EntertainmentBatman: The Telltale Series: The Game Where Bruce Wayne Is Cooler Than Batman
It'll make you want a Batman TV show.
Sometimes I wonder why Batman is so damn popular. Sure, there are simple reasons that everyone cites: He's super rich and doesn't have superpowers, so with enough hard work and emotional trauma and more money than God, technically anyone could be Batman if they wanted to. And sure: Money is a sweet superpower to have, and it is perhaps a "realistic" notion that with said money you could build bat-themed armor and a tank and hire ninjas to train you. But why not cop a bunch of cool shoes instead? You'd be happier and way more chill. Also, you'll have cool shoes.
Anyway, though, we can thank the enduring popularity of Batman for the new game Batman: The Telltale Series. I was apprehensive at first; as a fan of Telltale Games (the studio behind this latest Batman game) and also of Batman (the DC Comics character who punches criminals in samurai armor with pointy ears), I am, as they say, a ringer for this game's target audience. But then I saw the trailer, and felt kind of deflated. It felt like a colorful pile of Been Here and Bataranged That. Observe:
Anyone who's seen Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy has seen everything in this trailer before: Carmine Falcone and the Mob, morally ambiguous sexual tension with Catwoman, Alfred fretting about how Bruce Can't Do This Forever, and the tragedy of Harvey Dent, Gotham's moral crusader doomed to become the villainous Two-Face. Batman: The Telltale Series (more on that title in a minute) primarily aims to offer an original take on Batman drawn from across the character's 75-year history—the game signifies as much from the moment you start the game, pulling together a collage of art from different Bat-eras into a new Batman logo created for this game—but its trailer revisited some of the most popular and widely seen adaptations of the comic book.
Then I played the thing, and it's pretty great.
Some things you have to understand first. Batman: The Telltale Series isn't so much a traditional video game the way, say, last year's Batman: Arkham Knight is. It's an adventure game, which is video game parlance for a game that's structured more like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book than a brawling, stealthy action game. It is slower than that, with most of your time being taken up by conversations with characters who want different things and will remember how you treated them, for good or ill. This is how you spend most of your time as Bruce Wayne, and it's pretty great—Batman's alter ego is often under-served in pop culture, but in Batman: The Telltale Series, he's center stage.
But you do get to play as Batman, investigating crime scenes and plotting out plans of attack. There are fight scenes, but they are not fights you control directly, instead just pressing the right buttons at the right times to make sure Batman maintains the upper hand in a pre-choreographed fight. These fights are put together well enough that you won't mind the lack of control all that much.
Batman's alter ego is often under-served in pop culture, but in The Telltale Series, he's center stage.
Another thing: Batman: The Telltale Series is episodic, like a miniseries. Episode One is what's available now, and what I've played. Episodes two through five will be released over the next couple of months. Each episode is roughly two hours long at the very most, and each hinges on a couple of very important decisions— like who do you trust with some very sensitive information, the media? Or the police force? And how are you going to respond to known mob boss Carmine Falcone showing up at your very public fundraiser? The game and its characters notice and remember your decisions, and something you did in episode one could conceivably bite you in the ass in episode five.
This is what makes games by Telltale so interesting—They've done this dozen's of times now, making games based on everything from Game of Thrones to The Walking Dead. (Which, to date, is one of their best, most heart-wrenching experiences.) If you play a lot of games by Telltale, this can get exhausting—but if you only drop in and out, it's a fun, chill, and brief way to play video games. And with Batman, it works really damn well.
Despite the excessive familiarity of Batman's big, broad plot points, a few aspects caught me by surprise, like the game's reimagining of one particular villain, or the way its biggest source of tension comes from bringing Bruce Wayne under fire, not Batman. It's really impressive stuff. (Although sometimes clumsily written, with its repeated references to shadows and faces and whatnot.)
If Batman were the star of a TV drama, this is what it would look like: More human than superhuman, with a plot that's driven by Bruce Wayne and given flair by Batman, centered on the moral ambiguities of his one-man crusade, and just how far it's conscionable to go in pursuit of justice. It's a show I'd watch in a heartbeat, even though I'm having a blast playing it.