As I mentioned yesterday, we recently went to family camp and enjoyed a fun week spent mostly outside and unplugged. There was no wifi or cell phone service in our cabin, so when the kids and my wife were asleep at night, I had to rely on preloaded games to keep me occupied. Actually, the bulk of the week was spent with just one game: Telltale Games’ Batman.
I’m seriously backlogged on my Telltale titles right now. It’s not that I don’t love them, it’s just that they kind of need extended periods of attention to really get the most out of these interactive movies. I seem to need a lot of motivation to get into one, but once I do, I quite enjoy them.
Anyway, kind of went into Batman without knowing much about the game itself. It turns out that it embraces one of the franchise’s greatest trends, which is to reboot and retell the origin of this universe. How many times has Batman begun at this point?
In any case, it kind of works out really well here, because there is both familiar ground and room for the writers to play out things a little differently. At the start of the game, Batman is starting to make himself known to Gotham but hasn’t gone up against any supervillains nor endeared himself to the police. Gordon is but a lieutenant, Harvey Dent is a mayoral candidate, and the Joker is a “John Doe” cooling his heels in Arkham Asylum.
The familiar structure of Telltale emerges — limited-time dialogue options, crucial choice junctions, and the occasional quick-time event — although it’s augmented by a kind of neat (if shallow) detective mode in which Batman combs through a crime scene and pieces together what happened.
What’s probably the most interesting (if somewhat flawed) aspect of this game is that there’s a lot of juxtaposition between Bruce Wayne and Batman. You spend as much time as either, and Bruce kind of emerges as an actual character rather than an interlude for Batman’s adventures. Naturally, the player has some agency in shaping the attitude of Bruce/Batman over the game, making him as noble, violent, or cranky as desired. While all of this was appreciated from a storytelling perspective, all too often I was reminded that the game was on a linear track that wasn’t going to deviate much from the main narrative no matter what you said or did.
I really got into seeing this game’s version of the Gotham universe, especially with its villains. There aren’t too many here — Lady Arkham, Falcone, Catwoman, Penguin, and Harvey Dent are the main ones with few others given cameos in Arkham — but all seem a little more real and threatening than I’ve seen in some other mediums (Penguin most of all). The bat tech was cool (especially Batman’s transforming car) and at least one twist caught me by surprise.
And the combat, while simplistic, felt “cool” with all of the slow-motion moves that kept Batman’s prowess as a scrapper intact from start to finish.
Complaints? The story kind of kept leaping all over the place with the bad guys emerging victorious even when Batman saved the day. I lost count how many places were instantly taken over by the bad guys with no resistance, a trope that got very worn by the fifth episode. And the performance of the game (loading, switching scenes) was often atrocious. The sequel works so much better on my phone, so I know the fault was more the game’s than my hardware. Finally, there was one revelation that felt very much out of canon — at least, I had never heard that particular angle on Bruce’s parents before. I’m hardly a Batman expert, however.
When I was done with it, I instantly booted up The Enemy Within, the sequel series, to see what happens next. I liked how you could import your choices from the first game into this, so we’ll see how my promised favor to the Joker goes…