The latest IP to come to adventure studio Telltale Games is Batman, and continues Telltale’s brand of adventure game design. With Batman, Telltale has the added pressure of trying to deliver on balancing the two sides of Batman; unfortunately it doesn’t quite get it right.
Batman is split between multiple episodes in the season. This review will only cover episode one with minor spoilers on the story.
Batman takes place during the early days of the Dark Knight’s career. There’s already a Batman, but it’s before a lot of the major characters and villains are known. Bruce is trying to juggle being Batman while helping Harvey Dent win the election and become mayor. At the same time, a mysterious break in and appearance of Catwoman kicks off a mystery. The game goes between Batman and Bruce sections which also allow Telltale to split the gameplay of the two.
During the Bruce sections, you’ll find Telltale’s standard adventure game system, as you make choices and get prompts to let you know that they mattered.
While you won’t be in complete control, you are free to partially define how Bruce reacts and is seen by the people around him. This is an interesting idea, as we don’t really see a lot of Bruce in most Batman adaptations.
The Batman parts are obviously more exciting and show a real evolution in terms of Telltale’s cinematic side. The QTE-focused combat of previous games is back, but this is definitely the most action I’ve seen from Telltale. QTEs happen very fast with a lot of possible combinations. The actual fighting itself was very brutal and reminds me of what they did with The Wolf Among Us segments.
What’s interesting about the QTEs is what they represent. In most QTEs, if you fail the prompts you’ll lose the section. With Batman, we all know that Batman is not going to lose a fight, so the developers have done something different. Getting successful QTEs will fill a bat meter, while missing drains it. If you can fill the meter, you’ll be given a chance to do a special finishing QTE at the end of the section.
It’s a surprisingly effective way to give weight to the QTE without making it a black and white affair.
If I were Telltale, I would tie bonus rewards or special events to this kind of system. The best parts of episode one was playing as Batman; too bad there is so little to do as the Dark Knight.
In terms of gameplay and interaction, Batman Episode One is one of the worst games from Telltale. My playthrough of episode 1 came in at just under 2 hours, and being generous, I think I spent about 12 minutes of that time as Batman doing something interesting.
The rest was listening to exposition and making choices that really didn’t do anything to the story. As with previous games from Telltale, there was one major choice that affected a cutscene, but everything else was kept basic.
There are a few new things to do in Batman compared to previous Telltale games. Analyzing a crime scene and planning an attack were the highlights of the experience. Everything else was just boring by comparison. And yes, if you didn’t know already, you’re going to hear about why Bruce became Batman for what must be the millionth time by now.
I do like the change they did to the QTEs, but not everything was improved. You’ll find that there are no penalties or different responses to failing any QTE. Also, some of the button combinations did not make any sense in terms of button to action.
While the new detective sections were a good start, everything else seemed weaker by comparison. A lot of the dialogue felt really clunky to me, and there were fewer things to interact with in each area. The writing seems a step down from previous Telltale games, and was more about the choice system then presenting engaging conversations.
Then there were the bugs which also has many saying that this was the worst launch game from Telltale yet. I couldn’t get the mouse pointer to work when scaled up, forcing me to use the controller (which is better for QTEs anyway).
I noticed textures popping in and out and some very weird facial twitches on some of the models. There were also weird hitches during moving around at the few areas that you could.
Also, one annoying bug seemed to cause Alfred to respond the wrong way to a choice I made (which I don’t want to spoil here), but I know will be quickly forgotten come episode two.
By now you should know whether you are a fan of Telltale’s style or not. If you’re still enjoying their focus on storytelling over adventure gameplay, Batman is another in their line of design. At this point though, I find myself less interested in seeing the story through to the end, and the bugs and weird issues seem to be at their worst too.
Sadly, the best parts of this game are also the most downplayed, and we’ll have to see if Batman decides to actually stick around for later episodes in the season. Come back tomorrow for a follow up piece about my thoughts on the evolution of Telltale.
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