Playing Politics – “Batman – Episode One” review

The caped crusader takes the back seat to Bruce Wayne in TellTale’s debut Batman episode.

Although it isn’t an origin story, it’s clear from the opening chapters of TellTale’s Batman that Bruce Wayne hasn’t been behind the cowl for very long. James Gordon and Batman haven’t yet formed their critical alliance, Catwoman is new to the city and the people of Gotham don’t trust the Dark Knight.

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An inexperienced Batman the perfect backdrop for TellTale’s signature decision-making storytelling. In his formative nights in Gotham, choices made as both Bruce Wayne and Batman build and burn bridges with allies and enemies alike.

The first episode of Batman shows a different approach from TellTale. Instead of a two-hour tour de force, the game shows restraint and uses the debut episode to lay the groundwork for bigger things to come in the future. Of course, taking things slow means that players spend more time in a business suit and less time wearing a cape. While this decision might bore fans of Batman who just want to bash skulls, it makes for a much more complicated narrative that gives emotional foundation to Bruce Wayne.

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As Bruce Wayne, you’ll spend a lot of time vouching for District Attorney Harvey Dent who has aspirations to become Gotham’s next mayor. These situations will put you in a position where you have to decide between supporting Dent or standing up for Wayne family values. This incorporation of gray morality is a welcome addition to the Batman franchise, which typically presented morality and justice as black and white. While you won’t see the results of your social decisions in the first episode, there’re several big choices you’ll make that will undoubtedly alter later chapters.

In the few scenes that contain fighting, players will find that the quick time events TellTale has used for years are largely the same in Batman. That being said, great animations and an embrace of Batman’s gadgets allow fights to feel less constrained than previous games. Near the end of the first chapter, players are given the ability to plan how they want to attack a group of enemies; removing the on-rails feel combat sometimes has.

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One of the stand-out gameplay features in Batman is the new detective mode that puts you at the scene of the crime and they have to investigate clues to put together what exactly happened. Detective mode doesn’t hold the player’s hand nearly as much as other environmental exploration sequences in previous TellTale games, meaning it can sometimes be a challenge to figure out each clue. The decision by the developers to respect the intelligence of gamers leads to hugely rewarding payoffs when the crime is played back when clues are put together.

The debut episode features TellTale’s long-overdue engine enhancements. Character models, in particular, have a new level of detail that makes faces seem more life-like despite the comic book aesthetic. It also seems like the environments have a greater level of detail and things really pop on screen.

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Unfortunately, the graphical hitches and performance issues that typically come with TellTale installments are still as prevalent, sometimes more so, in Batman. On console, I noticed frequent framerate loss at random moments — even when there wasn’t anything particularly taxing happening on screen. Additionally, I found that there is a startling lack of anti-aliasing in backgrounds, which made some environments distracting to look at.

The Verdict

Thanks to episode one’s slow burn, the reputation of Bruce Wayne and Batman is in the hands of the player. The refusal to coddle players with simple decisions and combat allow for greater player involvement. The framerate drops and rough edges are a disappointment, but it shouldn’t keep you from stepping into Gotham.

The Batman universe has permeated pop culture for decades, and to see the developers approach the franchise with such poise and maturity makes me excited to see where they can take their series. If the first episode is any indication, this could be the golden age for TellTale.

4:5Batman was reviewed on a Xbox One press copy courtesy of TellTale.

Interested in Bear Claw Gaming’s review process? Check out the official scoring FAQ!

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