There have been few comic-related games better than the Batman Arkham series – the meshing of intense combat, layered problem-solving, and dramatic cut scenes create an experience that is hard to replicate. Thankfully, TellTale Games decided to create their own formula for the Caped Crusader with their Batman series, which focuses heavily on the user crafting his or her own narrative in an extremely intelligent re-imagining of the Dark Knight’s mythos.
The best way I can describe a game like this would be to use a sports game analogy: there are certain people who love the gameplay of a game, heavily focusing on the competitive aspects of it, forgoing any of the management aspects so they can grind out game after game against online users or the computer itself. However, there are also those who relish the nuances of constructing and maintaining a franchise, simulating the games so they can reach stages of transactions. TellTale Batman is a little more for the latter, with gameplay so focused on the choices the character makes instead of just punching criminals right in their dumb faces.
It’s so engrossing in that respect – you are effectively playing a comic book or a movie, and TellTale has made a career of capturing the imaginations of its players through powerful narratives. With Batman you dictate how Bruce Wayne conducts himself in AND out of the cowl, which is absolutely fascinating. As the player you can choose how much interacting you do as Wayne and how much you do as Batman, and each choice can powerfully impact how the story unfurls. I can’t stress enough how powerful that is, choosing which identity you think will make the best impact in the lives of Harvey Dent, Jim Gordon, Selina Kyle, and a slew of other characters.
Which brings me to the story itself. There have been plenty of reimagining when it concerns Batman’s beginnings, and here TellTale has taken previously established characters and absolutely stripped them down and built them back up in new and exciting ways. Case in point: the Penguin. Here Oliver Cobblepot is a swarthy British man, who was a friend of Bruce’s when they were younger. His family was torn down due to the machinations of old city powers, and “Oz” returns to Gotham seeking vengeance and power. He’s not short and squat, he’s not defenseless, but he is a bastard that you absolutely hate.
I’d tell you more about Vicki Vale, Harvey Dent, or even Thomas Wayne, but I don’t want to ruin the surprises!
The combat is easy to handle, as you have to push a button here or there, move the L stick a certain direction, or combine the two to effectively deliver a strike. The timing is important in combat, but it’s not so complex that you lose yourself in the button mashing.
The detecting segments are very well done, where you have to survey the crime scene, examine clues, and try to connect them in a specific order to deduce the pattern of events. It’s time-consuming in a way that makes you feel that it demands your attention: you don’t want to miss an identified clue, nor do you want to connect clues that don’t go together. You really have to be the World’s Greatest Detective, and it’s nice to have the emphasis on that.
This is a continuation of TellTale’s success with DC intellectual properties, with Wolf Among Us being another incredibly absorbing game. In Batman you truly feel immersed in Bruce Wayne’s world, with every character having a different edge to them, and the gravity of every decision – be it a handshake or an off-hand comment – constantly present. It’s exciting, heart-breaking, and engrossing, and it’s worth splurging on all five episodes. I can’t endorse this game enough.