My Batman was an asshole. I can see the headlines now.
“Scourge of Gotham!” “The Bat-Man Brutalizes Petty Criminal!” “Can GCPD Keep the People of Gotham Safe from the Growing Threat of Masked Vigilantism?!”
Batman – A Telltale Series, which launched its first episode Tuesday on just about every platform, gets about as dark as the Dark Knight ever can be. By the end of the first episode alone Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego will have broken multiple criminal bones, run a man through with a rebar and even shut out the memory of his dead parents.
Choice has been the great strength of every recent Telltale game, but it’s especially powerful in a story about a beloved character that’s been interpreted and explored in dozens of different ways over the past 75 years.
Personally, I chose to tread the path of Frank Miller’s take in All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder. That was a dark Batman who delighted in his own viciousness. I didn’t send anyone to their grave or pick on someone who didn’t deserve it, but only because the opportunity didn’t present itself.
The story opens on what is effectively “Year Zero” for Batman. He’s a new enough presence in Gotham that the general public doesn’t know what to make of him, but he’s also been around long enough to have an in with a young GCPD lieutenant, James Gordon.
Gotham’s super-villainy is similarly embryonic at the start of the story. Mob boss Carmine Falcone is the biggest threat casting a shadow across the city. Catwoman is kicking around, but extreme wrongdoing from the likes of Penguin, Riddler, Bane, etc. are at best slyly hinted at, if they’re touched on at all.
This is a Gotham gripped by crime, but you, the player, know what’s really out there. Those poor virtual citizens don’t even know what true wrongdoing is yet.
The episode fittingly opens with a seemingly mundane armed robbery at Gotham’s City Hall. The mayor’s office is the target, but why? It’s one of several mysteries Batman starts to chase after he interrupts the lawbreaking and enforces his own and, by extension, your own brand of justice.
The neat thing about Batman – A Telltale Series is how it forces you to really think about your performance. The role you take on is an aspect of the metagame in all Telltale adventures, but it’s a conscious presence in Batman due to the nature of its titular star.
You actively think about this as you play: Batman is always putting on a performance. When he’s the Dark Knight, his theatrics are meant to strike fear into Gotham’s criminal underbelly. And when he’s billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, he’s a self-possessed rich kid.
These dual facets of Batman’s personality are true in just about every iteration of the character including this one. So as you play, you’re actively thinking about roles that are already intentional performances, and it fosters a much stronger personal connection to the character.
Would Bruce get mad at Alfred here? Would he push back against the butler’s constant mothering? Remain silent and brooding?
They could all fit, depending on the comic you’re reading, and they’re all courses you can take as you play. In its first episode, Batman is very good about offering choices that feel faithful to the different interpretations of the character through the years.
No matter what you choose, it still hits the right beats. As Bruce, you’ll bicker with Alfred over safety concerns and schmooze with Gotham’s elite. As Batman, you’ll use gadgets to pick apart crime scenes and trade punches with lowlifes.
It’s also worth noting: this game features one of the coolest Batmobiles we’ve ever seen.
A Batman game is only as good as its story, and this one is only a fifth of the way through. Rocksteady’s Arkham series is the notable gold standard, but Batman – A Telltale Series takes a different, headier approach in letting you play into the role of whichever Batman you want to be.
For that reason alone, this is a game that’s worth any fan’s time.