Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Leaden Finger Gamer’s Review: Batman – The Telltale Series (Episode 1)

I like Batman. I love Telltale Games – even saying once that they may represent the next step in graphic storytelling where the gamer gets to influence the story. So when I first heard that Telltale were doing a Batman series it was like hearing that someone was opening a pub serving craft beer and four cheese pizza two minutes down the street. My excitement ramped up a couple of weeks ago when I saw that the first episode was to be released on August 2 (effectively August 3 in Australia), and I was doing excited movements as I downloaded the game on the day itself.
But there were problems. To cut the story of my battles against technology short I had to update my Basic Input/Output System and version of Windows just to get the game to launch. Then when I finally played the game it jerked and lagged all over the place; I heard characters’ dialogue before their mouths even started moving, and clicking and pressing buttons was far more of a struggle than it should have been.

Fortunately Telltale Games require only simple button pressing so I could still get through the episode without too much trouble, a few inexplicable defeats to Catwoman notwithstanding. Indeed given how little I ended up pressing buttons at the right time but the right actions still seemed to take place it makes me wonder how much the game actually required me to press buttons at all.

Of more consequence was the effect the lags had on my ability to click on the dialogue options I wanted. Given that Telltale Games are built around choosing options within short timeframes that then affect how the game progresses this made playing the game much more stressful and frustrating than it should have been as well. I don’t know how much of these performance issues were due to my computer, or due to the game itself (a patch for the PC version has now been released). While it may seem strange to focus so much of a review on how a game ran on my laptop the lags so much defined my experience of the game that I can’t really think of the game without them.

But let’s get to the story itself. The story focuses on the early days of Batman, with Gotham starting to become infested by crime. Batman is meeting characters like Jim Gordon and Catwoman for the first time, and the police don’t yet trust him (or trust him less). Meanwhile Bruce Wayne is throwing his support behind Harvey Dent, the future Two-Face, to become Gotham’s mayor. But Dent is associating with known mob boss Carmine Falcone, which soon causes difficulties for not only Wayne himself but also his family name. Other Bat-characters like the Penguin and journalist Vicki Vale are also circling around, though their main roles in the story are yet to be revealed.

Telltale have taken some liberties with the Batman mythos, and seem to have taken the viewpoint of ‘what if Batman began in 2016?’ For example Bruce Wayne and Oswald Cobblepot/the Penguin are now childhood friends, and Wayne and Alfred often communicate using mobile phones.

It’s not a bad start. There was more Bruce Wayne than I expected, and possibly too much of Alfred bemoaning that the sole remaining Wayne is spending his life dressing up like a bat and sitting in a cave. The meeting between Bruce Wayne and Catwoman’s alter-ego Selina Kyle was a highlight, with perhaps even more tension and innuendo than the two characters had in ‘Batman Returns’ or ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. Another highlight for me, frustrating controls aside, was linking up enemies and objects as Batman planned in advance how he was going to take out a group of mobsters. A similar mechanic was used when Batman investigated a crime scene, although the trial and error that was involved in that sequence to progress slowed down what was otherwise not a bad use of Batman’s detective skills.

Where does it rate among Telltale Games so far? Disappointedly I guess given that it initially seemed like it would be nerd heaven I think I’d take all of ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘The Wolf Among Us’ and ‘Tales From The Borderlands’ above it. It was just too much of a slog with the lags, whereas I breezed through all of those games. Also it is hard to see how any of the supposedly major decisions in this episode will greatly affect events down the line (and they seemed less ambiguous – I was with the clear majority on most of them).

But there is still a long way to go. It sounds like all of the episodes are coming out this year, which should help the story to flow better as previous events remain fresh in the mind. It’s more of a three cheese pizza and a beer missing a bit of head at this point, but I’m hopeful that it’ll start to come together with the next instalment.

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