Spoilers within! For non-spoiler reviews of Batman: The Telltale Series, check out my reviews of each individual episode.
Batman: The Telltale Series is the latest in Telltale’s many story based adventure games, this time putting their spin on the Caped Crusader, but especially the man beneath the cowl, Bruce Wayne. It’s full of little, and sometimes larger, twists to Batman canon that are fun to see unfold. The fuller story itself has a better setup than resolution, but remains serviceable throughout, with some notable missteps I’ll detail within. The biggest thing working against this particular series is remarkably poor performance from a technical standpoint. Even when I was loving the story,with all it’s twists and turns, the engine would constantly dampen my enjoyment.
The biggest change made to common Batman lore in this series is the idea that Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father, wasn’t the beloved philanthropist Gotham believed him to be. Behind the scenes, he had deep mob connections with the Falcone crime family. He was responsible for wrongly imprisoning people into Arkham Asylum, which serves as the basis for much of the villains’ backstories. In particular, Penguin and Lady Arkham both have true, believable motivation in their disdain for Bruce Wayne. At first, it’s hard to believe that the Wayne’s could be responsible for the accusations being slung around. Penguin sounds like a crazy person ranting, but it turns out he’s not wrong. This change deepens the characters and it pays off throughout the story.
The smaller changes, like Penguin and Bruce being old childhood friends, or Joker being committed to Arkham before ever meeting Bruce, were fun twists that kept the universe interesting. These put new spins on characters that would otherwise have me expecting where their story arc is ending, and is one of the things that kept me looking forward to each new episode.
Much of the playtime is devoted to control of Bruce instead of Batman. Sometimes you’re even able to choose to which persona to use for a task. Batman is a character many people love, but “good guy punches bad guy” is something we see time and again. Shaping Bruce as a character through my dialogue options and physical actions was refreshing, and something not previously done with the 75+ years of Batman storytelling. Bruce needs to navigate personal and political relationships under the weight of the Wayne family history becoming public scandal.
The reveal of Lady Arkham was a shocking turn of events, but felt unearned. By the time the final episode tried humanizing her backstory, it was too late. I can understand somebody feeling bad for a person who was treated exceptionally poorly as a child, but it doesn’t excuse their actions as an adult. The childhood abuse angle was a cheap attempt to squeeze emotion from the audience, and little more than that in my opinion.
Trailers ahead of Episode 4’s release confirmed the appearance of Joker, whom we discover is known only as “John Doe” thus far in this universe. He’s got the green hair and maniacal laugh, but his presence is shoehorned just to be able to include the character. The voice performance is well done, but he adds little to the plot other than being an exceedingly obvious sequel setup.
I reviewed each of the five episodes as they were released, and some ran better than others, but the overall level of polish present is shockingly bad. I encountered, on average, one full crash per episode. The same problems were present for me on both an original base PS4 and the new PS4 Pro. Infrequently, audio would cut out until the next scene loaded. Jarring pop-in when transitioning scenes occurred regularly, and frame rates would take a nosedive in most action sequences.
Telltale has many irons in the fire. By the end of 2016 they will have released part or all of four different episodic series. This year it was a pair of Walking Dead titles and Minecraft alongside Batman. Many of the issues seen in Batman are present in these other titles as well, but have gotten worse now. Batman is running on a new engine, with improved lighting effects. Hopefully the subpar performance of Batman is the worst it will ever be and we can chalk it up to growing pains in a new engine. If not, it really is time to maybe release fewer games and focus on building a rock solid engine that can comfortably run what is being asked of it. Unacceptable. There’s no more accurate word for the technical issues persisting in Batman: The Telltale Series.
FINAL SAY SO
Telltale’s fresh take on Batman is a welcome addition to the decades of story material about the Dark Knight. Characters are presented in new and interesting ways, and though it’s uneven, there’s still a lot to enjoy, especially for Batman fans. More casual fans will have a much harder time forgiving the legion of bugs and evidently low attention paid to quality assurance testing. I appreciate the chances that were taken in the story, but have gripes with where the threads ended up. After five episodes across four months, Batman: The Telltale Series lands squarely in “average” territory for me.