Screenshot from Batman: The Telltale Series on Playstation 4.

…or press O to be the night. (Season 1 of the series is part of PlayStation Plus for January 2018.)

Batman: The Telltale Series (Season 1) (MA-15+)
Tested on PlayStation 4
Also on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android
Copy purchased (PlayStation Plus subscription)

How much typing do I need to do in order to explain the concept of Batman? A bit, in this case. The central characters and their traits should be familiar to most of us by now, but Telltale Games’ Batman: The Telltale Series has its own continuity and adds a few background details. The end result is a story that feels right within the Batman universe but still tells its own tale. If you’ll pardon the expression.

At the start of season 1, Batman is on the scene to stop a break-in at City Hall. A group of mercenaries are no match for the Caped Crusader, but he’s a step behind a cat-burglar who has stolen a data drive. That cat-burglar is indeed Catwoman; she gets a few good swings in and manages to slip through Batman’s grasp, but he is able to recover the drive.

The city is in the midst of a mayoral election campaign, and billionaire Bruce Wayne (the player character) is helping to fund the campaign of District Attorney Harvey Dent against the incumbent. “Colourful underworld figure” (ahem) Carmine Falcone makes an appearance at a fundraising event at Wayne Manor and suggests that he and Bruce should be closer acquaintances. It emerges that Falcone and Bruce’s (deceased) parents seemed to also know each other quite well- much to Bruce’s disgust.

Meanwhile, Bruce learns that a childhood friend of his, Oswald Cobblepot, has returned to Gotham City. Cobblepot hints at a coming revolution…

Screenshot from Batman: The Telltale Series on PlayStation 4.
“Sure, an all-black wardrobe might be a bit boring, but at least I never have odd socks.”

The very use of the characters’ ‘real’ names above is probably enough to give some spoilers away to Batman aficionados, but don’t worry; if you really don’t know who Oswald Cobblepot turns out to be, the characters’ alter-egos are all revealed as the story progresses. (All but one, that is, but that character is the sequel hook for season 2.) It also deviates from the movies and comics in a few areas. One of the recurring themes of the game is that everyone has a secret; you’ll know some coming in just from knowing the characters, but the story still has some twists up its sleeve.

This game almost counts as a visual novel- much like the last game I looked at, Doki Doki Literature Club!, there is minimal interactivity to Telltale Batman. The ‘series’ is divided into five episodes that were originally released a month or so apart- the advantage of coming in late is that you don’t have to wait, and can just binge.

You get choices during conversations that will either impress or discourage other characters, and a few scenes are totally different depending on the choices you make along the way; the climax of episode 4 can play out two totally different ways, for example. In addition, there are crime-scene investigation sequences where you need to link pieces of evidence to work out how events happened. These aren’t terribly complicated, so if you’re as old-school (or just plain old) as I am there’s nothing of Sierra On-Line level difficulty or obscurity in Batman’s puzzles.

There are fight sequences but these are just a sequence of quick-time events- press the button it tells you to and you’ll be fine, mistime it and you’ll get hurt. A few sequences allow you to ‘pre-plan’ your route through the level- you still need to get the button prompts right but mapping out how you’ll take down a room full of goons, then watching the scene play out, is quite satisfying. The game seems fairly generous with its timing, too, and it saves your progress frequently enough that mistakes don’t get frustrating.

Visually the game uses a ‘cel-shading’ effect to look like its comic book predecessor, a graphic style very similar to Borderlands (and Telltale also worked on Tales From The Borderlands, a spinoff of that series.) At times it has an odd effect, with some props and scenery looking very comic-book-like with thick outlines and brush strokes; at other times the background art is ultra-realistic. The characters’ animations and acting are good enough in motion, but the art style has the unfortunate side effect of making Bruce look like Sterling Archer in some cut-scenes.

Screenshot from Batman: The Telltale Series on PlayStation 4.
Judging by the looks on your faces, I guess we’re not doing “phrasing” anymore.

It’s also quite generous if you’re hunting Achievements or Trophies- completing all five episodes is enough to get you all the Trophies or Gamerscore the game has to offer, and these aren’t affected by your choices. You can probably burn through the series in about 8 hours, give or take time for bathroom breaks, and then embark on season 2 (not yet complete as of the time of writing, so prepare for a cliffhanger if you dive right in).

So it’s a Batman story, then. From a gameplay perspective, there isn’t a whole lot to do- there’s no major challenge and no escalation of the game’s difficulty, but then it’s never frustrating or unfair. But from a storytelling perspective it’s well-paced (bearing in mind it was originally episodic) and was enough to keep me engaged- and at about $30 for a season depending on the platform (it’s US$25 on Steam) I figure it was worth it to get my Dark Knight on. Note that the Switch version is significantly more expensive at A$62.

…and now I really want Archer: The Telltale Series. Can someone call FX and get that done?

The first episode of season 1 is available for free on Windows, Xbox One and PlayStation 4; the remainder of season 1 is free for PlayStation Plus subscribers at the time of writing (January 2018). Season 2 (Batman: The Enemy Within) is in progress and is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows and Mac OS (via Steam).