Reviews: Batman The Telltale Series

Season 1 Vs Season 2

[UPDATED] There’s no comparison. Just go get Season 2!

To elaborate. Season 1 of Tell Tale’s Batman is an okay experience, but the limitations of Tell Tale’s tight schedule means the episodes are often unpolished, the animations and character models a little too glass eyed and unconvincing, and any attempt of serious drama fails to hit home. I did have some fun with Season 1, though most of it was derived from the game providing me with opportunities to bully the District Attorney, Mayor hopeful, and latent villain Harvey Dent. Dent is ostensibly Bruce Wayne’s best friend, but in game I shut him out of important conversations, spitefully push him around, and at one point even stole his girlfriend. If there was an opportunity to take his lunch money, I’d do that too.

If I play like a prat, it`s because I’m not completely engaged with the story, which in this case puts some interesting obstacles in Bruce Wayne`s way but knocks them down again. You end up locked up in the Arkham Insane Asylum at one point – GASP! – only to get released again later that morning – sigh –. You never feel the stakes, and even the characters are lacklustre. Penguin is just a rogue with a bad cockney accent and an inexplicable penguin mask. Harvey Dent/Two Face is a big lug who develops a murderous split personality over the course of a week. Catwoman is finely voiced, but romance with her results in some terribly animated kissing and sexy times.

Season 2 fixes a lot of the basic mechanics, with cooler fight scenes and conversation dynamics. People have gotten wise to Telltale’s foreboding “He will remember that!” lines, so they’ve moved the focus onto broader character relationships, where you can see the long term consequences of what you have said to them. It also has a vastly more exciting tale, focused around Bruce infiltrating a gang of A-list Batman villains. These guys have all been lovingly re-imagined. I never thought I would be interested in yet another portrayal of Joker and Harley Quinn, but here the game makes them into completely fresh characters by reversing the traditional comicbook/cartoon series dynamic: Quinn is the domineering bully and the Joker is the naďve people-pleaser who gets pushed around. You feel so sorry for the Joker, the loveable, love sick loser, that a lot of players will find themselves putting the city's safety on hold so that they can devote themselves to protecting the scamp. Now those are stakes.

I also had fun being mean to Commissioner Gordon too. He seems like the only person in Gotham to not immediately figure out who Batman is (Catwoman figures it out the moment she sees Bruce). I picture Gordon inviting both men to dinner, and not noticing anything odd about Bruce disappearing off to the bathroom whenever Batman comes in to start eating. He shouldn’t be the chief of police. Police incompetence aside, I’ve found it the most invigorating Tell Tale game I’ve played since The Wolf Among Us.

A fantastic series that\'s really missing an episode.

The first three-and-a-half episodes of this series are fantastic. It really works, not only in terms of putting interesting twists on the traditional Bat-mythos, but in terms of letting the player really roleplay what kind of Batman they want to be.

And the options are there whether, like me, you want to play Batman as a compassionate, fundamentally-good figure who uses terror, not brutality, as a weapon against crime and wants to help the people he puts away as much as he wants to stop them, or whether you're more of a fan of the Miller-Ellis-Ennis-Millar-esque unhinged, rage-driven psycho barely better than the criminals he fights. I really enjoyed not only plotting my own fight scenes, but emphasizing how Bruce Wayne is also important, maneuvering politically to try to help the city. And the writing really does a good job of selling the relationships in Bruce's life: with Alfred, Harvey, Selina, even minor characters like Vale and Penguin. The voice acting is great, and often heartfelt.

The ending is also fantastic. It dips just enough into deeper questions about Batman and why he does what he does to be compelling without being overblown or hackneyed. The final confrontations with the three main villains were all extremely compelling, and sold the importance of defeating them for the good of Gotham. Even the Joker's cameo is one of the better uses of the character in recent memory.

Unfortunately, in-between... Without giving too much away, at the start of Part 4, Bruce is at his lowest point. His resources are slipping into the hands of his enemies, who are using them to terrorize the city, a friend is cracking under the strain of the situation and making things worse, and he's been thrown into Arkham Asylum on a trumped-up charge. The beginning, in which he encounters some of his future rogues gallery and meets "John Doe" for the first time, and the ending, in which he starts making strides to fix the situation, are both compelling, but...

...Well, there really does feel like there's an episode missing in-between, one that could set up the stakes a bit better by showing his enemies turning his tech on the innocent and abusing his wealth for their own ends. And, without spoiling too much, one character's long-telegraphed heel turn goes way too far, way too fast, without nearly enough connective tissue between where he was in Episode 3 and where he is when he reappears in Episode 4. The science behind the villain's Psycho Serum is also stupid (bonding to the DNA? Really?), inconsistent (Montoya's system flushes with time, but Bruce requires an antidote), and reeks of trying to make an excuse for the abruptness of that heel turn.

Again, the vast majority of this series is a tremendous artistic success, and a very entertaining few hours of video game. But it really needed a whole episode between the middle and end of Part 4 to fully serve the story they were trying to tell.
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