Batman: The Telltale Series is coming up with some very interesting ways to tell a Batman story that focuses on Bruce Wayne. There is a scene in the third episode in which you have to team up with Catwoman to battle Two-Face, which is not unlike a situation you encounter early on in Arkham City. Arkham is a Batman game and in that stage you rescue Catwoman from a dilapidated church while beating up a horde of Two-Face’s goons. Telltale’s game, on the other hand, is a Bruce Wayne game, and here you’re in Catwoman’s apartment and Two-Face is attacking you because he believes (rightly or wrongly) that you just spent the night with his girlfriend. In both situations you need to win the fight and help Catwoman, but only Telltale’s game made me feel a little guilty about why I was doing it.
Telltale’s newest episode continues the interesting story of Bruce Wayne’s downfall. Bruce has learned that his parent’s fortune came at the expense of many innocent people and that his father was instrumental in getting his criminal partners’ political opponents involuntarily incarcerated at Arkham. His company is in freefall and his friends are abandoning him. Harvey Dent – potentially disfigured at this point depending on your choices – has become mayor of Gotham after Penguin assassinated his political rival at the mayoral debate. The Children of Arkham are threatening the city and are led by a potentially new villain (or perhaps a familiar one in disguise?) with a rage-inciting neurotoxin and a soundblasting staff. Overall, it’s enough to make you want to move to Metropolis.
Gameplay is still mostly about dialogue decisions and some very forgiving quicktime events in battle. You do a little detective work but the game is really about choosing your own adventure through what you say and the choices you make. Like in their other games, Telltale lets you change some aspects of the story and occasionally modify some events, but the storyline is still primarily the same no matter what you do. This lack of real choices starts to become apparent in Episode 3. Whether or not Harvey is disfigured at this point in the story, he will still start turning into Two-Face. Whether or not you’ve befriended Catwoman, you’ll find your way to her apartment. No matter if Penguin thinks you’re on his side or against him, his plans remain unchanged. You can think of this as a profound commentary on the inevitability of destiny and the futility of free will or as a game dedicated to telling a singular story or just as an example of lazy design, that choice is truly up to you.
Even with this illusion of choice, Telltale games work well as long as the story stays interesting and so far, the Batman games have told a terrific story. Unfortunately, Episode 3 makes one absolutely ridiculous misstep late in the story. The controversy around Bruce Wayne forces him to step down from Wayne Corp only to be replaced by Oswald Cobblepot, who we last saw taking hostages and assassinating mayors in the last episode. I get the dramatic importance of this development, but – even if he managed to conceal his criminal identity – there is absolutely no way a major company would replace their CEO with a completely unknown outsider with an obviously forged history. “You can call my references if you want to,” he suggests and another character responds, “That won’t be necessary.” REALLY? You appoint a random stranger to CEO without calling his references? No one does a background check on the mysterious outsider with no business experience? Who else was on the shortlist? Bane? Killer Croc? Ambush Bug? Suddenly Penguin’s run for mayor in Batman Returns looks downright plausible. The best part is that Oswald keeps the mask millions saw him in during the televised hostage crisis ON HIS DESK IN PLAIN VIEW.
But just when you lose faith in Telltale, they deliver a considerably better twist at the end when they reveal the true identity of the game’s Big Bad. Telltale’s taken some liberties so far with Batman’s story with some success and this step (provided this wasn’t some kind of hallucination) provides a remarkably cool twist. The reveal actually radically changed my understanding of a lot of the earlier events in the game and makes me want to play through the episodes again with this revelation in mind. As ridiculous as Oswald taking over Wayne Corp was, the reveal of the Big Bad’s identity renewed my faith in this story. Not everyone will agree with me, but this revelation really sold the episode for me and renewed my interest in what was coming next.
The game keeps telling the most interesting Batman story in years and puts you in some really unexpected situations. The twist at the end made me excited for the next episode.
It’s a brief experience and the lack of real impact from your choices is starting to become apparent. For a Batman game, you spend very little time as Batman in this episode.
OVERALL: BUY IT
The Oswald misstep makes me wary but overall this is still the best Batman story since The Dark Knight. Unless Alfred starts dating Poison Ivy or Commissioner Gordon is replaced by Manbat, I’m going to play this series all the way through.