Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode 1
Platforms: PS4 (tested), Xbox One, PC, iOS, Android
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date: Out Now
"Do you think he'll show?" says the first thug you see, cutting into the Mayor's office with a circular saw. He knows what happens to criminals in this city. He's afraid of the bat, and with good reason. This small collective of thugs is no where near a match for the goddamned Batman.
When Mr Tall, Dark and Scowly finally shows his pointy ears in Batman: The Telltale Series though, it's not with a bang but with a lengthy quick time event (QTE). Telltale's engine was never going to match the combat systems of other Batman games, but this string of rhythmic button prompts does the job of conveying how it must feel to actually be the Batman.
The thing is, no matter how well this handles the engine's lack of a responsive combat system, it doesn't completely excuse it. It's hard to deliver a superhero game without a traditional combat system, and as a result, halfway through the first episode, I'd grown sick of the QTEs.
I've always had a tumultuous relationship with QTEs ever since Resident Evil 4 boss Jack Krauser plunged a knife into my chest while I ate a sandwich during what looked like a cutscene. It's a testament to how much fun Batman: The Telltale Series is that I soldiered on, but it's the biggest misstep in Telltale's newest adventure series.
Despite coming into this game primarily to satisfy the Batman itch that's burned since Rocksteady's Arkham series came to an end last year, I found the parts where you're clad in the cowl and taking down criminals to be fairly routine, with segments playing out like a cutscene with a series of button presses and joystick wiggles to make sure you're paying attention.
Occasionally you'll do something different: planning your takedown of a room, or investigating a crime scene by linking together different clues. These are standout moments when playing as Batman, digging a bullet out of a police officer's skull or choosing whether you want to smash a man's face into a pillar or toss him down a flight of stairs. Sadly, they're often ignored in favour of action sequences.
This new focus on action might fit the thematic demands of being Batman, but it feels like it's doing a disservice to Telltale's newest adventure. Beyond the punch-ups, speech options need to be chosen as a timer quickly ticks down at the bottom of the screen. If you don't choose before the time runs out, you're merely silent, an action that some characters in the games will note and use against you.
This is the same if it comes up during a lengthy cutscene or during a rapid fire conversation where you might want to think about what you're saying. You have to choose words both quickly and carefully here, and sometimes I felt like I'd made a decision I wasn't really happy with. Batman opting for grumpy silence because I became momentarily fascinated with a bit of fluff stuck to my shirt clashes somewhat with my thirst for justice. "Harvey Dent will remember that," the game says, taunting my lack of attention.
These quick choices aren't helped by the dialogue tree. The button prompt gives a hint of what you might say, but not necessarily what you do say. This isn't a complaint, but couple this with having to make your choices super-quickly, and a few of the parts of my playthrough didn't go how I'd have liked.
But while The Batman was a bit disappointing to play as, I didn't expect to love playing as Bruce Wayne as much as I did. I'd go so far as to say this is shaping up to be one of the best portrayals of Wayne outside of the comics. Being able to choose what you say meant that my Bruce Wayne has always happy to crack a joke, to appear gregarious even in the middle of a crowd. Get him alone and he's more grumpy, skipping small talk for his "tortured soul act". Playing with established characters like this is an interesting move for Telltale in their current incarnation, and luckily it seems like they're handling the source material with care.
The writing is a treat. Even this early on there's plenty of knowing nods and one "You can't protect me, you're not Batman," line, delivered to Bruce Wayne's face, made me laugh out loud. The tone is dark. People die in awful crimes, you're given the choice to torture a few criminals, and I'm sure this will continue and escalate as the series progresses. The mix of characters and threads for Telltale to follow up on is huge, and it's a solid start for Bat-fans. Well worth taking a look at.
Batman - The Telltale Series doesn't reinvent the wheel and it has plenty of confusing design choices, but in giving it the Telltale treatment, the studio have made a fascinating adventure game and a unique portrayal of the Dark Knight that, if the rest of the series can live up to it, might stand the test of time.