Batman is an interesting franchise. Not because of the massive world building and story, but because of the actual main character. Bruce Wayne/Batman is a stellar protagonist, and each iteration of Batman is usually different. There’s an obvious style change between Chris Nolan’s Batman (The Dark Knight), and the original Adam West Batman. It’s interesting then, for once, that we get to see Batman how he is truly intended. A menacing, conflicted hero who is just as unsure of himself as the citizens of the city he protects. All of this is brought together wonderfully in the first episode in Telltale’s Batman series.
The first episode in this series is a slow burner, but sets a great pace for the episodes yet to come. It’s not by fault however, as the slow pace gives us time to invest and relate to the newest iteration of Bruce Wayne/Batman. This is hands down the best aspect of the game. Bruce Wayne is very relatable (not to say he wasn’t before), and industry voice work veteran Troy Baker does a great job humanizing the character. In contrast, we have the scariest, most brutal Batman yet. This tone flows over into the main game, with bloody crime scenes and visceral violence. However, the game does not force this “evil” Batman upon you: you’re free to play Batman as passive as you’d like. While the story does need to execute certain scenes, the game does a great job giving you the option to choose mercy over violence. I don’t want to spoil any of the narrative for you, since that’s often the entire focus of Telltale games. Without spoiling anything, I’ll simply say that there’s plenty of twists to keep you interested. While we won’t see any insanely huge action scenes until episode three (if I had to guess), the action and dialogue balance here is good.
Presentation wise, the game is up to par with Telltale’s other games, but makes it’s own improvements. There’s smaller additions made that really make the game feel unique, though. Simple things such as picking the color of Batman’s detective vision really make the game feel personal. There’s also the much appreciated choice-tracker at the end of the episode, so you know how you reacted to situations in comparison to the rest of the world. Besides that, it’s all functional. There’s some frame rate stutters that hinder the experience, which isn’t usual for Telltale. Besides that small gripe, the game presents itself in a dark and stylish tone that I enjoyed very much.
In terms of graphical advances, there’s not many. Telltale’s signature cell shaded art style returns, but feels right at home with Batman. I’m glad they opted for the cell shade style and not the water color look of their “Game of Thrones” adaptation. Some of the quick time events have had their button prompts moved around, and there’s other small technical tweaks, but it looks similar to what you’ve seen before. That’s not bad, by any means, it’s just not new. The game is serviceable in its appearance, but not awe inspiring. Since Telltale games are cut scene intensive, I’d like to see a bigger push in this area in the future. For Batman however, the art style fits just fine.
The game play is also similar, but with some flair added to the combat. Batman feels great to fight with, even though everything is quick time events. The animations and combat style feel truly Batman, even at the most brutal. Telltale has definitely managed to capture the essence of what makes a Batman battle entertaining. The best chunk of game play is by far the detective mode. There’s a small section of the game where you use Batman’s legendary detective abilities to piece together a crime scene. This section in particular exemplifies what make this Batman adaptation a great one. The brutality and necessary violence that Batman must go through in this scene are executed incredibly well. There’s a certain section with a dead police officer and a bullet wound that I hope you cringe at just as much as I did. The staples of Telltale games (dialogue options, moral choice, etc) are all represented here and executed well. The choices have weight, and you feel like you’re actively deciding how this version of Batman will play out. That’s a great feeling, mind you.
Overall, the first episode of Telltale’s Batman is impressive, if a little underwhelming. Sure, the story can drag a bit at times, but it’s important for there to be exposition. What’s important is what’s done with care, so that’s good enough in my book. We have a Bruce Wayne that doesn’t feel snobby, and a Batman that has the capacity to be a pacifist of a monster. It all feels like you’re making the choice too, which hasn’t always hit in previous Telltale games. The level of violence might be off putting to some younger fans, but this game is decidedly adult in its mannerisms. It may not exactly be the Batman game we asked for, but it’s the Batman game we needed. If you enjoy Telltale games in any capacity, or you’re a fan of the Batman franchise, go ahead and pick up the first episode!