Batman: The Telltale Series Preview & Impressions

We spent some time in Telltale's Batcave to check out Batman: The Telltale Series. Here's what we thought!

This Batman: The Telltale Series preview contains spoilers.

Telltale is unrivaled in a specific brand of storytelling, one hyper focused on making choices, seeing those decisions through, and facing the consequences. When the studio first introduced us to Lee and Clementine in The Walking Dead, it was a shock and awe moment for gamers, as Telltale relentlessly pulled at all of our heartstrings through that father-daughter relationship. One simple (and seemingly mundane) bad choice could doom little Clementine or make your bond with her stronger. Several years later, Telltale has continued to reproduce its brand of storytelling with properties such as Game of Thrones and The Wolf Among Us.  

The veil has lifted on what the talented folks at Telltale can do with this type of game to the point that I’m almost tempted to call the gameplay in Batman: The Telltale Series “same-ish,” but that would be doing it a disservice to the game. I spent some time at the private Telltale booth at E3, which was set up like a parlor in Wayne Manor — with a fake wall that slid open to reveal the Batcave! (I also got a Wayne-branded cigar, which was a nice cherry on top to the atmosphere the studio built around the demo.) I watched a hands-off demo of the first 30 minutes of the first chapter (out of 5) of the game and was generally impressed by the care Telltale put into the story, one that focuses on the duality of Bruce Wayne and the Dark Knight. Note that what I saw was not finished gameplay and Telltale is still making tweaks to the first episode.

The opening minutes see the perspective switch between Batman and Bruce as they both set out on missions to save Gotham. Batman is out to stop some goons from robbing City Hall when Catwoman shows up to turn things on their head. What should be an easy bit of crimefighting turns into a creative and exciting chase through Gotham’s rooftops. Most of this bit, as is typical of Telltale combat, plays out on rails, with quicktime button prompts that test the player’s reflexes. I was a little underwhelmed by the combat in fact, and this may be due to the fact that Batman is such a physical character, with a focus on melee that Telltale hasn’t quite tackled (no pun intended) to such an extreme extent. Batman throws lots of punches and kicks, activates diversions, and has a lot of fun tying thugs up with his grapple, but Telltale hasn’t quite nailed the look of it. The fights seem a little clunky and slow, something you might not notice when aiming a gun in The Walking Dead.

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Surprisingly enough, the story really takes off when we’re back with Bruce Wayne, who is hosting a fundraiser for a charismatic mayoral candidate Harvey Dent. It became quite obvious in the latter 15 minutes of the demo that Telltale seems to be more interested in telling a tale about the billionaire with a dark side than the actual vigilante. And in retrospect, that latter part is easy. But can Telltale tell a story about Bruce that encompasses his tragedy, his duality, and the facade he must be a part of to keep his city safe? Here is where we get to make those decisions Telltale is so good at: should we support Harvey, even though there are hints in the story that he might be less by the book than he seems? 

The game explores the personal angle quite well, especially with Bruce and Harvey’s relationship (and with Alfred, too, although the butler seems to say and caution the same things he always has), but what really stands out is the sense of scale behind every decision. In other Telltale games, decisions are made to save yourself or a loved one or a small group of people, but with Batman, a whole city seemingly hangs in the balance with every increasingly complicated decision.

The latter is best handled in the nuanced conversation between Bruce and crime boss Carmine Falcone, who shows up to the Harvey’s fundraiser to raise a little (civilized) hell. You get the sense that things like choosing whether to shake Falcone’s hand or not (the dev playing the demo rejected Falcone’s handshake) will come back to bite the entire city, as violence rises to appease an increasingly power mad crime boss. This section is where the demo really shined, as Falcone made not-so-subtle threats after Bruce declined to deal with the mobster in order to get Harvey the mayoral seat. 

This all might be walking pretty familiar territory, too. The setpieces are certainly ones we’ve seen before, as Harvey shows hints of getting in over his head with Falcone, which could only lead to one thing. Or could it? After all, this is a Telltale game. Can Bruce save Harvey while secretly carrying the weight of an entire city on his shoulders? 

I asked a member of the dev team whether Telltale had researched any specific Batman stories for the game. He responded that Telltale had looked at all of the canon, but that Batman: The Telltale Series would provide an original story. He stressed that while some of the initial situations might feel a bit familiar, like we’ve seen this stuff in the movies or the comics, the foundation we built for Batman/Bruce would lead us into some very unexplored territory. So perhaps Harvey can be saved. 

One thing to note about the animation is that it’s not quite at the level of a comic book come to life, and is instead not far from other Telltale offerings, although things like the armored Batsuit do give a nice nod to the more modern takes on the suit. I was also a bit taken aback by Batman’s voice in the game. While Troy Baker does a marvelous job as Bruce (although I secretly really wanted Kevin Conroy to get the gig), his perfomance as Batman is a bit stifled by the ridiculously deep voice. It’s less Conroy and more Batfleck. I do not like it. 

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All that said, if you’re already a Telltale fan, there will be plenty for you to enjoy in Batman. Or if you’re thinking of hopping into the game because you’re a big Batman fan, I’d say do it, as Telltale is not only exploring new ways to tell stories about the Dark Knight but also finding new angles on Bruce. The latter will, by my estimation, be the game’s greatest strength. 

The first chapter of Batman: The Telltale Series is out Summer 2016 for XBO, PS4, PC, and more.