The first season of Batman: The Telltale Series finished last month with the release of City of Light, the fifth and final chapter in the series. While a second season has yet to be confirmed, we can now at least experience this first adventure from start to finish, and see if Telltale Games' magic touch (seen in games like The Walking Dead and The Tales from the Borderlands) is present here.
Sadly, the aforementioned magic touch is there only partially. Telltale is a studio focused mainly on the narrative experience, putting little interaction in its games. Even the action sequences are limited to the player pressing the right button at the right time, and this Batman game is no exception. In other words, it's a very different experience from what we saw in Batman: Arkham, and here what really matters is the decisions you make as either Batman or Bruce Wayne. It's Telltale's classic formula applied to the DC Comics universe, but while some may argue that formula is getting tired, it's the technical side that is really troublesome.
Telltale's games are released on several platforms, including mobile, which means that the graphics engine should be very flexible, but alas, it doesn't seem that way. We assume Telltale has to find a common denominator that works in all versions, and that means that the superior hardware (including PC, PS4, and Xbox One) will never be used to their full potential. Batman: The Telltale Series comes with dated graphics, and worse, it is very poorly optimised. During play we saw slowdowns during gameplay, something hard to tolerate on a game that's clearly not harnessing the hardware to its full potential, but even more disappointing is that the game is filled with several serious bugs. There have been reports of characters that disappear during gameplay and crashes that force a reboot, among others. We didn't see these specific issues, but we did watch a scene where the background disappeared completely, meaning the characters were talking in a black void.
Telltale was a smaller-scale studio when they made The Walking Dead, and at the time it was easier to accept these bugs and flaws coming from an outfit with limited budget and resources, but nowadays it's a lot harder to forgive, especially when it comes to poor optimisation. A dated engine might be disappointing, but having stutters, slowdowns, and serious bugs is just too much for us to let it slide. Batman fans and gamers in general deserve more from a studio that has received nothing but love.
So far we've explored the technical side of the game, but the narrative is what truly attracts players to Telltale's games. The plot is usually of great quality, the characters tend to be interesting, and the decisions that the player makes (some of them at least) have consequences moving forward. This is all true in Batman: The Telltalte Series, to a certain extent. Overall this is a great story for Batman, but while some moments can be confusing, at times it can also be a bit of drag, with dialogue where little of interest happens.
The story takes place in the early years of Bruce Wayne as Batman, and kicks off with Gotham's beloved millionaire funding Harvey Dent's campaign for Town Hall. At this point in time Harvey Dent has not yet become Two-Face, and that is something that can be seen in a very direct way in Batman: The Telltale Series. Most of the characters you will be interacting with are well known by Batman fans. Catwoman (Selina Kyle), Vicki Vale, Falcone, Alfred, Penguin (Oswald Cobblepot), and Jim Gordon are the most important characters in the narrative... plus some others we won't reveal here.
The biggest compliment we can throw at Batman: The Telltale Series is the courage the studio had to change some elements that we all know from the character's world and past. As big fans of Batman, that was something that had us divided. While in part we enjoyed its courage and originality, we also felt it was almost blasphemous to tinker with some of the elements that were changed. This is mainly a matter of personal taste, not of actual plot quality, but there are also some issues here, as some of the changes seemed forced and made little sense, not to mention being way too convenient to serve the general plot.
As for the gameplay part, it's your typical Telltale experience. The overwhelming majority of the game takes place through story sequences where the player interacts during dialogue, making decisions on what to say or do. Sometimes there are moments more typical of a point-and-click adventure game, which explore the detective side of Batman, and in these sections you have to connect clues until you discover the right pattern. Being a Batman game, you can also expect some combat sections, but they are all played via QTE sequences, making you follow the instructions as they appear in the screen.
Batman: The Telltale Series has some interesting moments; it's an adult game (despite the cartoon-style graphics), and it had the courage to change some of the pillars surrounding Batman. While the general plot is great, it suffers from uneven pacing, some forced decisions, and some confusing elements. And then we have the technical side of the game, which was, frankly, terrible. It's a game to consider if you're a real Batman fan, but if your merely a Telltale fan, it's one you might consider skipping.