E3 2016: Telltale’s Batman Hands-off Impressions – Cowled be thy Wayne

Telltale’s newest adventure season takes on a pretty big comic book franchise, even bigger than The Walking Dead. This time, they’re donning the cape and cowl of one of DC Comic’s biggest heroes. While the idea of having a Batman game within the confines of Telltale’s established adventure game mold might seem weird at first, considering how action-oriented the idea of playing as Batman might seem to anyone who’s dabbled with titles such as the Arkham series, Telltale’s E3 presentation impressed. It reminded me that there’s more to that guy, and that within his muscled exterior lies a cunning mind.

Considering their big push towards developing and publishing more and more seasons based on known franchises, it makes sense for them to try and expand their net into different approaches to adventure game design. Then again, Batman in itself is a comic book that centers around the conflict between Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman, and how that affects the lives of the people of Gotham, innocents and villains alike. In the game, that struggle takes center stage, with both personalities being playable, and according to the devs, that can happen at any order, regardless of the situation you’re in during the game.

The demo shown during my appointment at E3 featured the first half hour of the premiere episode of the season, with a younger, but already established Batman diving into a building while a heist is going on. Concurrently, on the Bruce Wayne side of things, he’s getting ready to attend a gala in favor of Harvey Dent, who’s running for mayor.

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During the Wayne section, everything fell to politics and talking his way out of jams, playing the billionaire philanthropist card during the few dialogue sequences with the party’s guests, Harvey himself and during the final part of that segment, when mafia capo Carmine Falcone popped up and decided to try and bite a piece off of the Wayne estate. This particular part of the game showed just how much the new game will play in line with Telltale’s M.O; that is, a heavy focus on dynamic storytelling, leaving the player to choose how to answer prompts and deal with their consequences. In the demo’s case, it was promised to come in future episodes, as a dissatisfied gangster left the party empty handed and cursing.

While nothing particularly new in terms of gameplay was shown during the more dialogue heavy bit of the demo, it’s the way that it’s interspersed with the Batman section that really called out how good Telltale is at building a story. Both sections were cut together carrying an underlying spot of character development for Bruce Wayne, as he talked with his butler Alfred while getting ready for the party, commenting on battle scars and his family’s troubled past.

Playing as the Dark Knight fits in with the button prompt heavy parts of previous games like Jurassic Park and the few action parts of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, but in a much more involved way, since now all moves don’t simply rely on pressing a single button at the right time, but on a combination of presses, much akin to a fighting game. Granted, gameplay isn’t as fluid as say, Street Fighter, but as the fights in the demo played out, it actually seemed like a mark could be missed and it wouldn’t exactly mean a fail state.

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A handful of fan favorites showed up during the demo, aside from the aforementioned still (relatively sane and not scarred) Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, the ever faithful Alfred, and Carmine Falcone. Catwoman not only jumped into the scene during the Batman part, but also traded some punches with him, all the while a hapless (and still with color on his hair and a detective badge on his jacket) James Gordon starts to build a trust with the caped crusader. Telltale was firm in stating that even though the game will feature some characters that have already been established over the seventy year old franchise, they will have their own motivations and personalities during the game. That means that, in theory, things might go a different way than they did in the comics, films or cartoons.

It was certainly a promising demo, one that really brought out the inner Batman fan in me. I really want to see just how far Telltale will have room to play around with Batsy’s mythos. Whether or not any of those promises will indeed mean a significant shift in both the established comic book fiction and in the Telltale way of making adventure games, we’ll have to find out when the game’s actually out. The first episode should be making its way to just about every game system out there very soon, with a promised full five part season finishing its run by the end of the year.

In the meantime, here’s Telltale’s teaser of what’s to come:

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