PANEL TO PIXELS: Batman, The Telltale Series

Posted: May 23, 2017 in Panel to Pixels
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It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these! I think the main reason behind that is that it’s been a long time since I’ve played a comic book related game that has made me want to discuss it at length. Sure, I’m a sucker for the Lego Batman or Lego Marvel series, but there’s not exactly much to say about them other than, “There’s a lot of characters. You collect stuff.” Luckily, we have a developer like Telltale Games that crafts interesting, character-based narratives that invite discussion from players.

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As I’ve mentioned before, Telltale is one of the few game publishers today that inspire more than a mild shrug when they announce licensed content. In fact, when it was announced in early 2016 that they were basing a game series on the Dark Knight, the prevailing feeling from fans seemed to be, “it’s about time”. The series was released episodically in the last half of 2016 with 5 chapters making up the complete story. The plot follows Batman and Bruce Wayne as each half of the character is sucked into a mystery surrounding his family’s legacy and a new threat to Gotham in the guise of one of Bruce’s old friends.

batThe game does a fantastic job in hewing close to the established mythos of the character while also breaking certain rules of his history and changing things up in new and interesting ways. While Batman, at his core, is unchanged his relationship with other characters and how they impact the plot are vastly different in some places and lead to some shocking twists in others.

ozOne that is introduced up in the beginning is Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot. In the comics he’s known as The Penguin, the portly villain with a love for top hats and umbrellas. Here, he’s a childhood friend of Bruce who has come back to town after a long exile overseas with the aim of starting a revolution and taking Wayne Enterprises from his old friend. The way his family was betrayed and used by those who claimed to be their friends would inspire sympathy if not for how far he lets his rage influence his machinations. Oz also has a markedly different look than the Penguin most fans will recognize. He’s tall and thin, not unlike the way the character is portrayed on Gotham, but his scheming nature and desire to rise above his station in life are classic hallmarks of his classic incarnation. Also of note: is penguin-skull gas-mask is positively nightmare inducing.

dentOne of Bruce’s closest allies in the game is Harvey Dent. He’s introduced running for mayor after a successful tenure as Gotham’s District Attorney. Bruce acts as his campaign financier and sounding board. However, as the story progresses, more of Dent’s duplicitous personality shines through. Much like the other games Telltale has produced, your choices will impact how the story unfolds. Thus, by choosing to rescue one person over another, your friend may end up with a horrifying facial scar. His change in personality is exacerbated by Harvey discovering Bruce having spent the night with Selina Kyle (Dent’s girlfriend in the series and famed cat burglar of Batman mythos). Whether the sleepover was platonic or not is based on player decisions but the end result tends to be the same.

laRegardless of if Harvey’s face becomes mutilated or not, he ends up coming into conflict with the story’s true villain: Lady Arkham. She is a calculating manipulator with an army of henchmen at her disposal and the stated intention of giving Gotham back to the people. While that sounds noble, her path is littered with dead bodies and a mysterious past. Interestingly enough, it takes an inmate at Arkham (who is named only “John Doe” but has a characteristic smile and pasty complexion) to help Batman put the pieces together. Lady Arkham’s identity is a great reveal in game. I won’t spoil it other than to say that it took me (jaded, seen-it-all-before, cynic like I am) completely by surprise. As such, I won’t be revealing or hinting at it here.

There are plenty of other characters that I haven’t addressed that add to the fun and mystery of this game. I also didn’t go into Bruce’s family secrets that gradually get brought to light. I think that most of the twists and turns in this game are best experienced without any foreknowledge. If you’re even remotely aware of the history of these characters, this game has plenty to ways to appease and subvert your expectations. In many ways, this is the perfect companion to the Arkham series of games. While they stressed action and intrigue as well as strictly sticking to established character histories, this game focuses on relationships and diplomacy (with a healthy dose of action) while also giving unique versions of beloved characters. They compliment each other in interesting and distinct ways. All that to say that Telltale has crafted another wonderful licensed game that is worthy of the bat symbol that graces its cover. Here’s hoping to a second season or (dare I dream?) an expanded Telltale DC Universe?

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