As Telltale was slowly releasing The Wolf Among Us, which desperately needs a Season 2, fans were begging for a Batman game. The studio didn’t disappoint, as their take on the Dark Knight was officially announced a year ago. An intriguing detective story utilizing some of the Bat’s most famous characters is all anyone could hope for. Instead, Telltale delivers a well-developed subversion of the now 77 year old cannon.
Some characters don’t look the way we’ve seen them in any of their numerous iterations. A few ancillary players in Bat-mythology are now thrown into the fore with shocking origins informing their motivations. Last, but most certainly not least, the Wayne family itself has been turned on its head. What many assumed was a bait and switch at the end of episode one, morphed into a reveal about Thomas Wayne that not even The Riddler would have guessed. This is the foundation the studio set early on in the series. I’m beyond pleased to say the standard remains constant throughout Season 1.
Warning, the following will contain mild spoilers.
— Brianna Reeves (@PirateBL_R) August 2, 2016
First, let’s applaud Telltale for getting the mechanics of Batman right. There’s more to the Bat than just movement; he’s a master tactician both in and out of combat. Rocksteady’s Arkham series nailed it perfectly. While Telltale’s adventure formula doesn’t allow for in depth stealth or fighting, they managed well with what they had at their disposal.
The gameplay is stiff, as per usual, and the impact of the Dark Knight’s hits lack the immediacy fans are used to seeing him exhibit in combat. However, when the player wants to turn on Brutal-Bat, that is exactly what you’ll get. Want the vigilante to incite fear? You’ve got it. Simple controls and quick-time events allow you to feel like Batman without much complexity. The inputs are intuitive enough, so the outcome of a brawl is in your control.
As always, your choices matter and it was fun to see them play out here. The characterization of Harvey Dent, which is based on whether or not he physically becomes Two-Face, deserves an article to itself. My choices didn’t get me literal Two-Face. However, Travis Willingham’s award-worthy portrayal carefully meshed Dent’s sanity with Two-Face’s insanity, weaving together the character’s personality disorder in an unprecedented manner.
I can’t go on without mentioning the studio’s ever-present ellipsis option. It suits Batman and Bruce Wayne incredibly well. This game resulted in my using the don’t respond option during dialogue more than all other Telltale games I’ve played combined (five including Batman). There are plenty of moments where I felt both Bruce and the Bat would have nothing to say in response.
There were a few instances of lag and hiccups in my playthrough, though it was nothing major until episode five. The finale, City of Light, suffered many glitches during my two hour playtime. In one intense fight with the main villain and their followers, one of their cohorts simply floated around as a mouth and eyeballs — not too dissimilar from the glitch that plagued Assassin’s Creed: Unity’s release.
What truly shines is Season 1’s stellar narrative. As mentioned above, Telltale’s take subverts pretty much everything we’ve come to understand about the cannon. Penguin’s handsome and Harvey’s the Mayor. Joker’s in the Asylum, but he’s John Doe attempting to feign sanity. Here we get a somewhat psychologically buttoned-up Joker, whose subdued laugh demonstrates he’s trying to control his more manic urges. It’s wonderfully done. But there are a few constants fans can rely on — Alfred’s still Alfred, Selina will always been a pragmatic criminal, and not many people are as reliable as Lucius Fox.
The most daunting alteration of the lore is in Thomas Wayne’s corruption. The specifics won’t be spoiled here, but the way it plays out is hard to swallow. As a Batman fan, my disappointment isn’t in the existence of a story in which pre-accident Thomas Wayne isn’t the most honorable man. My disappointment is an extension of Bruce’s. Thomas’ criminal behavior means that everything the Batman is founded on is a lie.
Telltale’s work in upsetting the status quo also drifts to a certain mainstay in the lore, who often only serves as a secondary and sometimes tertiary character. The twist is shocking and completely unexpected, as a massive reveal concerning their true identity closes episode three, which leads to an unsettling discovering in episode four. This brings me to yet another character who, if we get a Season 2, may also end up subverting the cannon. Again, no spoilers, but a certain tease may beget the first inklings of a Bat-family.
All of these threads and more are carried throughout the series. What culminates is a satisfying conclusion to the overarching storyline. However, there’s admittedly a bit left to be desired. There’s a cliffhanger, but it is not enough of a set up to leave you itching for more. But dammit if I don’t want more and now.
Images: Telltale/Warner Bros. Video Captured with PS4 Share.