The first episode of Batman – The Telltale Series isn’t out for another week, but it was already playable at San Diego Comic-Con last weekend. You just had to be part of a select group of people to attend a live “group play” event Telltale hosted to preview Episode 1: ‘Realm of Shadows’ at the Hard Rock Hotel. I was there along with a couple hundred people to watch the full episode of this Telltale Batman, and I gotta say I was impressed with what Telltale was doing with both Bruce Wayne and Batman.
As Much Bruce Wayne as Batman
Prior to the playthrough, the producers introduced how the series came together. Kent Mudle, the first episode’s director, took us through how they approached their version of Batman. Living in the shadow of the stupendous Arkham franchise isn’t easy, and they knew Telltale’s Batman couldn’t match that action, so the developers leaned in more with the mystery storytelling they’re so good at, creating their own feel for Bats. That was a similar method taken by the voice behind Bruce. Troy Baker was on the panel to discuss voicing the lead, and while he’s played Batman before in multiple LEGO games, he’s trying to find more of the man’s soul through playing his alter ego. And based on the first episode, Telltale’s game is at least as much about Bruce as it is about caped crusading.
The game definitely has exciting action, but the Batman bits are played in the same way as the action-heavy sections of The Walking Dead – Michonne. Batman has intense, brief spurts of beating the crap out of people, followed by things calming down just enough for The Bat to interrogate someone who’s hanging upside down. And this is Batman seemingly quite early in his career before most of his famous villains have arrived and he gains the police’s trust, so he’s a bit more on edge in Telltale’s world
When the Batsuit comes off is when the game really takes a chance to breathe. Bruce Wayne is navigating the world of high society and politics, working on Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign. Bruce is doing his best to dig up information in his civilian identity, but he’s so new that Alfred is catching his mistakes at hiding his Batman life. The butler keeps warning Bruce that his identity might be compromised by the police or ace reporter Vicki Vale, but Wayne keeps pushing in his search for answers. After seeing the infallible Batman of the Arkham-verse and the very experienced Batfleck, it’s refreshing to see a Dark Knight that can make mistakes via Telltale’s choices.
Your Choices Define Batman’s Methods
Speaking of those choices, I won’t spoil them, but they definitely lead Batman into directions I never expected to see. As in Telltale’s other games, when you’re given a choice you can respond with different levels of intensity. Do you help this person or do you hurt them? For Batman, you can make him as vengeful as you want. For Bat-fans divided over the more violent interpretation seen in Batman v Superman you can choose between a Dark Knight who shows mercy and one who breaks the arms of murderers. As is Telltale’s creed, the choice is in the player’s hands, and the story will reflect those choices.
Similarly refreshing is Telltale’s interpretations of classic Batman characters. Allies like Jim Gordon, Vicki Vale, and Alfred all feel distinct for this world, each not quite sure if they really understand or trust Batman’s motives. Meanwhile, rogues like Catwoman, Penguin, and Harvey Dent pop up in unexpected ways, some with fresh interpretations not seen in previous comics or media. It makes one excited to see how different other Batman regulars will appear in later episodes.
A New Side of Batman Worth Exploring
By the end of the first episode, I was sold on Batman – The Telltale Series. Wherever they’re taking Bruce Wayne and the entire world of Gotham feels different despite there being a glut of great Batman games in the last few years. You can see the first episode for yourself when it hits just about every console and PC on Aug. 2, and the rest of the season will roll out over the remainder of the year.