Telltale Games has always been an ambitious studio. It started making episodic adventure games back in 2007 with the Sam Max titles, but later graduated to big movie tie-ins Jurassic Park and Back to the Future. It’s breakthrough though was Walking Dead, a dialogue-based thriller with just as much dramatic punch as the frantic and emotional zombie comic series. Since then it has managed to convert both RPG shooter Borderlands and building sim Minecraft into unlikely adventure hits, appeasing two highly invested fanbases.
But Batman: A Telltale Series may be its most audacious project yet. For a start, it follows countless adaptations of DC’s defining hero, from Ocean’s 1986 action adventure, to the likes of Lego Batman, Injustice and, of course, the hugely acclaimed Arkham trilogy. It’s quite a legacy to live up to.
However, most of those focused heavily on the super hero, very few showcased the man behind the mask: Bruce Wayne. Telltale’s Batman title is doing just that. The series, which will eventually contain five episodes, will see players spending half the time playing as the costumed hero and the other half as the billionaire behind the cowl.
This makes sense when you consider Telltale’s dialogue-focused approach to gameplay. Batman is not a chatty guy, after all, delivering mostly short quips in his signature growl. Wayne, on the other hand, provides the human interest that the studio has always focused on. Later in the game you’ll apparently be able to choose whether to handle various situations as Bruce or his alter ego, but the opening 30 minutes are a much more tightly directed. Here, you switch between playing as Batman as he fights to stop a bank robbery at City Hall and watching Bruce Wayne get patched up by Alfred after a particularly hard night on the cowl.
The Batman segments feature Telltale’s signature mix of QTE and dialogue events, with the analogue stick used to fire a grappling hook and deal the heaviest hits while face buttons are for crashing through windows and pummelling enemies. As you fight, a Batarang-shaped power bar fills up at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to execute a beautifully brutal – and context sensitive – “finish the fight” move when the Bat is ready.
Although players may just be following a series of button or analogue stick prompts, the combat still offers the suspense and impressive non-lethal action you’d expect from Batman, even if it is more wooden than the fluid combat found in the Arkham series. There are some dialogue options to be had in the Batman sections too. Here, the Bat comes face to face with his old nemesis Catwoman and communicates with long-time ally, Commissioner Jim Gordon.
Batman: A Telltale Series will feature a menagerie of familiar friends and foes, but the developer warns that they might not quite play the roles or behave in the way fans will expect. This is ultimately a game set in its own fictional world; one not tied to anything we’ve seen before in movies, TV series, comics or games. Telltale says it wants to tread new ground with this series and not just by telling the tale of the man behind the mask.
It’s obvious, then, that the real intrigue of this series is with Bruce Wayne. In this opening segment, our youthful hero is holding a fundraiser for a pre-Two Face Harvey Dent. The pair are working on transforming Arkham Asylum into an institution that can actually help its inmates – rather than just providing a grim yet easily escapable hellhole. As ever, an assortment of dialogue options veer you down different paths, each changing the course of your game – and your character. Do you portray Wayne as a billionaire playboy, or as a victim – the grieving orphan bitter at the world?
Players don’t have to commit straightaway – there’s the option to remain a little more reserved, watching how events play out before adopting a role that suits. In this opening section alone you’ll have to choose whether to publicly support Harvey; what to use as campaign slogan; whether or not to work with the press (AKA Vicky Vale); and how to deal with the sudden appearance of crime boss Carmine Falcone. Cue plenty of “Harvey will remember that” notifications. Although many will think Batman has the hardest job, being its Wayne that faces the difficult choices and harsh realities.
Throughout, the choices you make will affect the way Bruce Wayne carries himself, the way he speaks and behaves, and ultimately how he is perceived. All of which will have a dramatic event on how life as Batman unfolds. It’s a much more cerebral take on the near-mythic hero.
In this sense, it looks like Batman: A Telltale Series will deliver one of the most original Dark Knight stories, drawing a little from the lore but ultimately making its own mark on the franchise. By focusing on Bruce Wayne the person rather than simply the conflicted rich guy behind the mask, this may well be the freshest take on Batman since Dark Knight Returns.
Episode One of Batman: A Telltale Series is coming to home consoles, PC, Mac, iOS and Android this summer. Specific platform details will come at a later date.