It’s been a big year for Batman. With DC launching a selection of new Batman comics and Batfleck taking hold over on the silver screen in both BvS: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, there’s been a hefty serving of one of the world’s most well-known superheroes for those interested – even more so when you take into account Rocksteady’s Arkham series finished just last year, as well. And so it was curious, then, to hear last December that Telltale Games was partnering with DC to make a Batman game, especially when you consider the “deal” Telltale has with Marvel and the huge selection of other Telltale series running right now.
That’s not to the detriment of the studio, though – it obviously likes to handle a lot of things at once, and, even after the disappointment of The Walking Dead: Michonne, I was eager to see what they could do with my favourite superhero. Surprisingly, if the first two episodes are anything to go by, Telltale is doing The Dark Knight a little more justice than Zack Snyder and David Ayer did earlier this year.
Episode 1, titled Realm of Shadows, kicks off the series well, with good pacing, great writing and voice acting, and a few familiar faces to encounter as you’re thrown right into the world of Bruce Wayne. As I’d expected before jumping in, the game alternates between Batman and Wayne’s adventures, and that suits Telltale’s story-driven, point-and-click formula to a T.
The first episode of the series also gives a great amount of context as to what kind of Gotham City you’re inhibiting – it’s one of infancy. One that, even when occupied with villains and baddies alike, does not require as much of the Bat and his repertoire of skills and gadgets as modern fans are, arguably, used to. You’ll come to meet friends and foes that, if you’re familiar with the Nolan film series or the Rocksteady games at the very least, will pique interest and intrigue. It’s a smart way of introducing the unique characters that inhabit Wayne’s world, and I’m grateful to see a different side of Gotham, too – one that still sits in its early days in the grand scheme of things, though still managing to feel dark, brutal, and unforgiving in its own right.
Episode 2, Children of Arkham, throws you right back into a world where big questions continue to complicate Bruce Wayne’s life. Following on from the end of the first episode, a myriad of lies and deceit come right for him, and it’s a compelling plot line to watch play out.
Though Episode 2 tends to be a bit weaker in the sense that the writing isn’t as good and the interest generated from the big questions that were posed at the end of Realm of Shadows deviate a little in order to start establishing the season’s big villains, it still manages to have its moments and kept me interested throughout.
Something that did disappoint me in Episode 2 when compared to the opening episode of Batman was the lack of detective work. The series opener had a fantastic – albeit a little basic – detective sequence that made me feel like I’d stepped right back into Batman’s boots. I felt extremely immersed in this sequence in particular, as I pieced together a crime scene in order to come up with a theory as to what had happened with a deal gone bad that I’d received a lead on. The lack of this in Children of Arkham meant the immersion fell a little short, though I still found myself enjoying the Batman experience in a way that is quite different from any other Batman entertainment experience out there.
Children of Arkham is, when looking at the bigger picture, an episode intent on setting up what’s to come. It knows where it is in the storyline, and manages to establish a handful of important plot points while also dealing out a couple of unexpected twists and turns throughout its hour and a half running time. Though weaker than Episode 1 in almost every way, it’s still a necessary piece of the jigsaw in the grand scheme of things and, while I’m avoiding spoilers for now, contains a few notable sequences that I’m excited to talk about when the full season is out and I can dissect and talk about everything in detail.
From a technical standpoint, the immersion and experience in Telltale’s Batman is generally hurt thanks to some annoying Telltale-induced glitches and problems. As many have said over the last few years, it’s time for the Telltale Engine to get a big upgrade, and this series not only solidifies this issue, but it beats it over the head with a nail many, many times.
While I played the Xbox One version of the game and this may not be indicative of other versions, I still could not get over how much the frame rate was stuttering, and how some objects in cutscenes would just not move at all. They were supposed to (take, for example, a ball on a pool table which was just struck by the white), but failed to follow the correct animation.
Perhaps this isn’t all to do with the Telltale Engine, but I’ve noticed throughout the years that Telltale are cramming more and more into their games and the engine itself is struggling to handle it all. I hope, some day, Telltale will finally sit back and look to fix this, but whether that time will come sooner rather than later is questionable.
Yet Telltale’s Batman series has started surprisingly well. With a fascinating set of plot lines to follow and a handful of excellent Batman/Wayne sequences, there’s a lot to like here if you’re a Batman fan. However, with only two episodes currently out, it’s still a question of how Telltale can continue to weave an intricate thread around the well-known universe that will define whether its Batman series is a success or not. As has been the case for so long, the Telltale Engine is crying out for an upgrade, and one can only hope that the problems faced in this series (and, for that matter, previous Telltale games as well) will be the last before a major upgrade rolls out for future games and seasons.