A Good Batman Story Held Back by an Aging Formula

User Rating: 7 | Batman: The Telltale Series (Season Pass) PS4

There's two things that Batman: The Telltale Series makes abundantly clear. One, the Telltale formula has long since begun to show its age. And two, damn it if they can't use the old thing to tell a heck of a Batman story. Yes, there are plenty of moments where the story creaks and buckles under the weight of Telltale's issues, technical and otherwise, but the creators clearly have great love for the source material, and they make smart choices about how and when to either deviate from or stay faithful to it.

As the opening credits roll, you don the mask of a younger Batman, towards the beginning of his career. If you've played a modern Telltale game before, you know what to expect. If you haven't, the game mostly consists of walking around environments and clicking on objects, making dialogue choices under pressure of a timer, and quick-time events for things like combat or grappling around with your fancy hook. Suffice it to say that no one plays these for the riveting, challenging gameplay. There are no real puzzles to be found, but that said, there are some mildly intriguing investigation sequences where you have to piece together clues to figure out what happened at a crime scene. Unfortunately, these too often become simple matters of trial and error, and feel more like a missed opportunity than a meaningful chance to flex your brain as the World's Greatest Detective.

This system, I confess, is getting more than a little old. As someone who's played (and enjoyed) almost every Telltale game released since The Walking Dead: Season 1, the repetitive, almost passive gameplay in these titles has become a bit of a chore. Older, classic adventure games had puzzles to tickle your brain, and even the first season of TWD had several of these, but as time has worn on, the pattern of walk-click-talk-click-quick-time has become the name of the game. The quick-time events, such as they are, are pretty well-done, with the combat feeling suitably punchy. There are even some cool finishing moves you can do if you press a button at just the right time. But the pieces never come together to make anything more than a means to an end: you're playing this game to see the story, and not much else.

But what they've cooked up in that department is well worth the occasional drudgery. First thing's first, I am a huge superhero fan. While Batman isn't my fave (Wonder Woman 4EVUR), I do know a fair bit about the Dark Knight, and I can tell you that Telltale has done their research. Lots of characters central to the Bat-mythos, such as Comissioner Gordon, Catwoman, and Alfred, play central roles in the tale, and their relationships with Batman are well-defined, lending emotional weight to the narrative. Some of them have undergone rather radical shifts from their traditional portrayals (wait till you see what they've done to Penguin), but it all works here. This isn't simply a copy-and-paste job from the comics: Telltale has created their own version of Batman, their own vision of Gotham City, and for a comics fan, it's a pleasure to take it in, to see how they've tweaked classic characters.

As for the story itself, it's quite a compelling yarn. Over five episodes, we see an original villain (who I quite enjoyed) push this young Bruce Wayne to his limits. It is really Bruce Wayne who's tested every bit as much as Batman is, and the history of the Wayne family is given a fascinating twist to help further this conflict. The nature of the Bruce Wayne/Batman relationship (who is the mask and who is the man, who oh who??) is really at the core of this story, and while it's one we've seen explored many times in other Batman stories, it's done here with particular aplomb. At several instances in the story, we as players have to choose who will tackle a situation: will Batman go and deliver his brand of justice, or will the Golden Boy of Gotham, Bruce Wayne handle it instead? It's often a difficult choice to make, and it's one of the few moments where the game is powerful because it's a game. You have a hand in shaping what your Batman, your Bruce, means to Gotham City, how he chooses to deal with those that get in his way. When the adventure comes to a close, roughly 8-10 hours later, you have a real sense that this is your Batman, and that the future of the city hangs in the balance of the choices you made. It's just a shame that, apart from the Bruce/Batman moments, there aren't very many other meaningful choices to be made. But regardless of what you choose, the story comes to an emotional, satisfying conclusion, and I definitely think Telltale has done very good, if not outright great, work here.

The last thing worth mentioning: Telltale made a new engine for this Batmobile. Finally admitting that the tech they'd been using was outdated, the team has put together a new machine that, sadly, still doesn't run all that well. While the blips and stutters are nowhere near as bad as on some other titles, they're still present, which is disappointing to see in a brand new engine. But Gotham looks good. The lighting, the comic-influenced art style, the fight scenes all come together very well. In fact, the same could be said about the game as a whole. The gameplay definitely suffers from some stutters, but the story, world, and characters mean that this game comes together quite well in the end.