Was anyone really worried about this version of the Dark Knight? Telltale kicked us in the feels with The Walking Dead, right in the funny bone with Tales From The Borderlands, and effortlessly cut its teeth on comics with beautiful cel shaded Fable adaptation The Wolf Among Us.
This is the studio that gave Minecraft a story mode and didn’t break 100 million block building hearts, so its version of the World’s Greatest Detective was never going to be a bad thing. Thankfully, after seeing the first 30 minutes of Batman: The Telltale Series, I think it just might be brilliant. The Bat is in safe hands.
Telltale doesn’t just want us to feel what it’s like to be Batman but also the man behind the cowl. The studio is trying for a fifty fifty split between the lives of Bruce Wayne and his brooding alter ego and it’s a fresh take we’ve never really seen. As with all Telltale games, choices matter and it looks like it’s going to be tougher to decide what to do as a billionaire playboy than the caped crusader.
I watched the first half hour being played live and while this was only the pre credit sequence, it was immediately like someone had turned on the Bat sign above my head. Telltale gets this. The shadowy rooftops of Gotham billow with noir fog, Wayne Tower glows on the horizon and an enormous moon glows in the sky above Batman’s stomping ground. The Bat himself is young and fresh. This is a new story set within an existing world. Telltale is making its own narrative here but filling it with existing villains and other characters. It’s probably not going to breaking canonical laws (just goons faces) but this is a fresh story and means you’re not waiting to hit certain beats.
While there will be full control of both Bruce and Batman in the full game to explore environments and do that detective thing, the intro sequence is a series of button prompts and presses. Tapping A fires a grapple gun, Y as Batman crashes through a window will take out the bank robbing goon on the other side. There’s also plenty of analogue stick swiping. Combat is brutal and looks suitably weighty and smooth as our (tiny eared) Batman pummels his enemies. It’s largely made up of a series of quick swirls and while Telltale made it look effortlessly easy, there’ll be probably be a few missed punches and knocks to the chiselled jaw for the Bat. When faced with an enemy, an empty Batarang pops up in the bottom left of the screen. Four slots fill up with light as you gradually knock some sense into your foe and a prompt of ‘Finish the fight’ will appear once the Batarang glows white. Time for a satisfying finishing move? Don’t mind if I do.
There’s already some nice touches in the choice of controls too. Batman hunts goons from the ceiling and a quick swipe up the analogue stick pulls them from the floor. It’s effortlessly cinematic, absurdly watchable and has just the right amount of button pushing to feel like you’re involved. Add in a battle with Catwoman - who Bats is meeting for the first time - and a chance to test out your raspy Bat vocal cords on some conversation options and it’s the perfect alternative to the brooding ways of Rocksteady’s hero.
But that’s only half the story. The other is the man behind the mask and we watch as Wayne holds a fundraiser for Harvey Dent, who pleasantly still has his whole face. I”m not sure how long he’ll have that - especially given Telltale’s promise of a stack of villains and one that Wayne himself can actually be responsible for - but it’s another reminder that we’re in a new and unpredictable Batman universe. The fundraiser is a taste of the decisions to come. Bruce interacts with the crowd, choosing his words wisely when schmoozing with Gotham’s finest. This is where the moral greys will live. Politics, money and power. Everyone wants it and while Batman’s job is doling out justice, Bruce’s job is much harder. There’s plenty of ‘Harvey will remember that’ as the pair make a circuit of the room.
Things get even more interesting when notorious Gotham crime boss Falcone arrives on the scene. Here’s where Bruce can form an alliance with underworld when he’s not in the Batsuit and it’ll be interesting to see what choices will play out as the episodes progress. Telltale promise that they want to mess Bruce Wayne and us up a bit so there’s not going to be easy choices ahead.
All of Batman’s gadgets are present and correct and there’s even the hint of the Batmobile at some stage as well as Arkham Asylum. It might just come with more guilt and moral dilemmas than ever before but this is a true Gotham experience. Smart writing and cinematic visuals combined with classic Telltale controls make this practically irresistible. It’ll be Knight time later this summer.