With Episode 5 now out, it’s time for a formal review of Batman: The TellTale Series. I’ve already covered each episode pretty extensively, so for this review, I’m going to avoid spoilers and talk about the overall experience, rather than focusing on episodes as a stand alone. If you’ve been avoiding spoilers, you’re free to read this review without fear of having the story ruined.
Be the Bat
This is often a tagline for Batman experiences and toys, but I’ve yet to get the real Batman “feel” as strongly as with TellTale’s narrative. TellTale takes classic Batman characters and ties them together to blur not only the lines between hero and villain but friend and enemy as well as public and private self. Nearly every character has a past or goal that conflicts with their public image. Dealing with people as Bruce Wayne in a Batman style immediately reminds the player that Bruce Wayne, as a public figure with an address and well known family name, is so much more vulnerable than Batman. Bruce is not alone though, and other people’s private lives become exposed, twisting even Batman’s traditional role as avenger into something different but recognizable. In fact, I feel like this iteration of Batman is so modern and so relevant to people in general that DC might want to consider making canonical changes to reflect TellTale’s narrative. I say this as someone who has idolized Batman, for good or ill, since childhood.
In fact, the bigger push to play as Bruce Wayne probably accounts for a lot of the game’s immersion. Batman is a super hero like so many other super heroes, except that he is very mortal. He has a lot to lose, and unlike Tony Stark, he doesn’t have any high end government connections to rely on for security. Bringing out Bruce’s vulnerabilities makes him easier to relate to, but the Batman end of his business is a constant reminder of why the character is such a paranoid loner. I think all Batfans want to see Bruce be happy, and root for him to get off his Batman path, only to see the character either reject it or get burned by allowing a moment of weakness. When it’s us in that position, and we allow for that weakness, the burn is much more personal. It makes empathizing with the tragic boy billionaire easier than anything I’ve experienced with any other super hero media representation. Combined with nods to literal mythology, TellTale’s story leaves the player feeling like a legend.
It’s Elementary My Dear
The “game” itself isn’t that gamy, like most TellTale games. You’re primarily dealing with cut scenes and dialogue choices, but the results are both visual and visceral. You make choices that affect the plot in some keys ways. These aren’t simple detours like some other TellTale game choices, but ones that seriously challenge the Bat mythos at times. The paths do converge, but the differences in the stories are visual for a long time. Even the ending of the series can leave characters permanently damaged, and it would be hard for TellTale to wiggle its fingers to make those choices disappear.
When there are game elements, like combat, they’re relatively simple for the most part. PC players tap the keys to execute the correct motion while console players press the right on-screen buttons. It’s the usual TellTale system, but sometimes there’s a twist.
As this is a Batman game, and Batman is a master detective, there’s a “linking” system. The player can link game elements, such as clues, to uncover what’s happened before Batman got to the crime scene, but it’s also used to plan out Batman’s attacks while he lies in the shadows and plots. It’s usually quite on point and feels like a Batman thing.
The addition of Crowd Play also makes the game slightly multiplayer, allowing other players to use their browser (computer or phone based) to vote in decisions. While it’s suggested to be used for local play, it is feasible that, with the use of the pause button, that streamers could allow their audience to participate as well.
Mad as a Hatter
The one weakness the game has is that the last two episodes become too convoluted. While we always need to suspend our disbelief, TellTale mostly does a wonderful job of grounding the game in reality. Modern technology, such as drones, make it a bit easier to swallow Batman’s ability to be nearly all knowing, but others, like scanning a new virus’s cellular structure well enough to devise an antidote without a real sample, seem wholly unbelievable.
Relationships with other characters may have changed between episodes since certain things had opportunities to be foreshadowed but come up suddenly, calling attention to the creative process and the episodic nature of the game’s release as a wholly unfinished product periodically updated with a new release. If TellTale was to make a “director’s cut” edition that maybe fixed some of these issues, the game could really be a piece of art.
As it is though, the game starts out fairly well grounded, but some decisions feel more “right” than others, not based on traditional Batman lore (which some fans may argue over), but basic logic. These are the choices that often feel like they suffer from narrative issues, and as all plot points need to meet again for TellTale to continue its story, it affects the story as a whole. It’s a shame that this issue plagues the ending as well, but the upswing is that there are some very important choices made in the final moments as well.
What this all boils down to is that Batman: The TellTale Series feels like it gives you the chance to make a lot of important feeling decisions, but sometimes it’s in situations that immediately feel contrived. Later use of them may slightly help redeem them, and choices that continue themes of the game — personal vs. private life, justice vs. vengeance, society vs. the individual– still feel relevant, it’s just a shame that the plot’s seams sometimes become very exposed.
If you’re looking for a “game,” TellTale is quite different from what most people expect. In fact, when people have heard me discussing the game in public, they often think I’m talking about a TV show or comic. I think it reveals a lot about how people, gamers and non-gamers, view games as an art. However, there is the stuff that Mass Effect, Fire Emblem, and other dialogue-heavy RPG fans love. The detective work is much more interactive than most TellTale games, and while still safely on the rails to make sure the narrative doesn’t get lost, feels appropriately structured as a balance between linear story-telling and sandbox discovery.
I’m mostly giving this score for the story. It’s a story most people are familiar with, but not exactly for Batman. I almost feel like I could get a non-Batman fan invested in the game, perhaps between seasons of their favorite shows.
Game wise though, the linking of combat options or clues is something we don’t often see, and Crowd Play is an option I’m surprised Bioware didn’t invent.
Learning Curve: 10
Playing the game is quite easy. Once you learn to use the pause button to give yourself time to think, the game becomes much simpler. That’s saying something, since most combat input sequences give you between a lot and a reasonable amount of time to react. Really, as long as grandma can read, she can probably learn to play this game.
In fact, I really wish TellTale could take the story behind so many other long, grindy RPGs and distill them down. Non-gamers can more easily understand why some of us fan out when stories are done this well, and TellTale’s method is very accessible.
What people may have noticed in my impressions pieces is that I stopped taking shots at voice acting. Maybe I just made some good choices, but at the end of the series, most of the voice acting talent found their way. The lines stopped breaking my immersion. Most were well delivered, enough so that I even thanked one voice actor I’d previously written off. The art style is rather clean, and unlike some past TellTale games, I didn’t get any weird, jarring graphical glitches.
Value for Money: 10
For a little more than the cost of a couple of (non-3D) movie tickets, you get about 10 hours of gameplay for a single run. Crowd Play and multiple options adds additional replay value in ways other TellTale games haven’t hooked me.
+Well grounded opening chapters make the series feel like a genuine modern myth
+Respect and innovation of the source materials
+Visual and emotional choices from start to finish
-Not “game” heavy, which could be unappealing to certain gamers
-Later chapters seem less well structured