Telltale have played it smart with their Batman offering. Shifting the focus from the caped crusader to Bruce Wayne proved to be a gamble that paid off as it gives players a new look into what it’s like to be Batman. What’s more, with Rocksteady’s Arkham games concluding just last year, you could argue there isn’t much new ground to tread when it comes to exploring the Batman character. Therefore placing the player in Bruce Wayne’s shoes feels like a welcome change of pace.
The story begins with you supporting Harvey Dent’s campaign to become the new mayor of Gotham city and replace existing mayor Hamilton Hill. Of course, this is Gotham City and politics are played dirty as Mayor Hill uses his connections with mob boss Falcone to discredit your campaign, muscle you out of the race and throw some serious shade at the Wayne family.
As Bruce Wayne, you need to use your own connections, charm and money to keep Harvey’s campaign on track. Making the right choices in these instances feels essential as Wayne is such a public figure in Gotham that even shaking somebody’s hand can become a media scandal.
The game does allow you to don the Batsuit a handful of times and on these occasions it’s usually up to Batman to investigate crime scenes, gather evidence and take down gangs of thugs. Interestingly there are also times when the game allows you to choose whether you want to approach a situation as Batman or as Bruce Wayne. Surprisingly, in these situations I found myself opting for Bruce Wayne. In a later episode you need to confront Harvey and I decided to go in as his friend and try to come to an agreement without throwing punches.
One aspect that Batman: The Telltale Series takes a step further than previous games is the choice system. Anybody who has previously played a Telltale game will know the stress that comes with having to choose a response or action in the blink of an eye only to see the ‘they will remember that’ pop up in the corner of the screen.
These choices have consequences in later stages but one way it is used differently here is the game allows you to choose what type of Batman you wish to be. You can be Affleck-esque and dispose of your enemies with brutality or you can simply intimidate, frighten and hand your foes over to the police. Depending on the style you choose the people of Gotham will either view Batman as a hero or a terror.
The game does have one slight challenge that for me it doesn’t quite overcome – the source material itself.
One of the best things about playing a Telltale game is the experience of getting to know a series of characters I was previously unfamiliar with. For instance, I love the Walking Dead TV series but the Telltale games are based more on the comics which I’m not familiar with. Therefore, apart from the odd side character, I didn’t know who these people were and was able to go into the experience blind. Likewise, it was a similar experience when playing the Wolf Among Us which I was largely unfamiliar with as well.
However, this sense of unfamiliarity and getting to know the characters from scratch is where the Batman series falters. Many people who play this game will be familiar with the characters introduced, whether that be through the movies, animated series or previous game titles, and therefore the big character reveals lose a lot of their impact.
The game does a nice job of introducing new elements to these characters. For example, The Penguin and Bruce Wayne are childhood friends and Bruce’s parents aren’t the saints of Gotham that people previously thought. Yet despite these subtle character changes, it can still feel all too predictable for what’s to come. Everybody knows that Harvey Dent is Two Face and Oswald Cobblepot is The Penguin. So when we are introduced to their pedestrian identities in the first episode, we can assume their villainous alter-egos will make an appearance in later episodes.
Perhaps one of the most interesting characters in the series is Catwoman/Selina Kyle who acts as both a love interest for Bruce and ally for Batman. We’re first introduced to her in episode 1 where she is breaking into town hall to steal a data file (classic Selina). The two learn of each other’s secret identities early on and from here develop a bond.
As always with Catwoman we’re never quite sure who’s side she’s on, but through your interactions with her Bruce learns the kind of hero and person he wants to be. As Batman we’re given the choice to rescue Catwoman or leave her to her own accord. As Bruce, we have the option to pursue a romantic relationship, cockblocking Harvey in the process, or keep the relationship strictly professional.
Selina forces Bruce to think about why he does what he does and if he really is the kind of hero he believes. Allowing the player to experience this kind of self-reflection and be a part of it, is what makes Batman: The Telltale series really stand out.
Batman: The Telltale Series takes an interesting look at the Batman universe. Despite it feeling a little predictable at times, shifting the focus from Batman to Wayne feels like a welcome change of pace for the character. I found this quite surprising as the idea of a Batman game where you don’t play as Batman had little appeal to me at first.
Whilst the overall story doesn’t hold up as well in later episodes, Telltale has shown a real understanding of these characters and what makes for an engaging Batman story. With a little refinement and working out the technical issues that seemed to plague the later episodes, the developer has built a strong foundation to continue exploring their version of the Dark Knight and most importantly, the Son of Gotham.