt offended or unhappy with the changes made to this universe. Telltale has done a terrific job of subverting fans expectations of Batman’s universe, but they also do an immensely commendable effort of respecting it at the same time.

An essential part of this experience (like every other Telltale Game) is player choice. During the conversations you have in this game, you can choose what Bruce/Batman says and how he behaves. You can play as a version of Bruce who sticks to the moral high road, or you can be a straight up dick. I played through the first time as close to a “traditional” take on Bruce I could. I was charming as Bruce, I stood up against evil as Batman, and I always took the right option even when the wrong one would be easier. However, I’m starting up another playthrough where I’m going to be rude, belligerent, and hostile, because why not?

One of the things that I really appreciated was how this game suits itself and adapts to your decisions. Every Telltale game boats about how you get to control the narrative, which you do, but there’s always a critical path you follow with minimal permutations. After playing through this game, I think it might actually be the most open and controllable narrative Telltale has delivered. I’m playing through a second time and making different choices and aligning myself with different people, but unlike the other Telltale games this one seems to have more noticeably impactful differences. While I’m still a little too early into my second playthrough to be completely sure, I think it’s worth saying that this is Telltale’s first game that I actually think demands a second playthrough.

Unfortunately, despite an update to the game engine, Telltale’s Batman game suffers from the same problems that have plagued virtually every one of their releases. The framerate constantly stutters or flat out freezes, the textures frequently struggle with either loading improperly or not at all, and the audio falls out of synch with the action on the screen regularly. When Telltale announced that this would be the first game made on their new engine, I remember thinking that these issues would be a thing of the past. Sadly, they’re still present, just with a slightly better visual style attempting to mask the blemishes.

FINAL VERDICT

As much as I love Batman, I’m always very critical about new additions to its universe. After suffering through Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad, I desperately needed something in the Batman world to come out and satisfy me. Thankfully, Telltale’s Batman game does a very good job at doing exactly that. It tells an original and bold story about the Wayne family and shows a side of Bruce/Batman we don’t normally get to see. The thematic materials and liberties taken with the source material is worth the price of entry alone, but the ability to carve your own mark into this story is what really makes it memorable. If you’re willing to look past the technical issues that come with a Telltale game, you’re bound to find one of the most riveting Batman stories around.

– Zack Burrows

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