I’m a huge Batman fan. Not like, “I’ve memorized every piece of Batman media” huge, but huge like I may have some problems specifically because I idolized him as a kid. Don’t worry, as my young companions aren’t out on the streets fighting crime with me… yet. However, I may have to put them through a little hero simulation after getting a sneak peek of Batman: The TellTale Series.
While I would love to tell you I got hands-on time with the game, the sad fact of the matter is that I simply saw a first hand Batman: The TellTale Series demo of the first thirty or so minutes of the game. However, the choices were live and it did paint enough of a picture to give me not only an idea of the quality of the game but its aims.
Let’s first get the “bad” out of the way. First, of course, is that if you don’t like TellTale style games, this game already won’t be for you. It’s a point and click graphic adventure, so while there is some combat, it’s rather simple. Don’t expect this to be like the Arkham series. I’ve heard the game engine’s been updated, but honestly, I can’t tell where or how. Finally, some of the dialogue is not great, partially because Kevin Conroy isn’t under the digital cowl, but oh well. There’s more to this point than simple voice actor options .
That last point is key because you’ve got multiple “versions” of Batman appearing at once. Some of it is just the writers not having a natural ear for dialogue (though I may be picky, especially as a language teacher who strives for authentic, communicative speech), but imagine for a moment that Adam West appeared, as Batman, in Dark Knight Rises for just long enough to tell a joke. Imagine Batfleck popping in to deliver a nearly teenage retort right after that. You get the idea of how wide a range things can get, and quickly.
By giving the player the option to choose what Batman says, TellTale’s opened the door for multiple translations of the character to appear simultaneously. In some ways, it’s annoying as a fan. There’re certain versions of Batman that just get on my nerves, and in my head, there’s a certain “pure” Batman that should receive preferential treatment. That being said, I also understand that my favorite version isn’t everyone’s, so TellTale’s flexibility allow multiple types of fans to get their version of Batman through the game. It took about 20 minutes of the demo for this to sink in, but once it did, I was more than comfortable with it, especially since, well, Batman isn’t the actual focus of TellTale’s game. It’s the Bruce/Bat duality.
Man by Day, Bat by Night
Batman is always seen as a living legend, even in his Adam West adaptions. While we always know he’s one of the more mortal superheroes, his attention to detail and forethought make him seem god-like at times. TellTale, though, without spoilers, is stripping that away. While we see the ways Batman’s prepared for just about everything during our introductory level as the Bat, it’s spliced with scenes of Bruce dealing with the aftermath the next day. These aren’t just bruises, but serious injuries that you’d expect a doctor to treat, and there’s blood. Lots of blood.
The choice to show Batman bleeding is a tough one to make, but calculated. We very, very rarely see him bleed. The first time I saw Batman bleed in a comic was when I was seven years old. It wasn’t my first comic, but it was one of the first times I genuinely remember realizing that Batman wasn’t actually invincible and that he couldn’t take bullets like Superman. Batman really can die, and pushing that to the forefront at the beginning of the game, combined with some choice words from Alfred, really set the tone of the game.
That’s barely the start though. The duality dives even deeper as a well known Bat-villain crashes a get together at Wayne Manor. It’s interesting enough to see people’s reactions to Bruce, notes about his family, it’s history, and what they represent to him. It thoroughly grounds Bruce Wayne as human, but having someone Batman would normally be torturing for information without effort looking his alter ego in the eye in the public space leaves the hero naked. It’s a very, very good reminder of why Bruce has to wear the cowl. While mentally fans know that he’s rich and famous, experiencing this leaves a much bigger impact. It’s exactly what I was talking about when I discussed how games (but not exactly MMOs) can be art. This isn’t just an experience, but a calculated narrative strategy to cause a specific experience, and that’s vulnerability.
Knowing that Batman could easily take this guy out but has to hold back for fear of bringing a crime lord down on his alter ego is incredibly stressful to endure as a long time fan. I sat and watched our demo leader choose some rather hostile options while the city’s elite looked on, approving of his actions but, perhaps, not understanding just how much hell it was going to cost. I personally wanted to try other, less “Batman” approaches because simply put, it felt obvious that there was going to be a very real, violent price to pay that Bruce Wayne would have trouble effectively dealing with in the public eye.
It this point, it becomes obvious that the theme, at least of this chapter, if not the game, is of mortality and morality. Batman is acting in ways that may kill him while Bruce needs to publicly balance his morality. It’s clear that you can essentially choose to play Bruce Wayne as a thinly veiled Batman, but I get the idea from multiple “He’ll remember that” messages that the player will pay for this when the caped crusader takes off his mask for the night/morning.
When asked what or if there was a particular influence for the story, TellTale simple said that they were influenced by other Batman stories but ultimately made their own. While we didn’t see a walking exploration part of the game, we were told the “detective mode” was coming up shortly after our demo, most likely to tease us about exploring the game again when it’s more complete. There may be some things that bugged me about this demo, but the overall impression I was left with was that I’d be playing this game, not just because I’m a huge Batman fan, but because there’s an obvious narrative strategy occurring that brings something new to rather old character. I think even casual fans can appreciate that.