Batman’s cultural influence has been felt across movies, comics, television, and video games. With all the different versions of the Dark Knight, it’s not surprising that the DC icon sometimes feels a little tired. So many stories have been told about Batman, but Telltale Games is trying something new with the episodic Batman. If episode one is any indication, we are in for something fun. What makes Telltale Games’s Batman unique and exciting and still vital to comic lore?
The most important thing to know is that Telltale does games differently. Their previous successes involve episodic game adaptations of Back to the Future, Game of Thrones and, most notably, The Walking Dead. Their projects are based on classic point-and-click adventures like the LucasArts games of yesteryear. With an emphasis on dialogue, moral choices, and character relationships, Telltale isn’t a studio you expect much action from. That’s okay because they are giving the medium much-needed depth.
Great Dialogue and Story
Telltale brings their talented touch to Batman, a character known mostly for beating the ever-loving snot out of bad guys. While the game still contains action (though its combat is nothing like the fighting style of the brilliant Arkham games) the emphasis is more on the brutal choices, detective work, and the morally ambiguous world of Gotham City politics.
The tension in this game isn’t derived from heart-stopping fight scenes. Important dialogue choices and an unfolding story of intrigue and mystery slowly build the suspense. Dialogue prompts require you to choose from a variety of responses in conversation and those choices have real consequences. What is said is remembered by other characters and will affect their opinions of you and how they treat you later in the game. Making it all a bit more intense is a timer that quickly forces you to make your conversation choices. Time is ticking so you aren’t allowed to think too hard and long about what Bruce/Batman will say.
It’s not just the dialogue that sets Batman apart from other games featuring the Caped Crusader. The artistic style of the game is unlike any previous Bats iteration we’ve seen. Telltale’s games feature cel-shaded characters and animation that feels more at home on Nickelodeon than on a PlayStation. With only a passing glance, many people might think Batman is a kids game. But with the intricate conversation dynamic and a story that revolves more around shady politics than the typical rogue’s gallery, this game is certainly not made for young Batman fans.
More Suit-and-Tie, Less Cape-and-Cowl
Another interesting and unique aspect of the game is how little you play in the batsuit. Don’t get me wrong; there is some great detective work and even some thrilling fight scenes. However, much of your time is spent as Bruce Wayne (who looks suspiciously like Archer). There’s high drama with Bruce because his deceased parents are being accused of some treacherous things, and the city he loves is, once again, in great pain. Yet, he tackles most of these problems in a suit and tie instead of cape and cowl. It’s a wonderful choice from Telltale, especially coming so soon after the masterpiece Arkham games. We’ve already played as Batman so many times before, why not play as Bruce a bit more instead?
New Features and Old Tropes
Many other features put Batman in a different league. There are changes to canon as DA Harvey Dent is running for mayor and Oswald Cobblepot is Bruce’s childhood friend. Then there’s the fighting mechanics. In the game, you are prompted to press certain buttons during hand-to-hand battles, a fun mechanism that reminds you of the old typing training programs from grade school.
While there is much that sets Batman apart from other games of its nature, it also contains one of the most used Dark Knight tropes that has grown tired over the years. Like every single Batman film, show, and game, Batman constantly reminds the player that Bruce lost his parents at a young age. You even get a hint of flashbacks to really drive the point home. At this point, it’s almost laughable when this facet of Bats is brought up time after time. Then again, it influences Bruce so much that you can’t blame Telltale for addressing it.
A Promising Future
Most exciting is that the first episode, Realm of Shadows, is just part one of five. We have four more installments on the way, and this inaugural one shows great promise. Telltale is intent on trying some new things with our beloved Batman. That’s welcome in an industry that tries the same thing over and over until it’s been beaten to death. Let’s hope the next episodes of Batman keep things as fresh, exciting, and inspired. After all these years, it’s refreshing to see a different approach to the Dark Knight.