E3 2016: Fight the War Against Evil on Two Fronts in Batman – The Telltale Series
Telltale Games' Batman series came as a surprise to many of us when it was announced late last year. While Telltale's had its share of big licensed properties before, like Back to the Future and Jurassic Park, Batman just felt bigger than anything the company had done in the past merely in name alone. Now, a few months later we've gotten our first glimpse at Batman - The Telltale Series, which brings with it a number of enhancements to Telltale's signature game engine, as well as an all-new Batman universe to play with.
Yes, unlike Telltale's other recent games, which all take place canonically in the same universe as the properties they're based on, Batman - The Telltale Series will be its own little Gotham. Sure, a number of characters and locations will be the same, but in Telltale's Batman Universe, not everything is exactly as you remember. For instance, here, Harvey Dent is running for mayor, Carmine Falcone is still a big threat (and one that may have had a relationship with Bruce's parents), and Bruce actually hosts parties at the manor. There are still plenty of familiar aspects though, like the cops not trusting Batman, Catwoman being a rather cunning thief, and Bruce having to hide his secret from the world at large.
Now we're not going to delve too deeply into what we saw from the first 30 minutes of story from Batman, as playing those moments yourself is rather key to the Telltale experience. The familiar Telltale elements --- dialogue choices, quick-time combat, cel-shaded style --- are all there in full, though there have been some modifications to every aspect of the game thanks to an engine upgrade. While the core of Batman - The Telltale Series remains the same, the graphics have gotten a major boost, adding more depth to character models and improved lighting throughout. Batman's even got a fabric cape which reacts appropriately. There are a lot of little flourishes in that regard that you'll pick up on once you see the game in action yourself.
Combat has been altered just a bit, and now includes slightly more complex maneuvers with the analog stick beyond just hitting left or right. Batman in particular also gets a new combat meter that when filled during key sequences allows him to unleash a flurry of moves to finish bad guys off in style. It's not anywhere near what Rocksteady was doing with the Arkham series (nor does it have to be), but it does give you a better sense of Batman's combat prowess versus characters you've seen in other Telltale adventures.
Part of Telltale's vision for this new series is putting you in the shoes of Bruce Wayne as much as you're under the cowl as Batman. Just from the first 30 minutes, the split was about even, and gave us a better glimpse into the man behind the mask than most Batman games have in the past. Granted, playing as Bruce Wayne works a little better in Telltale's more dialogue-driven games than it does in something like Rocksteady's titles, but it's still a refreshing twist to the Batman gaming lineage. What's more, things learned as Bruce will come into play when running around as Batman, and vice versa. We didn't quite see any of that in action, but it's something Telltale is promising we'll see as the story unfolds over the five episodes.
Now, we'd be remiss in not pointing out one tiny element of interaction that bothered us a bit. During a party at Wayne Manor, Bruce is talking with some guests trying to convince them that Harvey is the right choice for mayor. The conversation turns to rebuilding Arkham Asylum, and a character makes a statement that equates the terrible tragedy that befell the Waynes to the gunman having mental health issues. The guest ponders that if the shooter hadn't been so deranged, the Waynes might still be alive. It's rhetoric that doesn't quite land, and particularly in the current climate it just didn't sit right. Sure there are people in the world that wrongly try to make gun violence about mental health and not the violence itself, but by including those kinds of sentiments here, it only further perpetuates the problem.
We won't have long to wait to dive further into Batman's adventure's under Telltale's guidance. The game looks much better than anything we've seen from Telltale as of late, and it will be interesting to see just how the dynamic of playing as both sides of Bruce's coin contributes to each playthrough being slightly different for every player. There are more improvements to the engine Telltale hasn't shown off just yet, but we're eager to see what awaits in the shadows of Gotham.
Batman - The Telltale Series will debut this summer on a variety of platforms, with the whole series expected to conclude by the end of the year.