Batman is one of the rare comic book characters with a pretty strong history in video games, especially with the more recent Arkham series of third-person action titles. But for Telltale Games' adaptation of the Caped Crusader, the studio behind series like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us is looking to go in a different direction. Instead of being full of action like most Batman games, Telltale's title will focus equally on narrative, and puts a big emphasis on playing as Bruce Wayne. "This idea that Batman is still Batman no matter what suit he's wearing — whether it's a Batsuit or a tuxedo — was really intriguing to us," says Telltale CEO Kevin Bruner.
At E3 this year, I was able to watch the first 30 minutes or so of the game's first episode — the five-episode series is expected to launch this summer and wrap up by the end of the year — and it showed an intriguing mix of the two sides of the character. The first scene was typical Batman. A group of criminals, including Catwoman, were breaking into what appeared to be an office building in search of some kind of special gadget. Batman was there to stop them, hiding in the shadows, and giving the armed thugs a pretty brutal beating. (Like most Telltale games, the action sequences took the form of quick time events, where you have to hit the right button at just the right time to perform an action.) The violence was interspersed with scenes of Alfred bandaging a battered Bruce Wayne, much like in the Dark Knight movies. "I know you're trying to create a myth," Alfred tells him, "but be careful you don't turn into a monster." (It's not exactly subtle.)
That portion of the game seemed fine, if not particularly unique, but where things really got interesting was when the character shifted from Batman to Bruce Wayne. Here it felt more like a game that played to Telltale's strengths, focusing on making choices to influence how the story plays out. In the scene, Bruce has opened his home to Harvey Dent for a campaign fundraiser, a situation he's clearly uncomfortable with. The majority of the sequence has you navigating potentially awkward conversations.
"It starts in a familiar place."
There have been many iterations of Bruce Wayne, and Telltale's Batman essentially lets you choose which one to play as through your actions. You can put on the facade of the billionaire playboy, or you can try to be the tough, upstanding version of Bruce. Like in all of the developer's games, there's never really a right or wrong answer, and in many cases things can go bad no matter what you say or do. It makes for some wonderfully gripping situations — the Bruce Wayne sequence ended with a conversation with mobster Carmine Falcone, and it was more tense than any of the fights that came before it.
Telltale says that the split between Batman and Bruce will be close to 50 / 50, though in some instances you'll have the option to decide which version of the character to play as. There will also be detective sequences, which makes the new Batman sound a lot like Telltale's riff on the Fables comic book, called The Wolf Among Us. That game similarly featured a mix of conversation, action, and investigation, and it's one of the studio's strongest efforts yet. The new Batman is also not based on any particular version of the character — Telltale says that it takes place a few years after Bruce takes up the mantle — giving the studio the flexibility needed to have your choices shape the character. "It starts in a familiar place," says Bruner, "but it does not end in a familiar place."
It's easy to roll your eyes at yet another Batman adaptation, but based on my early look at the game — and Telltale's impressive track record — there are a lot of reasons to be excited. It helps show a side of the character that we don't usually see in games, and if done right, being able to shape your own version of Batman could be a lot of fun. "It's a little bit like a new Batman, or a new Bruce, that you haven't seen before," Bruner says.
The first episode of Telltale's Batman series is expected to launch later this summer.