Batman - The Telltale Series Review
Chris Capel bams and thwacks his way through the second episode of Telltale’s Batman series
A few people were underwhelmed by the first episode of Telltale’s Batman series. You can check out our own review here, but suffice to say we actually enjoyed it greatly and felt it started the series on a strong footing. The main complaints about Episode 1: Realm of Shadows seemed to be that it was a little predictable and, well, it was a Telltale series. If you take issue with the second part then turn away now, it ain’t gonna turn into a Rocksteady action/adventure. As for the predictability part, well, read on for our review of Batman – The Telltale Series Episode 2: Children of Arkham.
Trying to avoid major spoilers, in the first episode we caught up with Batman early in his career. Gotham City and the police still distrust him, Harvey Dent still has all his face, and the Joker hasn’t made an appearance (yet). As Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent work to take down the corrupt Mayor Hill, allegations about the Wayne Family’s connections to organized crime makes things difficult for both of them, not to mention criminals like Carmine Falcone and this strange new Catwoman lady. But the worst is yet to come, and it may have something to do with Bruce’s old friend Oswald Cobblepot.
Complaints about the storyline being predictable fell away very quickly with Episode 2. It’s clear that Telltale are not content to just idly retell the “established” Batman canon or even popular interpretations like the Animated Series or Arkhamverse. Instead they’re prepared to reinterpret major villains, introduce brand new canon-shattering ideas and threats, and even kill off major established characters. Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot has received the most drastic reinvention, as he’s now a former friend of Bruce’s and a thin scruffy anarchist looking to avenge an injustice against his parents – a rather neat parallel with Batman.
It all still can be clearly identified as Batman (even more so than the “realistic” Earth One series or Nolan films I’d say) and the characters are all still spot on but I’m happy that Telltale are prepared to take risks and I hope they take them even further. The material actually challenges Bruce Wayne emotionally and it’s frustratingly rare for writers to do that. That all said I’m expecting a backpedal with certain shocking revelations about Bruce’s parents, and if the leader of the Children of Arkham turns out to be the Joker I’ll cut the score in half.
As usual it’s the choices that make the bulk of the gameplay, and they seem to be divided into two categories: subtle minor character beats and major game-changers. There are at least two massive decision moments in here which must really alter how several characters and even the whole city sees you. I won’t spoil either, but one of them is a choice between playing a scene as Batman or Bruce Wayne, and astonishingly Telltale did a good enough job convincing me that it’d be a good thing that I actually chose not to play as Batman. Wow. As for all the other little beats, I liked them but I never felt they’d amount to much more than a snide reply.
My favourite addition to the Telltale formula in Episode 1 was Batman’s ability to plan an assault before the player enacts it. It was neat, it fit in well with both Telltale’s gameplay and Batman, and it was deeply satisfying. There’s only one of these planning sections in Episode 2 and it’s sadly less impressive than Episode 1’s amazing assault, but it at least introduces the novel twist of being able to command Catwoman as well. She picks off a single enemy of your choice and Batman decides how to deal with the rest. It was definitely awesome but I want these expanded on please Telltale. Go big.
My second favourite part of Episode 1 was the detective moment where Batman surveyed a crime scene and made links between points of interest to reenact the crime. It reminded me of the best parts of The Wolf Among Us, which is one of my Top 5 Telltale games (Walking Dead Season 1, Sam & Max Season 3, Monkey Island 5 and Borderlands being the other four). Hopefully the detective moments don’t disappear like they did in the Fables game as there isn’t one in Episode 2, and that’s the worst thing about this otherwise good episode. Batman’s a detective and Telltale are perfectly positioned to finally show this often overlooked aspect of his character, so I hope they don’t forget to.
However the other big part of the Telltale formula, the QTEs, are probably the best and most interesting they’ve ever been here. While having to hold Shift on some attacks is fiddly it’s at least challenging, and I like having to build up a meter in order to complete a fight with a special attack. There are a few fights but the best is undoubtedly a really fun bar brawl that feels very un-Batman-like in the best way possible – it’s actually amusing!
Performance & Graphics
OS: Windows 7 64 Bit Service Pack 1
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz
Memory: 3 GB RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GTS 450+ with 1024MB+ VRAM (excluding GT), latest drivers
DirectX: Version 11
Additional: Not Recommended for Intel integrated graphics</b>
The first episode was, to put it lightly, slightly choppy. Fortunately things improved with quick patch work and Episode 2 ran pretty flawlessly for me, which considering how low-spec a system they still require is exactly how it should be. I had some slowdown when recording gameplay but otherwise Children of Arkham was a smooth ride.
Graphically things are much the same, with Batman looking like a slightly improved version of the engine used in The Walking Dead: Michonne - which is exactly what it is. However now and again there are some stunning shots with some really neat effects work. Telltale really needed to focus on stylish comic book shots to disguise the low quality engine and for the most part they do just that. Character models are still pretty stiff though.
Audio / Voice Acting
Some people were not impressed with the voice acting in Episode 1. I was, particularly Travis Willingham’s barely-keeping-it-together Harvey Dent and Jason Spisak’s smash-the-state take on Penguin. That said I feel the cast have a lot more to work with in Episode 2 with things taking a turn for the worse. Dent and Cobblepot have a lot more to do, and Troy Baker’s Bruce Wayne goes well with Laura Bailey’s Selina Kyle. Matter of opinion though I guess. I personally love the acting so far, although I admit the music isn’t really grabbing me – apart from the song playing during the bar fight.
Usually the second episode of a Telltale series is the cooldown where nothing much happens, and it’s slightly disappointing after the epic opening. They’ve been beginning to turn this around since Game of Thrones, and now Batman equally impresses. In fact in terms of story and threat building I’d say Children of Arkham is the strongest second episode in a season that they’ve ever done.
As a big Batman fan I admit I’m the exact person Telltale are aiming at, but I’m also not afraid to kick a Batman game if it deserves it. Batman: The Telltale Series is so far massively impressing me and I just continue to get more and more involved in the story.
BATMAN - THE TELLTALE SERIES VERDICT
Here’s a novelty: taking everything into account, Batman – The Telltale Series Episode 2: Children of Arkham is exactly as good as Episode 2. In several areas it’s slightly better, and one of the chief complaints other reviewers (not us) had about it, namely the predictable storyline, has already been thoroughly addressed. Episode 1 felt like Telltale were being too safe, taking on a license that they couldn’t really make any earth-shattering changes to… and yet they’ve gone and done so anyway. Popular characters are reinterpreted, dishonored or even killed, and the things that Bruce learns about his parents are shocking to say the least. There are a few really big choices and another excellent assault planning section, but sadly we’re missing another detective moment which is why the score’s been held back half a point.
If Telltale stay this good we’ll be very happy with Batman, but if they successfully build on the good things about Episodes 1-2 then it could become one of their best seasons. We’re looking forward to finding out.
TOP GAME MOMENT
The bar fight.
Good vs Bad
- Storyline taking a turn for the unpredictable
- Well-known characters and staples of Batman lore take a beating or at least a new interpretation
- Some really epic choices, including one where you have to decide to play as Bruce Wayne or Batman… and you might not actually choose Batman
- Another excellent assault planning section
- Although this assault isn’t quite as epic as the one in Episode 1
- No detective moments or crime scene analyzing