Batman: The Telltale Series
For more than 10 years now, Telltale Games has created episodic titles doled out monthly via digital distribution. The company's button crunchers have reimagined many well-known franchises—from TV shows such as CSI, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones to movie favs such as Back to the Future and Jurassic Park.
Now it's time for Batman to get his moment in the episodic sun. Or if the first episode of the series, Realm of Shadows, is any indication, it's actually Bruce Wayne who's getting his Telltale close-up.
And it's a murky portrait to be sure.
Holy Conversation, Batman
As with many of Telltale's past titles, gameplay often feels as if you're making your way through a movie—one that's already started—that allows you to mix things up a bit with the choices you make. Oh, sure, there's definitely some action on hand (which I'll talk about more in a minute). Still, it soon becomes clear that the game's conversational interactions are the real draw.
Each of these give-and-take interactions features several possible pick-your-response-as-the-clock-ticks-down choices that Bruce can use to express his inner thoughts. So even as the Cowled Crusader battles baddies and clashes with Catwoman, we're tugged away for intercut conversations with Alfred or someone else who might give context to any given scene.
As the story spools out, there's also a look-for-clues Detective Mode in the mix, too. As Batman walks around a given crime scene, it's up to gamers to piece together different clues that the detective spots. If players make the right choices, holographic video segments fill us in on how the events must have unfolded.
Crush Corruption and Crime
So what are these unfolding events and dark storylines? Well, as you might expect in shadowy Gotham, this tale involves an interwoven web of deceit, political corruption and Mob-boss crimes.
We grapple-hook our way into an early stage of the Dark Knight's career. He knows how to use his mythic persona to frightful effect on everyone from criminals to cops. But Alfred is still pulling shards of glass out of him and fretting about all the bloody scars he's generating. And at this point, Bats and Catwoman are still measuring each other too (with just a smidgeon of flirtation in their purring banter).
Harvey Dent is running for mayor, with Bruce Wayne's support. Mobster Carmine Falcone is squeezing anyone he can. Oh, and in this version of the hero's tale, it turns out that Bruce and one Oswald Cobblepot used to be boyhood chums, with young Oswald promising that he's going to reshape the dirty face of Gotham, too.
Mix that all together with interactive conversation choices and dark rumors that the Wayne family actually had criminal ties, and you've got a roiling stew pot of narrative possibilities.
Realm of Shadows, Indeed
Unfortunately that means there are quite a few dark and messy possibilities in that pot, too. If this game feels like an already-running movie, it's definitely a hard, cold, R-rated pic. Within the first 10 seconds of play, for instance, a guard gets shot in the head by a rifle-wielding thug. And we get a quick peek at the brain matter that's been splattered the floor. Hand-to-hand combat is brutal. Bones break, blood sprays, claws slash, bullets rip. Crime scenes depict mutilated corpses, human entrails and smeared viscera.
Even Batman himself feels just a bit nastier in this M-rated game. Alfred warns Bruce that he must be careful not to create a "monster" as he shapes his mythic persona. Bruce retorts gruffly, "Sometimes you need a monster." And as he batters enemies mercilessly—gaining the option to break bones, impale foes and skewer hands (and other baddie body parts) with batarangs—we get a pretty clear sense of what he means.
Sharper even than those razor-edged projectiles, though, is this game's occasionally foul dialogue. Profane misuses of God's and Jesus' name, as well as s-words and other harsh crudities feel oddly out of place here, even in the murky streets of Gotham.
Overall, then, Batman: Telltale Series is an immersive, tense game that tugs and pulls at a tormented hero's inner workings. But be forewarned: Young comic book fans will face a much fouler and bloodier battle between good and evil than they might expect.