As I mentioned in my preview for Batman: The TellTale Series just a short while ago, I’m a huge Batman fan. When TellTale Games sent a review copy for the game, I jumped at the opportunity to cover it, since the preview really made it seem like we were getting to tackle the moral quandaries other Batman games tend to lead us through.
With the addition of Crowd Play, allowing for people around you to vote on your decisions, the game felt ripe as a good way to introduce people not only to TellTale games, but specifically to games that are more of an interactive story than a series of rules. As this is only the first episode of the series, I won’t be writing a full review yet. This is simply a major-spoiler-free impression. A very, very strong impression.
A New Bat Experience
My first time through the game, I played on my own so I could make my own choices. The game is quite generous with customizing “your” Batman, not only in terms of responses and actions, but even “Bat-tech” color, the glowy hint effect that makes finding clues and linking actions easier. It’s a small addition to TellTale’s usual formula of dialogue options, simple “match the button” type combat, and “search this screen for clues.” However, a good addition we get is the linking system. With evidence system, you can link any options, but not all of them are right. The fact that you can be wrong is important, as the multiple options makes you think just a little harder than you might have if there were, say, glowing hints that taught you which option to choose before making a commitment. Linking to make strategic attacks is quite different, as in episode one, it’s purely cosmetic but feels super Batman, as it kind of reveals Batman’s inner strategic mind in a way that gives players direct control.
A lot of the options for actions hover between brutal Batman, morally grey Batman, and “just trying to do my job” Batman, such as getting options to use a crowbar to hit someone in the head, use it to break their ribs, or just scare them. Dialogue wise, options tend to range from Adam West Batman to “that escalated fast” Batman, and of course include “dark brooding silence.” That last option is key, as it’s my usual first choice as a response. However, silence in other TellTale games often feels like a wrong answer. This happened a few times in Batman, like when I refused to respond to a gangster’s threat and he took it as me accepting his “alpha male” status, but other times, I wasn’t sure. Later, with crowd play, more silence options won out, but the person I played with didn’t feel the same way, so it may vary.
That being said, some of the Batman scenes felt underwhelming. Simply pressing “up” to grapple-tie enemies and hang them from the ceiling feels underwhelming and over-simplified. Slowing down some of the action might have been more tedious, but would have added some weight to the opening scenes. This is key, because certain plot elements, like Batman’s bullet proof armor only being in the front, stand out much more when the on screen action is simple but effect is quit strong. You press A+D to do a heavy smash at the right time, but “up” generally is for dodging or a high attack in most of the game. To have no set up and simply make people disappear so simply just stands out, but it’s a small flaw mostly affecting immersion. There are many, many others.
For example, when Vicki Vale shows up, Bruce hits on her no matter what. In my mind, Batman is so focused on his job that if he sees exposed breasts on a costumed villain, he’s only thinking of how easy that woman will be to take out during a fight. Dialogue with quite a few female characters presented as “eye candy” is just plain awful, cringeworthy trash that stands out as something a guy wrote. When they need to be a functional character, it improves greatly, but otherwise, it’s not TellTales’ best work. Bruce’s flirting in one particular scene is heavy handed no matter what, and it would have been nice to at least have options to tone it down.
That being said, as soon as longtime enemy Carmine Falcone enters, the game gets real. There is palpable tension as you realize this is still early in Batman’s career. Mistakes are made along the way, and having to deal with them in public as Bruce Wayne brings a vulnerability to the character that we rarely consider. TellTale is weaving their own story, remixing Bat history and relationships, but in new, refreshing ways that have barely been treaded before, further making the time spent as Bruce a lesson in balancing one’s personal and professional life – which is pretty hard to do when your professional life generally allows you to punch people in the face for wasting your time.
In fact, Falcone is given multiple opportunities to antagonize the player. You’re given plenty of opportunities to escalate the situation and bury yourself in trouble, but a few to help you avoid it or dig yourself out. Much like other TellTale games, you have to balance between getting to do what you want and avoiding harsh consequences, and Falcone feels like the epitome of this. A gangster with a lot of secret ties to both the underworld and corrupt public officials is not an enemy Bruce Wayne, boy billionaire, can really protect himself against.
The game allows the player to really focus on the “play nice” Bruce options and “deal with it as Batman” dynamic, if they want, and it’s quite satisfying, especially as the Wayne family’s past comes under the microscope. The constant attack on Bruce as himself, rather than Batman, ups the stakes when compared to most Batman games, even plots. It attacks his core. Batman may be ready for everything, but not Bruce Wayne, and that’s why Episode 1 already feels like a vital new addition in the Batman mythos.
This makes the final decision in the chapter more meaningful. In front of Gotham, Batman gets the choice between serving justice or reminding the bad guys that they are mortal. I took the latter route, and while playing hard on the edges of Batman’s limits, it was satisfying, if a bit more than I anticipated. Morally, I kind of regretted what I did, but mentally, it seemed to serve the purpose Batman was pursuing, which really helped me get more into Batman’s mentality, something I feel rarely happens Batman games where we have no choice over the outcome beyond “complete or fail.” I did see the other choice when playing on crowd play, which didn’t feel as significant, but the game (especially through Alfred) appropriately gives you moral choices and in no certain terms makes it clear when you’ve done. something heinous. Morality is front and center in this game, something I feel the Batman movies very rarely tackle but is a core aspect of the character.
Enter Crowd Play
My second play through was with crowd play on. I asked my brother, a fellow comic fan who reads much, much more than I do still and has several friends who do as well, to jump in. While I probably could have streamed it, not only do I have few followers (or interest in streaming), TellTale advices against it. For now, they prefer to refer to the game as having a local multiplayer option, and that’s the way we took it. To note though, my brother has never played a TellTale game and didn’t feel the game was a “real game,” but he liked it well enough to want to see the next chapter.
That being said, crowd play allows players to enter a code into devices with internet capability and vote on dialogue choices throughout the game, plus give feedback on the results. Choices are made by selecting the same color answer on your device as is presented on the screen. As usual, your choices are timed, but being able to pause the game still allows you (and your audience) more time to choose. We had some difficulty getting the game to accept the first code we tried on his smart phone, and then later on his laptop as well. We’re not sure what happened, but simply restarting the game and getting a new code fixed it. One issue may have been with the length of his nickname on the cell phone version of the site, but we didn’t really play around with it. We just wanted to try multiplayer.
My brother is, admittedly, a bit of a troll, which is why he was a good choice for this. He’s invested enough in the game’s origins and story to make choices he’d genuinely like to see, but would thumbs down whenever he didn’t get his way. This is a bit important, as I set the game to choose whatever the audience picked, and situations of a tie, there seems to be an internal coin-flip. However, most of those flips seemed to favor me, the person actually playing the game. Statistically speaking, it could have been random chance, but it was enough to annoy my brother and get me plenty of thumbs downs. It doesn’t affect gameplay, and it did let us joke around a bit more than if he had only been watching and not given any kind of onscreen “voice.”
It does give people power over your game, if you choose to allow it, but you’re not totally at other peoples’ mercy. Fighting and finding clues is still up to the player, as are major choices, including the final justice vs. punishment choice. What’s nice is that, with local player, you can still give people the choice orally. Crowd play seems like a very small, simple addition that could easily be ignored for most people, but adds a little something for socially minded people.
Episode 1 of Batman: The TellTale Series is well worth your time if you’re a Batman fan, and can act as a great way to introduce people to the character as well. Tweaking some of Batman’s traditional mythos and focusing more on Bruce Wayne makes the character more accessible to both new and old fans.
The cliff hanger in this episode is personal, so I’m deeply invested in the story line, perhaps especially since this is an original story I can’t just use spoilers to predict. TellTale has taken multiple aspects of the Batman mythos, remixed them, and helped balance out Batman and his alter ego in a way that doesn’t just scratch an itch but feeds a hunger. Some of the dialogue is weak at moments, but the overall effect is visceral story telling that’s left me thirsty for more.Related: Batman: The Telltale Series, Comics, DC Universe, graphic adventure, Multiplayer, Single Player, telltale, telltale games, Warner Bros