The release of Batman: Arkham Asylum was a landmark moment for videogames, just as the first X-Men and Spider-Man films were, helping to set out a template for others to follow in later years. We see it now in the rise of superhero films as a staple of each year’s summer blockbuster season, and in videogames, Rocksteady’s work has seen many imitators and admirers of their combat system. But Batman is a lot more than just a flurry of fists in the night, and that’s what Batman: The Telltale Series set out to demonstrate.
The best decision that Telltale made when creating this episodic series was to try and reimagine many elements of the Batman universe and not to lean on the most popular and enduring Batman story arcs from the character’s storied past. Even Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy was widely known to draw upon classic comics like The Long Halloween and The Dark Knight Returns, albeit twisting them into a new form. Telltale could have followed a similar route, but instead decided to make some major and quite fascinating changes to the commonly held stories and origins of the many characters within the series, including Bruce Wayne himself.
Be warned that some major characters and spoilers will follow this trailer. If you wish to avoid these, either stop reading or just skip down to the conclusion and score.
Certainly, they’ve kept much of the overall spirit of the universe, from Catwoman’s mercurial nature to the way that Harvey Dent’s slide into the character of Two Face is drawn out through the season, but there’s a certain revisionist streak to this series, taking familiar elements and twisting them. Oswald Cobblepot is cast as having been a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle gets to figure out Batman’s true identity very quickly, but she’s also rather familiar with Dent, and the person behind Lady Arkham’s mask is certainly quite unexpected.
A big part of the series is in trying to give the public persona of Bruce Wayne an equal standing as the vigilante detective of Batman. Which suit you wear is naturally dictated by the circumstance, however, there’s a number of occasions where you’re given the choice of confronting someone as Batman or trying to reason with them as Bruce Wayne, and that helps to give a quite natural flow to some of the decision making in the game, as you weigh up the advantages of one approach over another. Almost all of the central figures in the story have some kind of personal relationship to Bruce as a consequence.
The biggest difference by far to the established canon is to do with Bruce Wayne himself and his parents. The first time that you hear a rumour that his parents were not quite the noble benefactors that they outwardly appeared to be, it’s almost a little hard to believe, given what Batman fans know. It’s nice to bring the character and the player into alignment, instead of simply playing a game of “what would Batman do?” You’re put in the same place as Bruce, of being 100% certain that these are lies being spun by his opponents. When confronted with allegations of corruption at a press conference, it’s easy to deny it, but over time, you also have to face up to facts.
It does some interesting things with the universe, but as a whole, the season loses its way at times. After the dramatic conclusion to the third episode, the fourth hurries to a resolution of sorts before accelerating towards the showdown with the three villains on the loose in Gotham. Two Face’s hired army of paramilitary goons are waging war against the Children of Arkham, and the city cowers in fear, except that you never really get that feeling. There’s one time where you encounter a security checkpoint and have a moral decision to make, another where you see a distant explosion, but the escalating situation through the season never really feels like it’s a citywide threat.
It’s also a shame that Telltale don’t evolve the gameplay over the course of the season. Ever since The Walking Dead, their games have revolved around the story and the characters, but recent games have dabbled with the occasional puzzle solving element, lightly leaning on their previous history with point & click adventures. For Batman, you have action sequences where you get to plan your route of attack with an augmented reality holographic projection from the Batcomputer, but you can’t make a wrong choice here, it just gives you a slightly different sequence to the quick time event that follows.
Similarly, it plays upon the notion that Batman is the world’s greatest detective at times, giving you crime scenes to awkwardly wander around, finding clues and then linking them together in pairs. A welcome appearance in the first episode, Telltale didn’t take the opportunity to build upon this clue linking mechanic until the final episode, and when they did, it was a stilted moment of wandering back and forth between two Batcomputer interfaces to compare clues.
That’s part of why the fifth episode felt rather lacklustre to me. The last two episodes dovetail together, depending on which villain you choose to confront first, but after getting off to a strong start and confronting the other possible villain, it takes its foot off the pedal. It’s understandable why, as the episode couldn’t just be all out action, but even as it added a personal twist to the drama, the final action sequence couldn’t really stoke my energy levels. Though it was a fun diversion and one with promise for the future, it already felt like they were clutching at straws when a certain grinning arch nemisis made a cameo appearance in the fourth episode.
Batman: The Telltale Series starts strongly, recreating and altering the Batman mythos in new and inventive ways, but can’t keep it up and fades towards the end of its run. It perhaps isn’t Telltale at their best, but still a series worth checking out for fans of their work and of Batman.
Version tested: PC