Review: Batman: The Telltale Series is a phenomenal Batman story plagued with technical issues and bugs
A gripping and unique story with unforgivable issues.
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Xbox 360, PS3, and mobile platforms.
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
MSRP: $29.99 for the whole season, $4.99 per episode.
Telltale’s Batman is one of the most unique stories ever told within the Batman universe. It has the characters you know and love, poses the questions and challenges that come with being a vigilante - making it without a doubt this is Batman. What makes it unique is what it does with these characters and the world that has previously been established. Telltale takes risks by throwing away almost all the things you know about this universe in order to tell the story the want to tell and give a fresh story for both first timers and long time Batman fans.
As someone who has been reading, playing, and watching Batman for their entire life and knows the most useless facts and trivia about the characters and universe, I felt none of that applied here. That’s not a bad thing at all because what they do is fantastic! Some characters have different backstories, relationships with Bruce/Batman, and there are even some role reversals with a couple characters. Although the universe was familiar, the story being told was not. That’s really hard to do with over 75 years of Batman that has consisted of 9 live action movies, more than 5 TV shows, over 20 solo video games, and hundreds, if not thousands, of comics.
A unique tale with some minor flaws:
The season constantly kept me on my toes for twists and turns, I was rarely able to predict anything that happened (aside from one or two things). Telltale takes the Batman IP to so many new places that genuinely shocked me, I actually clapped at the end of one of the episodes because I was so happy with what they were doing with the series.
While certainly not the darkest, the story Telltale chose to tell is really dark. There were moments that made me feel uncomfortable due to the use of gore, but it is used sparingly so it can be more impactful for the player. There’s a moment in episode 5 that I won’t spoil that takes the season to an incredibly dark place but it doesn’t feel like it's done for pure shock value, it adds more depth to certain characters and made me feel sympathy for some people.
Although I love the story, there are some moments that made me question some of the logic and motivations of some characters. I can’t go into the details due to spoilers, but several instances made me actually scratch my head at how it was possible. It felt like some sacrifices may have been made just to tell the story they wanted to tell. They aren’t so crazy that it ruined the game for me but it was enough to make me stop and say to myself “That would never happen!” regardless of it being in an unrealistic universe.
Phenomenal, believable performances from the whole cast:
The voice acting in Telltale’s Batman is some of the best I’ve heard this year. Troy Baker brings his A-game by bouncing back and forth between a rage filled Batman and a troubled Bruce Wayne. His performance is award worthy due to his range of emotions he’s able to display in just his voice! Baker also switches between a normal Bruce Wayne voice and a subtle, more brooding Batman voice which obviously isn’t anything new but the way he does it is perfect. It isn’t over the top and it isn’t half-baked, it would be enough to fool someone who is really close to Bruce Wayne.
Laura Bailey also does a great job of portraying the mysterious and seductive Selena Kyle. I always felt uneasy around her knowing at any moment she could betray me, but her performance was so perfect that it tricked me into actually liking her. Her constant back and forth of using me and betraying me throughout the season always managed to sting a bit, even though I know the character so well from previous Catwoman stories. There are a number of other performances I could drool over, but I don’t want to spoil anything. All you need to know is this is one of the most well-acted games of 2016.
Your choices actually matter and have a major impact on the story:
In my opinion, Telltale’s previous games have felt somewhat gimmicky. They say that all of your choices will have an impact on your game and that your story will branch off depending on some of the substantial decisions you make. Rarely is this the case. There are minor differences from each playthrough, but the choices don’t ever really change the story drastically. It feels like most of their games have a set beginning, middle, and end and you might have some little differences somewhere in there. You just have the illusion of choice.
In Batman, this isn’t quite the case, this is Telltale’s most “branching” game yet. Depending on your choices, some characters will or won’t reach their full comic-book version, characters will behave much differently to you, and some episodes even start entirely differently. While it seems like the story still comes together the same way at the end no matter what, it manages to keep things different enough to make you want to replay it and see the different paths you can take.
Gameplay highlights some of Batman's best features and traits:
Since Telltale is story-heavy, typically the only gameplay actually seen in their games is quick time events and selecting dialogue choices. While that is still here, Telltale has added a fantastic mechanic that is rarely seen in Batman films or many of the games. At least once per episode, Batman or Bruce Wayne is thrust into a crime scene where he has to piece together what exactly happened. It’s fairly basic and simple, but it’s really fun to break down all the evidence and connect things to each other to come to a conclusion. We’ve seen similar things in Arkham Origins and Arkham Knight but it works really well in this game and is used in such great ways.
The other gameplay comes from the quick time events. Batman beats up a lot of guys, that’s kind of his schtick. He’s a brutal, behemoth of a man who will wreck shop on all criminals. As previously mentioned, Telltale doesn’t have tons of actual gameplay in their games so instead of having Arkham style combat, they put all the action in QTEs. The combat is incredibly well choreographed and feels like I'm watching a real Batman unleash his wrath on his foes. It's fluid, fast, and fun to watch. One of my only issues with it is that if you happen to miss a button prompt, you don't face any consequences. Batman just does what he would do if you did actually press the button. If you miss a number of prompts in a row, you will die but it still feels slightly weird to see him continue to fight like normal when you're not commanding him. The combat scenes are also where the game really starts to show how poorly this game runs.
The game runs horribly and holds the game back significantly:
This game is one of the worst performing games I have seen in a long time. It’s littered with bugs, the game stutters too the point where I got incredibly frustrated in just one scene, the frame rate drops to what feels like 15 FPS or lower, and sometimes sound effects don’t play in fight scenes causing jarring, awkward moments of silence. In episode 5, Batman got thrown against a wall and instead of a loud sound of the impact of him hitting the wall and then falling to the ground all I heard was him grunting. It made me laugh at how bizarre it was and annoyed me slightly as it broke my immersion.
One of the biggest bugs I encountered was in episode 5 during a big fight scene. Batman rushes into a room filled with people fighting each other and instead of there being a fully textured room, everyone was just standing in a black room that had some tables in it. No walls, just pure blackness. Within this room were several full modeled characters and a couple that had no bodies or heads and were just floating pairs of eyes and teeth. How does stuff like this even get past QA and certification?
As previously mentioned, the FPS in this game is abysmal, at times it is almost unbearable. Several fight scenes were pretty much ruined for me because it kept slowing down and I had to wait for the game to catch up, Batman is supposed to be fast and fluid in combat but this was excruciatingly slow and janky. There was a scene where a character died and based on the reaction of the characters I could tell it was supposed to be impactful, but I was so distracted and frustrated with the technical issues that I just didn’t care at all.
Telltale’s Batman is a great game overshadowed by a number of technical issues. It’s one thing to have the occasional hiccup, but it is so constant that it became distracting and annoying. If you can look past that, this is a Batman story you won’t want to miss. Newcomers will be enthralled by the rich universe and Batman veterans will immediately fall in love with Telltale’s new and risky take on the IP. The game flips the Batman universe on its head making it surprising for everyone, the performances are absolutely riveting and convincing, and the story is something never seen before in the Batman universe. I can say without a doubt that Batman is Telltale’s best work yet and I can’t wait to see what they do with it next, hopefully on an improved engine that irons out these laughable technical issues.