As always, I waited until the final episode of Telltale’s Batman was released before playing the series (more-or-less) straight through.
It used to be the case that my intro when writing about a Telltale game would be a fairly boring affair (and indeed much of the review would be as well) as my praise for the game they produced tended to almost be as formulaic as the games themselves. Lately though, Telltale has been fairly prolific, with essentially two major series released every year for at least the last three years in a row. However, perhaps as a by-product of this increased output, there has been a rather significant drop in the quality of the games produced over that time. Other than their flagship Walking Dead series I have had mixed feelings towards their different titles, from definite enjoyment of the Wolf Among Us and Tales from the Borderlands to outright loathing of Minecraft: Story Mode.
As can be seen, proven by scientific analysis, Telltale’s Games have been getting worse.
So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I set out into Telltale’s Batman. However it ought to be of some relief to fans of Batman, fans of Telltale, and even to Telltale themselves when I’ll admit to being pleasantly surprised with Batman, to a degree.
I have to admit that I remain concerned that many of Telltale’s recent titles seem more designed to be cash-cows than for any possibility for a properly decent game. The announcement of Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy for next year provides a perfect example of this. However, given the recent failings of Batman and DC on the big screen I have to admit that Telltale’s Batman at least managed to feel a little less soulless (they got lucky I guess).
Telltale’s Batman is set in one of the many, many, many alternate realities of Batman. In this one Bruce and Harvey Dent begin the series as fast friends during Harvey’s campaign to become Mayor of Gotham, during the course of the game Batman and Bruce will have to deal with a new threat called the Children of Arkham along with a certain cat-burglar as well as allegations of corruption and criminal activity on the part of Bruce and also of his father Thomas. Plus of course nobody at all could possibly predict that Harvey Dent might become Two Face during the game…
I suppose it is the way of things that every different iteration of Batman has slight differences in the origins of the various characters and how they all interact. I also suppose I should be fine with that, but honestly I do struggle with constant tampering with the canon. I mean particularly they had to introduce the Joker in a sort teasing “oh he’s not quite the Joker yet” kind of way which just bothered me slightly… It’s just… It was fine as it was! Just leave it alone already! So this is just one fly in the ointment for me specifically. Don’t you worry though, there are some more ACTUAL flies for everyone else to consider.
First of all is a now standard complaint that the Telltale engine is seriously past its prime. Now I personally like the aesthetic of all their games, with the exception of Minecraft Story Mode, and that is no different here. However, recently the looks of their games has begun to seem less like a stylistic choice and more simply plain rubbish. In particular movement animation and facial expressions are consistently wooden and blocky, which is just jarring.
With animation in mind, it also has to be said that the style of Telltale’s games simply do not lend themselves to intense action sequences. Even without the necessary QTE component action often looks stilted and has to be slowed down for the sake of both player and the animation. While normally this isn’t too big an issue with Telltale’s usually fairly sedate story-telling style, in Batman it is significantly noticeable. Every single time the Caped Crusader engages goons in hand-to-hand combat it just looks awful, and I mean genuinely cringe-worthy. It is a very far cry from the seamless and exhilarating combat of the Arkham games and it really does Batman no favours whatsoever.
Another complaint, definitely a bit more out of the left field, is actually I was extremely disappointed by the voice-acting in the game. Again, there’s a fairly strong possibility that this comes down to personal preference and that the quality was actually fairly high, but the performances just seemed rather underwhelming. Enn Reitel’s Alfred lacks the characteristic British accent, Travis Willingham’s Harvey Dent sounded almost comical, and I was definitely not a fan of the lacklustre performance of Troy Baker’s Batman/Bruce Wayne… That’s right, you heard me, I just took issue with a voice performance by TROY BAKER. For me though, he just didn’t succeed in being either gruff enough as Batman or as being light-hearted and carefree enough as Bruce Wayne.
Perhaps though, some of the blame for this dislike can be placed at the feet of the dialogue. It’s something I noticed in Minecraft Story Mode, but now noticed again here, but sometimes the dialogue can feel awfully “generic” in a sense. There are a lot of feel-good vibes and diplomatic responses, but far too often it seems just ever so slightly out-of-character for both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Batman just never seems to quite be scary enough and Bruce never seems playful enough, instead the two of them just come across as sort of… Bland… Perhaps the fault there lies with the choices I made, but often the choices presented just felt like they never quiiiite had the option I would’ve liked. Y’know, something like “SWEAR TO ME!” or “I’m the godamn BATMAN.”
Speaking of choices though, now we finally can come to some positive aspects of the game. I think it’s something I’ve sort of glossed over in previous Telltale reviews, but I think the single biggest aspect which determines whether the games are good or bad is whether they can convince you that your choices matter. Because we know that they don’t. We know that whatever we choose the game will still progress more or less the same way… But if the game can present them and the outcomes in a way that makes it feel like there is meaningful choice, a veneer of consequence, then that makes all the difference. And while Batman may not quite match the high standard of some of the earlier Telltale games, thankfully the choices here certainly felt a lot more meaningful than in Minecraft Story Mode. That single aspect alone redeemed an awful lot of the game’s less than stellar immersion.
The writing in general is so-so; I’ve already mentioned that the dialogue could be a bit bland while the major decisions were actually pretty strong. Beyond this, it has to be said that a lot of the events of the game felt somewhat contrived. It could be argued that because it’s set in a comic-book world a certain level of suspension of disbelief is required, but sometimes it does push the boundaries of what I was happy with. For example the alleged corruption of Thomas Wayne is a major plot point for the story, but the way people begin to treat Bruce because of it seems consistently like a ridiculous overreaction. So it is that a fair number of events and parts of the story just stand on shaky enough ground to make the whole thing seem slightly unstable.
It’s obvious that I am being very negative about the game, but it is also worth saying that I honestly still had fun with Telltale’s Batman. While the story might not have been as high quality as others they’ve written, it was still quite enjoyable. Some aspects of the way they present Batman as a detective as well as crime-fighting badass, but also not completely infallible are actually quite good.
It seems somewhat like I am being very forgiving of the game instead of just outright panning it, but it’s simply the honest truth that despite its flaws I still enjoyed playing it through. I wonder if the episodic nature of the game actually helps with this, making it easier to swallow in small chunks and whether it actually would have suffered as one longer more cohesive whole… Food for thought…
It’s difficult exactly to place a finger on exactly why I might’ve liked it despite its flaws and I suppose that part of it comes down to the fact that the story was still enjoyable enough to experience and that there were a few fairly cool and amusing scenes, as well as a return to some of the emotion seen in previous games, particularly moments which were actually quite funny and others which were a little more sombre.
Overall I’ll give Telltale’s Batman a tentative nod of approval, no strong recommendations here but not exactly an insistence that one avoid it.
What I would say though is that despite this game being better than the absolute garbagio I was expecting, it’s still a far cry from Telltale’s best. I’d say that the company really has its work cut out for it in bringing the standard back up to a level that their previous games reached. I can’t help but suspect that a large part of the problem is in their recent choices of setting which have seemed more like cash-grabs than attempts to choose interesting and fun settings, but I who knows about the truth of that.
|· Classic Telltale story-telling in easy to digest episodic chunks
· Detective investigation sequences act as breaks, providing a nice ebb and flow
· Amusing and fun overall despite flaws
|· Story and dialogue leave something to be desired
· Plot points come across as utterly unbelievable, even in a comic book world
· Graphically poor, seen most clearly during fight sequences
· Voice acting seems surprisingly poor despite high quality cast
· Occasionally panders to audience, for example the unnecessary inclusion of Joker