Bruce Wayne takes center stage in Telltale’s new Batman series.
Telltale Games’ Batman series splits its time equally between Bruce Wayne and The Dark Knight. This is because the studio believes the day-to-day life of Gotham’s favourite son is as valuable to the narrative as the Caped Crusader’s quest for justice.
The actions that players take and the decisions they make as Bruce will impact his crime-fighting alter ego and vice versa. In a gameplay presentation during E3 2016 we were shown how this 50/50 split works, and some of the ways the two worlds intersect.
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In classic Gotham City fashion, our demo began with a heist. The presentation opened with a shot of the city; a brilliant white moon ominously hanging over the rooftops and the Wayne Tower piercing the night sky.
Inside Gotham City Hall, unexpected footsteps arouse the suspicions of a guard posted at the front desk. Unfortunately, his gaze is met by a bullet. A group of heavily armoured mercenary-types move deeper into the building, but trip an infrared beam alerting the authorities.
Outside, Gotham City’s finest arrive in force, with Detective Gordon leading the charge. In hushed tones, the mercenaries discuss a mythical vigilante stalking the night, appearing from the shadows to put an end to their criminal ways, often in brutal fashion. On cue, a shrouded figure appears on a rooftop adjacent to City Hall.
A button prompt appears on the screen and the caped figure reaches for a side-arm, a second press and the camera swings around to reveal Batman, he fires his Grapnel and crashes through a window, landing behind an unsuspecting robber. Just as Batman’s punch is about to land, the game quick cuts to the Batcave, where a battered and bruised Bruce Wayne listens to Alfred imploring him to stop spending his nights taking a beating from thugs.
Even the comics are guilty of underserving Bruce Wayne's side of the story ... Telltale's focus on the character is welcome
As with all Telltale Games, players are given the opportunity to respond in different ways. Bruce can either stay silent, reply defiantly, or make a heartfelt appeal to Alfred, emphasizing the need for Batman in Gotham. Cuts back and forth between the action-focused bank robbery and the argument with Alfred are an effective way of establishing Bruce’s motivations as Batman. You’re essentially an active participant in the game’s version of the "I. Am. Batman!" speech. You’re choosing the text in the word bubble of a comic.
Hearing Bruce talk about the need for Batman, then seeing him back up his words with actions emphasized how the perspective of one drives the actions of the other. It sold the idea of Bruce Wayne, the normal man, being critical to Batman’s crusade.
Like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, action set-pieces adopt a Quick Time Event format, with button presses and directional stick movements used to make Batman duck and weave, then kick, punch, or throw gadgets. Driving the action using QTEs wasn’t ideal in those games, but since you were either aiming at a shambling zombie, or in a slow bar brawl, timed button presses didn’t feel at odds with what was happening on screen.
Telltale’s Batman, however, runs the risk of having that disconnect. Batman is a powerhouse that moves from person to person delivering quick, crushing blows, but the superficial interactions used to do this in game takes away some of that thrill of being Batman.
Fortunately, it’s somewhat made up for with dynamic framing and transitions; the camera swings and swoops as Batman rushes enemies, follows Batarangs as they soar through the air, and the action slows to a crawl to show enemies being booted through doors.
The robbery culminates in an encounter with Catwoman, who is already inside the building and has swiped what seems to be a hard drive. It’s implied that, although the two know of each other through reputation, this is the first time they’ve met in Telltale's world. In classic Batman and Catwoman fashion, they immediately begin a verbal joust, with the young catburglar having a much sharper tongue than we’re used to--we don’t remember hearing her telling Bats to "cut the shit” before.
The second part of our presentation was entirely focused on Bruce Wayne as he attends a fundraising event for Harvey Dent’s election campaign. The bruises you earn from mistimed QTEs in the Batman event look to be represented on Bruce, but the attendees don't pay it too much mind. Dent gives Bruce the tour, stopping to chat to an elderly couple that were friends with Thomas and Martha Wayne. After a bit of smooth talking from Bruce, mostly about how Dent will clean up Gotham, the old-timers pledge their support.
The party takes a tense turn when Carmine Falcone appears. The high-powered business man is suspected of engaging in criminal activities, but has never been convicted, which makes him fair game for Dent’s fundraising campaign--something Bruce expresses his disapproval of. Falcone makes his appearance as a power play to get Bruce to fall in line.
The concluding scene of our demo was a series of tense moments that establish the adversarial relationship between Falcone and Wayne. You can choose to shake his hand when he presents it or piss him off by rebuffing him. When he discusses your father, you can ignore his remarks or react angrily, revealing your murdered parents are your weak spot.
The scene ends with Falcone saying, “People don’t say no to me… not for long,” kicking off what will be one of the primary conflicts in the series. Beyond this, Telltale has said there will be multiple villains, one of which Batman will have a hand in creating. Whether this is an entirely new villain or one taken from existing lore remains to be seen.
Telltale seems to be crafting a unique Batman experience by taking classic themes from across the character's comic, TV, and movie universes, and adapting them for a video game. Its focus on Bruce Wayne is welcome. It's easy to forget how crucial he is to making the Batman an interesting hero, even the comics are guilty of underserving his side of the story. We're excited to see what Telltale does with Batman, and Bruce Wayne.