Blue and grey fabric; black rubber; Kevlar armour; long ears; short ears; changing bat symbols. The shade of Batman’s exterior has been forever iterative.
And despite his altered appearance, the man inside, Bruce Wayne, hasn’t changed that much at all. Brooding as the bat, and partying dimwittedly as the billionaire has always been a staple of Batman’s lineage. Telltale Games has subverted this premise, in a bending of expectation that experiments with the prominence of Bruce over Batman, his family, Harvey Dent, The Penguin and many more facets of the series’ history. While many of these alterations aid in the game’s originality and suspense, the centring of Bruce can at times seem confusing – and even boring at worst.
Corruption and violence have overshadowed the light in Gotham. The police force is dying, and Mayor Hill and Carmine Falcone, a notorious mobster boss, have joined in an effort to run the city through crime. Batman may seem like the only alternative to this degraded state of affairs, but Telltale disagrees. Bruce Wayne plays just as big a part in the restoration of Gotham as his alter ego. Throughout the game, you are tasked with making a series of multiple-choice decisions which can shape the personality and actions of the protagonist, as well as the proceeding story.
While the choice to place Bruce at the forefront of the action presents an original narrative, this often creates situations which seem disjointed for the character. For example, there are some instances when you are tasked with choosing to play as either Bruce or Batman to progress the story. However, it’s difficult to believe that Bruce Wayne, no matter how foolhardy he may be, would face endangering not only his life but his cover as Batman by facing up to an antagonist head-on. Batman, instead, should be taking the heat; his vigilante actions should always overshadow the public persona of Wayne.
As a result of this focus, much of the game involves the dishonest political world of Gotham. Will you stand up and speak out at a public rally to defend your family’s name? Will you shake the hand of a known criminal while at a crowded party? Will you continue to fund Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign, even after a brief spat? These dilemmas are presented in abundance, and make for some suspenseful decision-making as you struggle to find a happy medium between your self-image and the opinions of the ravenous citizenry. This comes at a cost, however, as Bruce Wayne is in no way as interesting as Batman or his surrounding cast of characters. The performance given, by the usually brilliant Troy Baker, lacks intrigue or passion; and is practically pedestrian when compared to the split personality of Travis Willingham’s Two Face.
The situations in which Bruce finds himself are also disappointingly wanting. Whenever portraying him in the past, creators have delved into the personal, rather than the public, deterioration of the character. For example, in the first run of Scott Snyder’s New 52 Batman, The Court of Owls, Bruce is broken down not only through a private dismantling of his heritage, but also mentally, through both a literal and psychological maze of terror. It’s a compelling read, and proves that Bruce Wayne: tormented son of Gotham, is a more interesting figure than Bruce Wayne: CEO of Wayne Enterprises. I don’t need to explain why Bruce Wayne would be bemused at an angry mob banging on his car window, nor why the dishonesty of a colleague would present anger or sadness. On-the-nose scenarios present false conflict, and therefore predictable emotional outputs at every turn.
Having said that, Telltale’s reimagining of Batman’s villains has provided some of the most interesting interpretations of each character to date. The Penguin, affectionately named Oz by Bruce, is a childhood friend; a young, cockney hoodlum, unlike the rotund businessman of previous works. Likewise, both Harvey Dent and Two-Face have changed. Harvey, in comics and cartoons, has always had the propensity towards anger and violence from the start. This time, he’s the nicest guy in the room, and truly wants to change Gotham for the better. Unlike Bruce Wayne, these characters present emotional conflict that spawns within themselves. Even the traditionally monstrous Joker is torn between the appearance of sanity, and an internal desire to strike out in maddening fury. This helps to create much more captivating characters, and progresses the story without expectation; producing suspense and originality along the way. It’s just a shame then that you’re tethered to Bruce or Batman the entire time, as it prevents changes in narrative focus. Switching to Two-Face during a moment of violent contemplation would have added much to the development of that particular character, for example.
In terms of cause and effect, Telltale’s Batman is certainly one of their finest works. The choices presented to you here produce wildly different outcomes, depending on your decision. The brilliance of this system can be exemplified, once again, through Harvey Dent. In my playthrough, he became Two-Face. But he doesn’t have to change. He can progress to the end of the game without his face being melted off, giving you an experience that will significantly differ to that of other players. You can truly alter the course of events to create your own Batman story, a facet that was never fully realised in any of Telltale’s previous efforts.
Another staple of Telltale’s retinue that has never truly functioned at all is the way in which Batman runs. Even the most mundane of motions are jerky, with the frame-rate stuttering between scenes all the while. Episode Five’s opening is one of the worst offenders, with some sections having the fidelity of a flipbook. Later, while at Arkham Asylum, a rioting inmate becomes an invisible man, with only his eyes and mouth showing. It’s ridiculous that such a confined game can run this badly, while monstrous epics, such as Metal Gear Solid V and The Witcher 3, are experts in this field.
Telltale has managed to craft an original narrative through its altering of Batman’s well-known history. The central figure himself may lack in intrigue, but the surrounding cast of villains does more than enough to save this choice tale from inner turmoil.
Original yet stifled by Bruce Wayne
The villains save this tale from turmoil by allowing internal emotional conflict to outshine the boredom of Bruce Wayne