Batman: The Telltale Series (Video Game)


Batman: The Telltale SeriesDeveloped by Telltale Games

Available on Android, iOS, PC, Mac, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, and PS3

Rated M for Mature

Well, here we are again. At the end of another episodic series, ready to decide if it was all worth it. It’s a bit emotional, really. Telltale Games have come a long way from taking seven months to round out a season, but I’ve still been with Batman: The Telltale Series since it premiered in August. As a modern binge watching millennial, I often forget about the emotional maelstrom that comes with getting locked into a season from the start. Even my favorite shows like The Flash and Supernatural (yeah, I know, deal with it) I tend to let pile up until I can spend at least 10 hours in a sweaty haze powering through. But not you, Batman. No, you hooked me from the get go and didn’t let go.

I missed reviewing Episode 4: “Guardian of Gotham” due to it coming out around my birthday and me being too drunk to care, but it’s fine since the final episode came out like two weeks later. So now I’m just going to review it all as one final package, lumping Episodes 4 & 5 (“City of Light”) into a single section. It’s fitting, since the two episodes are so closely connected that they basically feel like one anyway.

If you’ve been following my coverage so far like a good little boy/girl, you’ll remember that Episode 3 had left Bruce at an all-time low. Blamed for the sins of his family and forced into an assault on his rival Cobblepot, he wakes to find himself in the infamous Arkham Asylum. Things are rough right off the bat, but he finds an unlikely ally in a white faced, green haired, grinning madman named, “John Doe.” He might seem like a joker, but he’s no laughing matter. The best part of the episode for me was spending some time in Arkham. I’ve enjoyed the Telltale take on Batman so far, and seeing their versions of Victor Zsasz and Ventriloquist was great.

Batman: The Telltale Series

Even if you guess the punchline, the joke is killer.

From there, Batman: The Telltale Series quickly ramps into its final act. You’ll do some more detective work to find the truth about Lady Arkham, and quickly after have to make the choice between facing Harvey as either Batman or Bruce. Regardless of your previous choices, shit goes downhill fast. In an iconic Telltale moment, the “Harvey will remember that” prompt becomes “Two-Face will remember that.” You’ll have a tough final decision in whether to confront Penguin or Two-Face, the consequences of which are powerful.

From there we go into the final chapter, which attempts to both quickly wrap up everything the season has set out so far. With either Penguin or Two-Face taken down in the previous episode as Batman, you start “City of Light” going after whoever is left standing as Bruce. It’s the kind of thing that might sound like a typical Telltale, “choices don’t actually matter” moment, but the split between the Batman and Bruce characters make each feel distinct.

Batman: The Telltale Series

Don’t you tell me choices don’t matter, I had to go into the final battle with a Bat Suit made of cloth! At least it didn’t have rubble nipples…

By the time the credits role, Bruce has begun to repair his reputation and Batman is heralded as a hero. This conclusion doesn’t come without considerable loss and sacrifice, however. No matter what path you take, Bruce/Batman and those he cares about do not escape unscathed. I’m eager to see how this carries over to future games, but as it stands it’s an ambitious, “to be continued…”

I’m still trying to keep this spoiler free, but there’s only so much more I can talk about the narrative without having to discuss the specifics. As a general criticism, the villains’ fall from grace comes far too quickly. You go from being the undisputed nemesis of Gotham in the public eye to their savior in a day. It’s a concern I expressed at the end of Episode 3, that the remaining time wouldn’t be enough to smoothly resolve all of the storylines. To Telltale’s credit this could have been handled much worse, but it’s worth mentioning.

Batman: The Telltale Series

Gosh, it’s a good thing you decided to start murdering cops in a public park. It would be really hard to get my position back as CEO otherwise.

Now here we come to my big rub with Batman: The Telltale Series. For years, I’ve been engaged in a debate over the importance of choice in games. Through the medium of game, we have the unique ability to interact with our stories in ways impossible in movies, books, television, etc. Through our actions and choices, we shape the story. Whether it be in minor ways like deciding between a melee or ranged class, or far reaching decisions of factions, allies, and ultimately who lives and dies. It’s a perpetually unattainable goal: no matter how we try, there is only so much time to write so much dialogue and program so much code. It’s the same problem of Plato’s Aesthetics, but that eternal struggle toward an ideal is what makes each venture interesting. We endeavor, experiment, and ultimately misstep, all to evolve the artform of storytelling.

Batman: The Telltale Series

Ah yes, akin to the greatest works of Caravaggio.

In that regard, Telltale needs to knock off telling me shit like, “Falcone will remember that,” when he gets shot in the face the very next level. When Telltale first gained its major fame through The Walking Dead, the only real criticism people could find was that there were too many ultimately inconsequential story arcs. It was acceptable at first, since we really never knew who would survive. Maybe you should be nice to Larry so that Lily would side with you? The illusion that anyone could be important fit the theme of the world acceptably.

You know what else would fit the theme of not knowing who would make it to the end? Just not saying anything. Don’t tell me who remembers what and I won’t know what to expect. And don’t you go and tell me that I can turn off the prompts in the options. I know I can. My problem isn’t that I lack the ability to ignore them, but that they are antiquated and dishonest. It would be a minor nitpick, if not for how fundamental this is to the game. From the get go, Telltale games describe themselves as games that will remember your decisions, and that choices matter. To their credit, Telltale Games do give you some really major and impacting decisions. But this effort to characterize them all as important is an artifice. We agonize over our minor conversational choices, when really all that matters is if we go left and right at the major chapter forks.

Batman: The Telltale Series

Sorry Harv, you still wind up all Two-Facey.

I’m not going to be someone that complains my decisions between paper and plastic didn’t alter the fate of the universe. I get that minor colorations during the narrative can do as much to paint my experience as the major turning points. As long as my choices feel real and I’m never the wiser, who am I to complain? And hey, Batman: The Telltale Series did a great job of this! I honestly thought I could help Harvey right up until the end, and it even let me pick which major boss I could take down first. So is it a win?

In many ways, yes. The brushstrokes and colors that Batman: The Telltale Series provided me with allowed me to paint my own unique picture, even if it made me stay in the lines and follow the guide. Their new take on Bruce as the son of a criminal and Batman as a potential masochist was great. The Batman/Bruce split never felt artificial or forced. I genuinely felt for the characters, and was thoroughly invested until the end.

Batman: The Telltale Series

“Thoroughly invested”

The ultimate issue is that the Telltale Games formula is starting to show its cracks. These are essentially visual novels with some quicktime events, and they need to evolve. The detective segments were never made into something more than simple matching puzzles, and the combat was… well it’s a Telltale game, isn’t it? These games are great, mature stories full of intrigue, passion, sex, violence, and compelling questions of the vast grey between right and wrong. I wish that Telltale would start treating their narrative structure the same way. Forget the five pivotal forks per episode with one “big” decision. Forget the little prompts. Make that invisible. Make me wonder what I could have done better instead of telling me where I went wrong. Batman: The Telltale Series gets a pass for now, but I can’t say the next one will.

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