Video Games

With one fix, Telltale Games could have made the best Batman game yet

Although “Batman: The Telltale Series” adds a lot of subtlety to the world, most of your time is still spent smashing faces as the caped crusader.
Although “Batman: The Telltale Series” adds a lot of subtlety to the world, most of your time is still spent smashing faces as the caped crusader. Telltale Games

Forget everything you know about the caped crusader before loading “Batman: The Telltale Series.” The cruel puppet masters at Telltale Games will use this against you. This game changes everything, and your expertise is nothing more than a liability.

That’s how they got me. I thought I knew Bruce Wayne, Two-Face and Catwoman – figured I could predict their habits, beat them at their own game. And God, I trusted the newspaper reporter. I’m a newspaper reporter, so I placed my faith in Vicki Vale.

Telltale’s first Batman season came to a close this week with the release of “City of Light,” the fifth and final episode. I reviewed the first offering in August, and the series played out exactly as I expected it to.

That’s both good and bad.

First, the good. This is amazing storytelling. Telltale continues to astound with its ability to take a narrative we all know well and turn it on its head without tarnishing any legacies. The Batman mythology has been told backward and forward for almost 80 years, but Telltale managed to show us something completely different. Two-Face is badly deformed and has multiple personalities, but how he gets there and what happens next is unique to this version.

All five episodes move at a tremendous pace. Whether cracking skulls as Batman or smoothing over corporate espionage as Bruce Wayne, the story moves beautifully from scene to scene. There’s no wasted motion. The trademark “every choice is important” gameplay Telltale is known for is front and center.

I particularly enjoyed the care spent in crafting the bad guys who aren’t The Joker. Because he is, without question, the best comic book villain ever created, most storytellers tend to fixate on him and his relationship with Batman. It was refreshing to see the minute details of Penguin, Two-Face and Catwoman carefully hashed out across about 10 hours of gameplay.

Like most Telltale series, the middle episodes planted a spike of hopelessness in my heart that made it difficult to go on. But I put my faith in the developers to sort out this tangled mess into which I turned Bruce Wayne’s life, and with a few clicks and button presses, the ship righted.

The ending was predictable, but it was also precisely the conclusion that I wanted. I am used to games that end with a major twist or reveal. Telltale’s Batman hits you over and over with left turns during the middle episodes before arriving at a logical resting place. I would not have changed a thing about this tale.

However, I wish they would have fixed the damn game.

It’s a series about Batman, but Two-Face would be a far more appropriate cover boy. Its great storytelling strength was nearly overshadowed by horrific visual and audio bugs, at least in the PC version that I reviewed.

I could not, at any point in four months of trying, ever play the game at the full high-definition resolution on which most modern games run. I pored over forums and support threads, and the general consensus from other frustrated players was: “This is broken. Telltale knows, but they already have our money, so they don’t care about fixing it.” It looks like, based on a rather lengthy update history, that this consensus is a little harsh. The developers tried to fix it but could not.

I reached out to Telltale through email and social media. I told the communications team that they had a great game here that I really wanted to love, but I needed a little help fixing this problem. I did not receive a reply.

The downgrades wouldn’t have been such a big deal if the series didn’t also have massive audio and visual issues. The sound cuts in and out. Characters’ mouths have a life of their own, moving with or without the accompanying speech audio. And when the Batmobile freezes in place for a second while taking tight corners, it sort of ruins the action.

I’ve played most of the Telltale games in the past five years. They all have great stories, good art style and technical problems. But these issues go beyond the usual audio blips. They are noticeable throughout each episode and suck enjoyment from an otherwise stellar series.

The tale told by Telltale (say that five times fast) is worth checking out, but you need to keep your eye fixated on its inner beauty. And get it for a console.

Batman: The Telltale Series

Video game review

 1/2

▪ Rated mature for violence, blood and gore, sexual themes, language and drug use

▪ Developer: Telltale Games

▪ Publisher: Telltale Games

▪ Out now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC. The later episodes will release on iOS, Android and Mac at a later date.

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