By: William Gibbs
If there is one thing that must be stressed it is the following: Batman: The Telltale Series is not for children. A security guard is graphically shot in the head in the first 30 seconds of episode 1 and it maintains this level of graphic violence and profane language periodically as the episodes go on. This is not a comment on the quality of the game (it’s quite good) but it is under no circumstances a game for family members who are not at least in their mid to late teens. Batman does not always mean child friendly.
That said, Batman: The Telltale Series is really good. Without giving anything away, the story focuses on the early years of Batman’s career and asks the player to make many choices balancing the social and political problems Bruce Wayne faces as a result of his double life as the Caped Crusader. The story is solid and paced in such a way as to make you want to keep going. There are five episodes and each is about 2 hours long and the story was gripping enough that I played through nearly all five episodes in rapid succession. The only problem is that the game is, well, barely a game. Telltale markets all their games as “Graphic Adventures” and Batman: The Telltale Series plays out like a 3d graphic novel on your screen crossed with a “choose your own adventure” storytelling system. More on that in a bit.
Telltale brings their signature cell shaded graphics engine (revamped for this game) to bear in excellent ways. Every shot does not just look like it was hand drawn, but the overall game has the look of a comic book. This works very well. The soundtrack compliments the story and the atmosphere of the dark, seedy alleys of Gotham. Troy Baker’s Bruce Wayne/ Batman is very well acted and while he sounds a bit younger than most depictions of Batman it works given the early days timeline at play.
Gameplay is extremely linear and broken into three types of interaction. First there are dialog choices. This makes up the lion’s share of the game. As Bruce Wayne and Batman work through the story the player get to choose the overwhelming majority of Bruce’s dialog from a selection. Different situations have different time limits to make your choice. The more urgent or heated the situation the less time you have to choose what to say. The game remembers your choices and how you respond to situation influences the flow of the story and changes how characters react to you. It’s all very seamless and well executed.
Second are sequences where Batman investigates crime scenes and the player must examine and link evidence to recreate the crime. Each chapter has one of these sections and while they are interesting they are extremely simple. It is just a matter of push the button, advance the game.
Finally there are the action sequences of which there are many. These are accomplished entirely by way of quick time events (scripted sequences where the game will ask you to push a specific button at specific times and missing results in failure). These sections are very well done and look great but the quick time events almost take away from the action. I found myself focusing so hard on not missing the button cues that I didn’t fully appreciate the scope of the action.
Family Gaming Assessment
This game is not for kids. Graphic violence, gore, profanity, overt sexual themes, and drug use are all right up front and center. The game unfolds more like an interactive movie than a traditional game but that movie is clearly earning an R Rating. Batman: The Telltale Series is a single player narrative experience so there is not much to speak of in terms of group play. Gotham City is presented as a crime ridden den of corruption. Dirty cops, corrupt politicians, vile gangsters, and deranged lunatics populate the game and hold little back. In terms of specific age rage, it depends on what you think is acceptable for your teen. Ask yourself if you are comfortable with them watching a violent, gritty rated R crime drama because that is basically what is on display here only you have control over the actions. Will Batman show mercy or beat this mercenary within an inch of his life? The choice is up to the player and you might want to ask yourself before allowing a 15 year old to play this not if it is appropriate for them to witness the violence, but is it ok for them to be an active participant in the violence because of their choices?
Batman: The Telltale Series, while very well done and compelling, is only technically a game. It is effectively on rails, moving forward at nearly all times with only the minimal interaction by the player mostly by way of dialog selection and quick time events. All of this is very simple and requires no previous experience with video games. Just about anyone could pick this up and succeed which I imagine is the point. The core of this series is the narrative. It’s like watching a comic book movie where you get to choose how the main character responds to situations and those choices change the flow of your movie. It’s fun and has replay value because you can make different choices and see how the story changes. If you are looking for intense action packed gameplay this isn’t that kind of game.
Batman: The Telltale Series is an excellent example of storytelling and interactive narrative gameplay but bucks the traditional trappings of a “video game” in favor of providing a streamlined movie like experience. Experienced gamers will find the interactive sections very simple so if you’re not interested in the story, then there is basically nothing here for you. The whole game is the story.
Parents: Not everything Batman is kid friendly and Batman: The Telltale Series is a perfect example of this. Bloody graphic violence and consistent use of profanity pepper every episode. Batman has the option to, at the player’s call, utilize brutality to get the answers he wants placing the player in direct control of the violence. Villains do not hesitate to murder innocent people on stage and in graphic detail. Crime scenes of vicious murders are depicted in gory detail for Batman to gather evidence. This game is not suitable for young teens. ESRB has rated it M for “Mature Audiences” for violence, blood and gore, sexual themes, language, and use of drugs.
Review based on the PC version of the game.