Long-time fans of Telltale Games will no doubt remember when the independent publisher and developer - specialising in the creation of episodic point-and-click games - hit its stride. Having worked with various IP including Sam & Max and Monkey Island since its inception in 2004, the company became more widely known within the video game community when it was able to acquire licenses for the comic book series – The Walking Dead and Fables (commonly known as The Wolf Among Us).
Since then, Telltale has worked with Game of Thrones, Borderlands and even Minecraft. It’s also been hard at work porting these episodic games across to every device that can handle them. The Switch is now next. Having already seen the arrival of Minecraft: Story Mode - The Complete Adventure, it’s now the caped crusader’s turn. Enter Batman - The Telltale Series.
This five-part episodic point-and-click series of the first season of Batman doesn’t stray far from the design of existing Telltale Games releases. The template that has made its games so popular since the company’s breakout success - when it released The Walking Dead - remains mostly intact. What’s different here is obviously the story. You enter the fractured psyche of billionaire Bruce Wayne as he slowly discovers the consequences of his choices as the Dark Knight – aka. Batman.
Similar to past Telltale Games titles, for every action there is a reaction; each episode is crammed with scenes focusing on Bruce Wayne and also his secret identity. The choices made as Batman often have an influence on Bruce Wayne’s personality, and vice versa. It’s very much a clash of the two personas throughout the series, with the character’s closest to Wayne (such as his loyal butler and long-time family friend, Alfred) willing to question his morals on a regular basis.
In this series Telltale has crafted a gritty and violent story that is a perfect match when applied to the Batman universe; it draws inspiration from the film noir style present in The Wolf Among Us. Gotham City in this story has darker themes – including corruption and brutality – to align with this and play up the turmoil. Throughout the series, Bruce Wayne and his alter ego deal with these key themes at all levels.
The first episode focuses on accusations aimed at Bruce’s family name, with a shocking revelation about the livelihood of his deceased father and his business operations made public. From this point onward, the plot thickens with a series of incidents woven together over time – with cameos along the way from well-known characters such as Cat Woman. The general unrest and crime infestation within Gotham City leads to Batman seeking out who is behind his problems while also attempting to prevent the city from becoming a haven for illegal activity. Telltale's Batman works off Bob Kane and Bill Finger's character, which has not been previously adapted to film or media.
For the most part Batman emulates the same tried and tested Telltale Games formula seen in past episodic releases. Telltale has got the pacing of its titles down to a fine art. Each episode lasts a few hours on average and is divided up into cinematic sequences incorporating quicktime events and static environments where either Bruce Wayne or Batman moves around while the player surveys the surrounding area for crucial information, items or evidence. In some cases you'll link points of interest together within crime scenes. There are also the trademark Telltale cutscenes involving one or more characters interacting, and the player is required to make certain choices on Batman or Bruce Wayne's behalf. A conversation could have Bruce agreeing with another character’s motives, or disobeying law enforcement as Batman.
Whatever the choices are, it’s these decisions you make as the two identities that shape the outcome of each episode. Like past Telltale entries, it means entire episodes can be replayed and you may witness scenes play out differently each time. Although, in some cases, certain choices you make do not have as great of an impact on the final outcome or over-arching story as you might hope. It’s very much trial and error, but you do gain a subtle idea of how a specific scene might unfold. Commonly, players will make at least one decision during a playthrough they may regret, so it's important to remain attentive in order to get your desirable outcome.
Whichever series the company is dealing with, Telltale has a real knack at writing an absorbing story and creating a captivating universe filled with appealing characters. Even if you don’t like the main subject (in this case, Batman) if you give the game at least half an hour to convince you it is worth your time - you’ll at the very least see out the first episode. Much like a television show, each episode typically ends on a cliff-hanger, or at least with a certain level of mystery surrounding the plot.
While it’s not as gripping as the likes of The Wolf Among Us – perhaps because Batman is so well-known – it still does an admirable job of drawing the player in. You don’t have to have any prior information or understanding of Batman, and you can be a first time player and still have a strong grasp on the plot. If you do however need some help, the game’s codex located on Bruce's super computer within the Batcave gives players a rundown on Gotham City and also Batman’s allies and adversaries. In saying this, it's admittedly a more enjoyable title if you are a fan of the source material.
The minor downfall of Batman on the Switch is the game’s technical drawbacks, including a lower frame-rate and watered-down character models and environments that do not compete with the more detailed presentation of the title on certain other platforms. Normally it would be easy to overlook these problems in other genres, but given the fact this is an episodic point-and-click title where you arguably watch more than you play, it’s hard to ignore these graphical blemishes. Gotham City as a result feels a little bit more lifeless than possibly intended.
The animation within the game appears to be up to the usual standard – with the title rendered using a non-photorealistic style inspired by comic artists – but the current Telltale game engine is admittedly beginning to show its age. While the docked mode on the Switch version of the game is not the most stunning, in handheld mode the game is crisply presented but struggles to perform as smoothly during more intensive scenes. Fortunately, these graphical and technical shortcomings do not detract from the overall experience - it’s still playable and therefore enjoyable.
In contrast to this, the voice acting in this series is a lot better. While Batman sounds a bit odd at first, you quickly adapt to it. All the other characters sound convincing enough, and none particularly break the immersion. The soundtrack when present always adds a sense of mystery or thrill to cutscenes and cinematic sequences, to further draw the player into the world of Batman.
If you’re a fan of Batman and don’t mind the style of Telltale’s episodic point-and-click games this title is worth checking out. Despite its underwhelming technical performance and watered-down visuals, it’s a gritty and violent story that captures Gotham City in a similar way to other modern stories about Batman. Else, if you’re not really interested in Bruce Wayne or his late night activities, maybe hold out until another episodic Telltale game based on a different series is released.