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Backlogging: "Batman: The Telltale Series"


Backlogging: "Batman: The Telltale Series"

Shaun Cordingley

As evidenced in my Top 100 Games of All-Time series I did over the 2016 holidays, I am a fan of narrative games, as well as what Telltale Games puts together. Also, for longtime listeners of the Podcast, you are well aware that I am a fan of DC Comics (you know, all that Aquaman talk we get into), so when Batman: The Telltale Series was announced, I was particularly excited. I really like the premise of experiencing a Batman story in the narrative game/point-and-click adventure game genre, plus, 

Batman TTS is an episodic narrative adventure game wherein you play Batman very early in the Bat-Timeline: Harvey Dent is running for Mayor, James Gordon is a Lieutenant in the Gotham City Police, and no one knows who The Joker, Catwoman, or The Penguin are yet. While I will be avoiding spoiling anything (for those who have yet to play it), I found it quite nice to have the feeling like I was building my own, opening timeline in the story of Batman. The story starts with Bruce Wayne setting out to help Harvey Dent become Mayor, thwarting a mysterious Cat-dressed burglar who is attempting to rob city hall, and getting swept up into a massive conspiracy and epic storyline:

Telltale Games live and die by their story, and thankfully Batman delivers in spades: I adored the narrative of this game: it took the time to play with and adjust the Batman/Bruce Wayne story--I know a good deal about Batman, but there were a ton of surprises to keep me on the edge of my seat AND enough little bits to keep me entertained. There was a particular focus on spending a lot of time playing as Bruce Wayne as well, which I particularly liked, as he is often an under served character (I get it, when you have 2 hours for a Batman story, people want to see Batman).
If you are precious about the Batman story/stories, you may be frustrated or put off by some of the choices that the creators have made (or that you can make) but for me, this was excellent. I teared up a couple of times, my jaw fell open a couple of times, and there were a few bits that made me giggle ridiculously. 

The gameplay itself was fine; Telltale Games are largely the same, and while they have made some engine improvements, there is still a ways to go (more on this in a bit). I appreciated that this had a few really excellent action sequences in it (which are essentially quick-time-events), and they never felt particularly difficult. I believe I failed once in my entire playthrough, when I sneezed and missed a button prompt. 
That was it. Batman TTS is not, in any way, challenging, but that should never really be an expectation when it comes to Telltale Narrative games. 

Telltale also added a simple set of "detective" sections which were a nice addition, and allowed for a bit more interaction with crime scenes, and it was fun to have Batman narrate his way through a scene to see what happened (a little like Boondock Saints), or make a "plan of action" on how to take out a room full of thugs. These were nice additions, and felt thematic (and good) to break up the standard conversational choices.

Batman: The Telltale Series does suffer from technical flaws however, which essentially every "release review" mentions--well I can let you know that they are a bit better, but still are not ironed out. The art style is the standard Telltale cartoon (as you saw in the trailer), which helps to mask a few of the problems, but there were several occasions when I had screens freeze (with dialogue continuing), no sound come out while characters lips were moving (only to get the lines later), frame-rate slowing to single digits, or in one case, parts of the screen just...didn't render. Thankfully it was in a flashback, so it felt a bit...noir, but it was annoying to have Bruce Wayne's face disappear while he was talking.
These never broke the game (it only crashed once on me, during the credits at the end of episode 1), but it was very, very noticeable, and Batman is easily the Telltale Game I had the most technical issues with. 

It's a bit of a shame that Batman TTS is so technically inconsistent, as the story is, in my opinion, one of the best the studio has ever done. I enjoyed the hell out of Batman, but I hesitate to recommend it because, while I only had one crash (which ended up not being much of a problem), I could see it becoming very frustrating, especially if the technical issues are any worse than what I had. I think at the end of the day, if you are a Batman fan, I would say you should play this; Batman TTS is a stellar Batman story, however, be aware of it's issues (and maybe grab it on sale, or keep an eye out for patches). 

I think I say this after I finish every Telltale Games game: I hope they take the time to really nail their engine, maybe build a new one, or, reduce the number of platforms they are releasing to so they can tune their games better. They are some of the best narrative game storytellers in the industry today, but they seem to get tripped up on their own feet.  

-S (@Shauncord)