I Am Vengeance!
When Telltale Games announced that they were doing a Batman game, I was both thrilled and a little apprehensive. I love Batman and I had played two of Telltale’s previous games– the Wolf Within and Walking Dead Season One– which I had enjoyed quite a bit, so on that front, I was excited. Having become accustomed to the style of the Arkham Asylum games, however, I wasn’t sure exactly how such a dynamic character would be handled in a Telltale’s narrative style.
I Am the Night!
So, what is Batman the Telltale Series?
If you ever read Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid, proceed to paragraph 6.
If you never read Choose Your Own Adventure books, go to the next paragraph.
When I was growing up, I couldn’t get enough of the Choose… books which– as the title suggests, allowed you to make decisions as you read. At certain moments in the narrative, you would be offered two or more choices on how to proceed with the story. Each decision would guide you to a particular page number to continue the story, sometimes resulting in a heroic triumph, but other times resulting in your character’s defeat or even death. I remember reading these books with each finger tucked between different pages to mark the various crossroads I had reached– kind of an old-fashioned Save Point…
Batman: The Telltale Games series is like those old books in video game form. Fully animated and voice-acted, the games from Telltale allow you to make the same kind of decisions as the CYOA books used to. When confronted with the alluring Catwoman for example, are you going to flirt with her, or arrest her? The decisions you make alter the course of the story and affect your relationships with other characters.
There are action scenes as well, consisting of timed button presses corresponding to what appears on screen. A certain margin of error is allowed, with Batman having something of a health meter, but for the most part combat is not terribly challenging.
I Am Batman! Or, Well, Bruce Wayne Most of the Time, Actually.
Much of the game focuses on Bruce Wayne, rather than Batman, with the story set in what would correspond best to Year One of the comics. There is no Robin and Batman is still largely dealing with organized crime as opposed to his better-known enemies.
Bruce must deal with startling revelations about his family while trying to establish himself as Batman and helping Harvey Dent in his bid to become next mayor of Gotham. Much of the plot is driven by his friendship with the pre-Two Face Harvey, who edges closer to darkness as the story progresses.
The other main plot point concerns the Children of Arkham, former inmates of Arkham Asylum with a surprising link to the Wayne family. Lead by the mysterious Lady Arkham, the Children seek to bring down the upper class of Gotham society.
Thrown into the mix is Oswald Cobblepot, a childhood friend of Bruce’s, better known to Batman fans as the Penguin, and a certain grinning patient at Arkham Asylum. Other supporting characters include the ever-loyal Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Catwoman and Officer Renee Montoya.
Or Is It Puppyman?
There are a number of things that I like in the series, but there are just as many that I don’t. One in particular that drove me nuts was the facial reactions of some of the characters. Bruce in particular would often make what I like to call a “puppy dog face,” when surprised or concerned, which made it harder to take him him seriously as the Dark Knight. The fact that he was physically smaller than Harvey Dent also made Batman seem less impressive. For a lawyer, Harvey is inexplicably built like a bodybuilder, making Bruce seem small in comparison.
The strength of the Telltale games is the ability to influence the story via the choices the player makes, but I found it less effective here than in previous games. In the Walking Dead, for example, I knew nothing about main character Lee Everett and was thus free to play him how I wanted, but I didn’t feel the same freedom in playing Batman, acting instead the way I felt Batman should act in light of my experience with him in the comics. I appreciated the opportunity to play as Bruce Wayne, given that other games by necessity focus on Batman, but I didn’t always like the way he was portrayed.
Telltale has a bad habit in the way the present story and dialogue options. If I am presented with a situation that could affect the outcome of the game, I like to have accurate, easy-to-understand choices. In both of the other Telltale games that I played and again in Batman, the options presented don’t always match up with what actually transpires.
For example, you may encounter a character who is about to take an action that you don’t approve of, but which is not anything that you would be too upset over. You might receive the options 1) Ignore him 2) “I don’t think you should do that” and 3) “Go ahead and do it. I don’t care.”
After taking a second or two to think it over (there is a timer that counts down quickly before forcing a decision), you decide that while the action in question isn’t a big deal, you’d prefer the other character to not do it, so you choose the innocent-sounding “I don’t think you should do that.”
As it turns out, upon making that choice, your character assumes an aggressive stance and says “If you try to do that, I’ll break your arms and legs and dump you in the river.” The other character then gives you a very-displeased look and a small notation appears in the corner of the screen saying He’ll Remember That…
Great. And this happens far too often.
I also found the voice acting to be rather weak, which is surprising given that there are a number of very talented actors behind the characters. I am not sure if the voices are weak due to poor direction, or because of the way the dialogue has to be responsive to choices, but it was distracting to me.
Other things that left me somewhat nonplussed were the sometimes-significant changes to established characters both in terms of their personality/ history (Thomas Wayne) and their appearance (Penguin). While I appreciate that each new iteration of Batman has it’s own interpretation of events and characters, the changes made for this game simply did not work for me.
And Bruce and Alfred should be addressing each other as “Master Bruce” and “Alfred”, not “Bruce” and “Al.”
The Game We Deserve, or the Game We Need Right Now?
I’d actually say neither…
I won’t go so far as to say I didn’t enjoy the game at all, but I didn’t really like it overmuch either. I thought it was ok, overall, but the Arkham games set such a high standard that it’s difficult to look at other Batman games without comparing them unfavourably.
If you are a big fan of the Telltale games, or of Batman, or if you just really want to play a game focused on Bruce Wayne, then I suppose I can give the game a mild recommendation. However, if you are looking for a game with action, fun combat or an accurate portrayal of the comic mythology, then you may want to pass on this and dig out Arkham Asylum, City or Knight.
Of course, if you have played the game and think I am totally wrong, let me know. Tell me what you thought about the game. Would you play a sequel? Would you like to see other characters like Superman receive a similar treatment?
I’d love to hear from you.
From virtually no tech skills to my own site! Find out how you can do it too!