PolyNerdic Review: Batman the Telltale Series

Telltale games are at best divisive, while many people enjoy their products there are just as many out there whose faces crinkle in disgust at the mere mention of their name.

I understand both sides as I’ve found the gameplay in the Telltale games to be less than stellar and the narratives they choose to be hit or miss, sometimes within the same series of games.

I loved The Walking Dead Season 1, did not care at all for Season 2 and as such have next to know interest in season 3.

The Wolf Among Us was absolutely fantastic and motivated me to check out the comic book that inspired it.

I even played an episode of the Tales from the Borderlands game and enjoyed most of it.

Telltale games have always been a combination of excellent character building through consequence heavy dialogue trees and choices and mediocre quicktime events in the place of real action.  When Batman the Telltale Series was announced I was cautiously apprehensive about it. As a life long Batman fan I’m always interested in taking on the role of the Caped Crusader but given Telltale’s spotty track record and the news that this game would be focused more on Bruce Wayne than ever before I found myself more worried about this game than I ever was with the Arkham series from Rocksteady.

Back in August I played the first episode and was shocked by the story Telltale was setting up.  Within the first episode it was painfully apparent that this was not the Gotham I have spent my entire life reading about, nor was it based on any of the other universes that have grown out of DC’s property.  This is not the Nolan-verse, the Miller-verse or the universe from Fox’s Gotham television show, Telltale took familiar characters and dropped them into a world similar to the one I know so well and promptly shook things up.

To go into more detail would ruin a lot of the surprises to be had in the game but Telltale did a number on the existing Batman canon.  Characters that have existed for decades are given new looks and motivations.  New relationships are constructed both in present day and in the game’s history that wildly alter the landscape and shake the foundations of everything you know about Batman.

This is where the game really shines in my opinion.  The unraveling of the accepted truth is what not only motivates Bruce Wayne in the story but was what motivated me to keep playing, to keep pulling on that thread of information all while on the edge of my seat anticipating the next big story beat.  I’ll admit that while it was all unfolding I found myself irritated with the changes to the established characters but by the time the story wrapped I had a new appreciation for what Telltale accomplished.  They could have taken the easy route and adapted an existing story or given us yet another Joker-centric first outing (mark my words that we’ll be seeing that in the sequel though) but instead they did the work of creating something new and incredibly interesting.

batmanandcatwoman.JPG

The voice acting is superb, Troy Baker, Laura Bailey and a cast of others turning out incredible performances.  I particularly like the interplay between Baker’s Batman and Bailey’s Catwoman, the two have great chemistry “on screen”.  The excellent voice acting also highlights an aspect of the game’s biggest problems: the Telltale engine needs to be either overhauled or thrown out and rebuilt from scratch.

While the voice acting is almost universally amazing there were far too many times when I found myself watching characters talk through improperly synchronized lips, words spilling from unmoving lips or characters finishing their sentences well before their lips ceased moving.  The animation is also painfully stiff on occasion, especially when Bruce Wayne is walking around an environment.  On a number of occasions I witnessed some horrifying and comical visual glitches, Bruce’s head was on nearly backwards during a scene on a bridge and a few instances where characters where not fully rendered leaving them looking like crosses between N64 or PS1 era characters and like individuals who had suffered a horrendous accident with an open flame.  Glitches weren’t limited to visuals either as a number of times the sound would drop out inexplicably.  Punches and kicks would land silently and bodies flung across the room would crash into the walls or items in the environment without a sound.   Telltale desperately needs to overhaul the system they are using to make their games before their storytelling efforts are fully derailed by the limitations it creates.  I found myself pulled out of the story many times by the absurd things I was seeing and hearing and this game suffers for it.

Don’t let my dissatisfaction with the engine fool you though, this game is quite good and definitely worth your time if you are a fan of Batman or comic books.  Hiccups aside Batman the Telltale Series is the culmination of everything Telltale has done up to this point.  Playing this game is like reading a really good Batman comic book but seeing it in motion.  The “choose your own adventure” aspects to the Telltale style are at their strongest here and for the first time in ages I find myself wanting to play the game again and try out different choices.

Final Verdict: 8 out of 10.  Batman the Telltale series is a fantastic narrative slightly marred by immersion/tone breaking bugs that deserves the attention of fans of the titular character.  They play with canon in a way that ultimately works to its benefit and I for one am looking forward to what comes next (provided they update the aging tech).

-Shad (@PolyNerdic)

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