First announced last year, Batman: The Telltale Series will arrive on Xbox One, PC, and other platforms very soon. We recently checked out the first half hour of the game, which definitely captures the look and feel of traditional Batman stories. As for the sound... Well, read our detailed impressions to find out!
Batman's big adventure
Batman: The Telltale Series will consist of five downloadable episodes that tell a single serialized story, much like other Telltale titles such as Tales from the Borderlands and Minecraft: Story Mode. After the first episode launches this summer, the following installments will be released at irregular intervals throughout the year.
The game is set early in Batman's career, before he has met many longtime foes. It opens at night in the lobby of a multistory building. The security guard looks up from his reading only to immediately get bloodily shot in the forehead. His head hangs back, limp, as a team of masked crooks proceeds past him. This is one example of the game earning its M Rating, although the blood splatter sets a tone too grim for my liking.
The criminals soon begin working to drill through a door. They function as an efficient mercenary team. One crook worries that "he" might show up to spoil the plan, but their leader dismisses the objection. "We'll be out of here before anyone can stop us." Sure you will!
Soon the thieves have successfully gained entrance to the inner depths of the building. The Gotham City Police arrive, led by a gruffly-voiced Commissioner Gordon. He scowls at the sight of the dead security guard and orders his mean to move in. They push the button for the elevator, which Gordon quickly realizes contains a bomb on it. He shouts for everyone to get out of the way, which they do just as the explosion goes off in the lobby. The cops survive and take the stairs instead.
Soon Batman arrives on the scene. Standing atop a neighboring roof, he peers down at a thug who walks by a glass window. This is the first moment of interactivity for the player. Batman must fire his grappling gun at the building and slide across.
As with most Telltale games, action sequences like this take the form of QuickTime Events (QTE). Players simply press the right button to make the hero perform the only action available to him. The difference here comes from the presentation. In Batman: The Telltale Series, the on-screen QTE prompts have been integrated into the actual scenes in a fairly stylish manner. If the camera is looking at the action from an extreme angle, the QTE prompt will match that angle. It really helps the QTEs feel more organic, and should make the game a little more fun when you're watching someone else play it as well.
Having successfully pressed the QTE button, Batman slides across his grappling cable and kicks through the glass window. He quickly dispatches the crook on the other side, again through QTE battles of low complexity. The fight choreography here is more advanced than anything seen in previous Telltale titles, though, which certainly fits an expert martial artist character like Batman.
As we enter the large office space in which the remainder of the gang is working, we experience a series of flashbacks involving Bruce Wayne and Alfred. The beloved butler warns that Bruce can't keep going out as Batman. People will keep him in their crosshairs until he gets "shot out of the sky." Batman retorts that the criminals of the city need something to fear.
Alfred also cautions, "In trying to create a myth, be careful you don't turn into a monster." These exchanges are fairly common in Batman fiction, but perhaps a bit overdone by now. Think of Batman's origin – we see that scene played out so many times across various forms of media, it loses the power it once had.
Cutting to the safe the remaining baddies are currently drilling into, a lithesome female has somehow already gained entry. "My my, you're a big one, aren't you?" Catwoman remarks as she steals the MacGuffin.
Batman stealthily dispatches the thugs standing guard on the office floor. He picks a couple of them off in isolation, exactly as you'd expect from the Caped Crusader. They eventually get wise to him, but not in time to stop him from knocking out or capturing the batch of them. Again, this involves some fairly cool QTEs and well-dramatized action.
As Catwoman attempts to escape from the rooftop, Batman appears in front of her.
"I was wondering if we'd cross paths," she remarks.
"You broke the law. Here I am." It's the first time we hear Batman speak. His voice is not good – more on that shortly.
"Cut the ****. The law? Don't tell me that's why you do all this." Catwoman does her part for the game's M rating.
After some additional banter, the hero and antihero battle for the first time. The police close in during the fight, a chopper attempting to get in closer to snipe at them. On the rooftop itself, Commissioner Gordon stops an officer from shooting. Clearly he already sympathizes with Batman at this early point in the World's Greatest Detective's career.
Just as Batman recovers the mysterious stolen object from Catwoman, he takes a bullet to the side. The gun-toting officer got trigger-happy! Catwoman uses the opportunity to grab her treasure back from our hero and take off. Batman pursues her and the two end up hanging precariously along the side of the building. She slashes him with her claws and escapes to steal and banter another day.
Harvey Dent's fundraiser
Batman: The Telltale Series spends nearly as much time with Bruce Wayne as it does his alter ego. We'll get to know Bruce as a person and understand his relationships with other inhabitants of Gotham City. That includes Harvey Dent, who is currently running for office, presumably to be re-elected as District Attorney.
The scene opens with Harvey Dent addressing attendees at a fundraiser taking place within Wayne Manor. Bruce walks in towards the end of Harvey's speech, at which point players can select his opening line. Will you play Bruce as polite and chivalrous or cold and aloof? This is a Telltale game so the outcome will be pretty much the same no matter what, but it's still nice to have the choice.
After Harvey concludes his speech, he quietly reminds Bruce that the sooner they "make nice with the donors," the sooner everyone will leave him alone. Bruce explains that he was "just working the night shift," of course. The two have an easygoing friendship, though Bruce seems to require a lot of encouragement from Harvey to stay in the light and do his part as a public face for the campaign.
Bruce and Harvey share a brief conversation with two wealthy Gothamites who knew Bruce's parents. Although their support is necessary for Harvey's reelection bid, they seem to support him solely because Bruce does. "Old families like ours should flock together, you know."
The wealthy couple don't think highly of Batman, either. As the conversation concludes, we learn that Bruce and Harvey plan to replace the "dangerously insecure Arkham Asylum with a state of the art mental health facility." We'll see how that works out!
Next, Harvey gets the brush-off from Vicki Vale, a reporter (and historical love interest of Batman's) whose sole interest in the fundraiser is its news value. He asks her to leave, but Bruce steps forward in her defence. Vicki promises to keep the night's conversation off the record. She notices some blood on Bruce's shirt, which he dismisses as the result of a shaving nick.
Finally, Alfred informs Bruce that he'll want to greet a recently-arrived guest personally. It's Carmine Falcone, a reputed mobster who Dent has been hitting up for funds. Bruce questions this alliance, but Harvey believes he needs the votes that Falcone can get him. He claims it's a necessary evil, and pleads for Bruce to hear Falcone out before kicking him out.
Falcone jokes to Bruce that he has been in the market for a new house, suggesting he'd like to buy Wayne Manor. After a curt remark from Bruce, the two men glare at each other until Alfred suggests they adjourn to the parlor for further discussion. Falcone agrees but has his thugs bar Harvey from entering the room. Players can choose whether to agree to the private meeting or stick up for Harvey. Fail to stand by Harvey and he'll remember that, as Telltale games are fond of telling us.
The conversation goes just like you'd expect. Falcone wants an alliance with Bruce, which surely would involve illegal business dealings. He throws his weight around, reminding our hero what he can do for Harvey's campaign and how many pies he has his fingers in. Our hero simply won't have it, though: Bruce quickly shuts the mobster down. Carmine leaves with the threat that people don't say no to him for very long. He also withdraws his interest in the house because "the owner's a prick."
What we can expect from Telltale's Batman
Thus ends the first half hour of Batman: The Telltale Series.
Graphically, this Batman works very well. The art style is an evolution of the one seen in Tales from the Borderlands, and it perfectly captures the look of a Batman comic come to life. Motion capture continues to be a weakness, as characters sometimes move through environments in a floaty, artificial manner. But Telltale's proprietary engine has at least been updated to include improved lighting as well as cloth simulation for Batman's cape, a first for the studio.
On the voice front, Telltale has largely recruited from its usual stable of voice actors, including Troy Baker as Bruce Wayne, Laura Bailey as Selina Kyle, Erin Yvette as Vicki Vale – all recognizable voices from Tales from the Borderlands. Other voices include Travis Willingham as Harvey Dent, Murphy Guyer as Lieutenant James Gordon, and Richard McGonagle as Carmine Falcone.
The ladies all sound fine in their parts, as does Willingham as Harvey Dent. Guyer is perhaps too gruff for Commissioner Gordon, but I got used to him eventually.
The real sore spot is the dual lead role, that of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Although Troy Baker has played Batman before in the LEGO Batman games, he just doesn't sound like Bruce Wayne to me. All I hear is Troy Baker, exactly as he sounded when he played Rhys in Tales from the Borderlands.
That wouldn't be so bad, but Telltale didn't even let Baker do a distinct voice for Batman – something with which he actually has experience! When Batman speaks in this game, it's with a horribly modulated voice a la Oliver Queen's disguised voice on TV's Arrow. The voice modulator might make a superhero's ability to maintain a secret identity more believable, but it just sounds awful. Every time Batman speaks here, we're subjected to that horribly artificial modulation.
Will the worst Batman voice ever derail Telltale's Batman? We'll find out when the first episode launches and the public gets to hear it for themselves.
Coming soon to an Xbox (and hopefully UWP device) near you
One very nice thing about Telltale is how platform-agnostic the developer is with its games. Pretty much every Telltale adventure nowadays comes to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam, Mac, Android, and iOS. Minecraft: Story Mode also made its way to Windows 10 thanks to the Universal Windows Platform.
Now that the Telltale engine supports UWP, we expect Batman: A Telltale Series will make its way to the Windows 10 Store as well. Of course, that leaves several questions like whether the Windows 10 version will launch alongside other versions this summer, and whether it would be cross-buy. Minecraft: Story Mode is not cross-buy, but that functionality (dubbed Xbox Play Anywhere by Microsoft) is still very new and seemingly hasn't become available to third-party developers just yet.
For now, Batman: The Telltale Series has only been announced for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam, Mac, Android, and iOS. The first episode will arrive this summer and should ring up in the $5-10 range. From what we've seen, Batman fans have an exciting and authentic tale to look forward to. I just wish Batman himself sounded better!