Review: Batman – The Telltale Series (PS4)

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Title: Batman – The Telltale Series
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (TBD)
Release Dates:

Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Original MSRP: $4.99 (Single Episode), $24.99 (Digital Season Pass), $29.99 (Blu-ray)
ESRB Rating: M
Batman – The Telltale Series is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.
A pre-release PC version of the game was used for the review of Episode 1 at an invitation only sit down with this game provided by the publisher for review purposes. All subsequent Episodes were reviewed using the PlayStation 4 download version with a code provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
The folks at Telltale Games have been making a name for themselves by grabbing some very high profile properties to adapt into episodic games over the past few years. Batman was a bit of a curveball though much like the Fables series with A Wolf Among Us or Tales From The Borderlands. Nobody could have predicted any of these.

Episode 1: Realm of Shadows
Release Date: August 2, 2016

The audio review for this episode is available on Episode 485 of the podcast.
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In this first episode, the stage is set with a Batman who’s well established at this point. Harvey Dent is running for mayor and his buddy Bruce Wayne is doing his part to help out. The game is steeped in Batman lore giving dialogue choices that will make any fan of the Dark Knight chuckle.

Right off the bat though you’re thrown into the action. It’s all handled as a veteran of the Telltale games would expect, with a lot of Quick Time Events. It works well for a fight in the Batman universe and really, it’s a welcome change from the Rocksteady series where you were in full control.

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That’s not to say that the combat is a breeze here, far from it. You’ll still need to have timing and you’ll get into some serious fights but there will be enough time to sit back and take it all in as the Batman moves in the shadows and stalks the bad guys. It’s that interactive movie vibe and for a property like this, it works really well.

Not all combat is the same though. In one sequence, you’ll assess the situation from afar and decide exactly how you’ll take on enemies within the environment. You have choices here and you set them all up before springing into action. It helps the chaotic sequence play out in a way that lets you be more of a spectator than worrying about how to move through the room and take on all the enemies and it works quite well.

… Gotham may like you or hate you …
You’ll also be putting the Bat’s detective skills to work in one major sequence in this episode. I’m not going to spoil it but I like the way it’s handled, allowing you to link things in the environment to piece together what happened. It’s not overly complicated but it does just enough to make you feel as though you’ve solved everything on your own.

There are a number of places where you have moral choices as well. Do you want to be more of a brutal Frank Miller Batman? You’ll get your chance. As with all Telltale games, these choices have consequences within the episode and across the series. How it will all play out is yet to be seen but by the end of the episode Gotham may like you or hate you, and it’ll clearly affect the underlying story.

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Episode 2: Children of Arkham
Release Date: September 20, 2016

The audio review for this game is available on Episode 493 of the podcast.
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The story really starts to take shape in Episode 2 as Bruce deals with the fallout from the revelations at the end of Episode 1. His world has been turned upside down and he needs to understand if any of it is true. It’s a huge plot twist, and one that has been tangentially explored in other Batman stories, but not like this.

It’s a much more personal story, hitting at the heart of Bruce Wayne’s identity and his whole reason for becoming Batman. You’ll even have the choice to visit a character either as Batman or Bruce Wayne in an attempt to uncover the truth.

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Catwoman becomes more of a focus this time around and how you decided to deal with Falcone, Gordon, and Vicki Vale in the previous Episode will very quickly come into play here. This isn’t your typical Batman game though. There’s a bigger focus on Bruce Wayne, necessitated by the storyline, and it’s quite refreshing.

I did run into some framerate issues early on and things slowed to a crawl here and there. This was a bit of a surprise considering how well the first one ran. Either way, it did clear up as the game progressed and wasn’t a problem after the first major scene.

… underlying changes to the Batman mythos …
Some of the questions surrounding events in the first Episode are cleared up here, but more often than not, the answers lead to more questions. The introduction of a new antagonist helps to muddy the waters a bit too.

Children of Arkham ends, much like its predecessor, with a major choice that will affect the game going forward. If you have an understanding of Batman lore you’ll probably be able to guess where the choices may lead. Given the underlying changes to the Batman mythos though, I’d be surprised if things didn’t take a left turn.

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While there will be a physical version of the game released on September 13, it’s a “Season Pass” disc. This means that only the first episode is on the actual disc while the rest will need to be downloaded. While I understand the desire for the publisher to have something physical on the shelves, I am very much against this model.

… more Nolan and Miller than Schumacher or 60’s …
The whole point of a physical copy is to have something when you don’t have an internet connection. I can still put any cartridge in my Atari 2600 today and play the full game. Will that be possible with this disc ten, twenty, thirty years from now? Absolutely not. Don’t waste your money and don’t validate this business practice. Buy the digital version instead.

Visuals:
The game looks absolutely fantastic. The custom Telltale engine has been refined to a point where everything has a sharp looking comic book appearance. You even get to choose the highlight color of your gadgets at the start, making it “your” Batman.

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Gotham is a very grim place, even during the day. The color palette leans towards warmer tones, more Nolan and Miller than Schumacher or 60’s. The characters all have the signature Telltale look with black lines for emphasis but it feels toned down a bit. The look straddles the line between cartoon and realism with ease.

Audio:
One of the true high points of the game, the combination of soundtrack and voice acting is among the very best Telltale Games to date. Just look at this stellar list: Troy Baker as Bruce Wayne, Travis Willingham as Harvey Dent, Erin Yvette as Vicki Vale, Enn Reitel as Alfred Pennyworth, Murphy Guyer as Lieutenant James Gordon, Richard McGonagle as Carmine Falcone, and Laura Bailey as Selina Kyle. The interplay between Baker and Bailey is among the best Batman/Catwoman interactions ever recorded. It all feels so natural.

… a convincing soundscape …
I have to admit though, the first time Falcone appeared on screen and started talking, all I could think was “Sully!” Uncharted fans will recognize the voice instantly but after a few minutes of seeing the character and hearing the subtle differences in the voicework, I was able to put that aside and lock in on the Falcone character.

The soundtrack and the ambient noises are masterfully done as well. The main theme drew me in and the background music punctuated all the right moments. The voices at a party, noises of the city, action, and explosions, all come together in a convincing soundscape that’s best experienced through a good pair of headphones.

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Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only but Telltale recently surprised everyone with a new component called Crowd Play. It’s kind of a local multiplayer addition but not in the traditional sense. While playing the game, anywhere from four to twelve of your friends can join in by voting on what you do during big moments of choice in the game.

This mode is local only because people need to be watching your play session and it’s designed to work on the console, PC, and Mac versions of the game. When Crowd Play is active, a unique code and web address appears on screen. People then use whatever mobile device they have to go to the website listed and enter the code to join your game.

… begging for more …
Crowd Play is set to take the majority choice of the crowd by default but you can change it so that the player can override the choice if they want. It can create an interesting dynamic and it makes for a very unique and interactive experience as everyone gets to be more personally involved in how the story plays out.

While technically the mode can support thousands of people at once, the developers don’t expect that you’ll have more than around twelve people locally watching you play. The feature was shown off at San Diego Comic Con a few weeks ago and they had several thousand people in the auditorium voting and playing along so it works quite well.

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Conclusion:
When Batman – The Telltale Series was announced, many questions surrounded it. When would it be set? Would it be based off of an existing story or would it be something entirely new? Telltale has taken all the familiar elements of the Batman universe and mixed them into an intriguing story that I’m excited to continue.

The combat, the interplay between characters, the detective work, and the reverberations of your actions all come together in a way that will leave any fan of the franchise feeling quite satisfied and begging for more.

PS Nation has changed the way we approach episodic games. A score will only be given once the final episode has been reviewed.

Score:
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* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 26 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

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