Telltale’s Batman Seasons 1 and 2 Review – Fractured Pasts and Fractured Masks
There’s few heroes more iconic than Batman and with good reason. Behind the gadgets, the suit, and the tank of a car Batman is only human. Using his investigative skills, quick reflexes and mastery of combat styles he’s been able to hold his own against the likes of even Superman. Bruce Wayne may be a billionaire playboy but his mask symbolizes the hero in all of us. This is where Telltale’s Batman series succeeds. The choices you make shape how the world sees Batman and, more importantly, how you see Batman. This review will contain spoilers for seasons 1 and 2, as story is the central focus of Telltale games. Read at your own peril.
Season 1 of the series starts with Bruce already doubling as the Dark Knight. He’s been doing it for a little while now but he’s still very green. Trying to balance crime fighting with party hosting has been tough but Bruce has managed. The game opens with a heist that Batman interrupts and rooftop duel with the thief Catwoman. After a scuffle Bruce retrieves a hard drive that Catwoman was trying to steal. Bruce then rushes to a campaign party for DA Harvey Dent, who is running for mayor of Gotham. Bruce has been Dent’s main financier and close friend. While there Carmine Falcone crashes the event to convince Bruce to join his crime syndicate. Later Bruce meets a childhood friend, Oswald Cobblepot, who warns him that things are going to change in Gotham. Events spiral out of Bruce’s control as its revealed that his parents weren’t the saints that many pictured. Instead Thomas Wayne was a corrupt man who worked with Mayor Hill and Falcone to run Gotham, having anyone who opposed him thrown in Arkham Asylum. Public image of the Waynes sours and Bruce must confront this revelation head on. Meanwhile a new criminal group called the Children of Arkham, led by the mysterious Lady Arkham, have arrived in Gotham to start a revolution. Bruce’s skills are put to the test as he tries to remain in control of his assets while facing a threat he never imagined possible.
The gameplay is signature Telltale design. Using point-and-click mechanics and conversation trees players progress the plot with their choices. Character relationships are based on your actions and what you choose to say to them. There are a few standout gameplay moments though, such as a combat scenario where you pick how you take down targets using the environment and tools at your disposal. Action scenes are exciting and engaging, even if you aren’t a huge fan of quick time events. The majority of gameplay though, aside from choices, is investigating crime scenes and using your investigative skills to determine what happened. While most of the first season is strong there are some minor issues that make the episodes feel rough in certain spots. Most of the choices don’t really seem to matter, rather most of them just change a line of dialogue and nothing more. While this is understandable, the story does need to happen the way its intended to after all, it feels like nothing you do really matters. Only a few choices make a difference overall, these being how brutal or heroic Batman is. Are you going to break bones to interrogate and put others in pain? Or will you take the high road and be the symbol of justice this city needs? But these small issues don’t drag down an otherwise great story.
Season 2 is one hell of a step-up from Season 1. Season 2 starts one year after the events of Season 1. Gotham has calmed down and Bruce has his life relatively put back together and Gotham is safer. That all changes when a new group, called the Pact, begins to terrorize Gotham. This group is headed by Riddler who challenges Batman to a game of wits, where every wrong answer could mean death. What follows is a story of tragedy, subterfuge, identity, and maybe hope. At the center of this whirlwind is a man named John Doe and his relationship with Bruce. John Doe was a minor player in the first season but in Season 2 he has major implications. How you play the game, the kind of person you choose to be, and everything you say will shape John. By the time the final episode rolls around it can play out two entirely different ways. While Season 1 toyed the concept of identity, Season 2 makes it a central theme. Who is truly the mask; Batman or Bruce Wayne? The game poses this question often and it’s one with no right or wrong answer. Ultimately Season 2 is the highlight of the series so far, and I highly recommend it.
In terms of gameplay Season 2 is identical to the first. There’s conversations, choices, and quick time combat. But there are slight additions that make the gameplay more engaging. There is almost always two options in combat and while they both work the visual flair of each is satisfying. The choices actually have consequence as characters change around you and events will have drastically different effects. The investigation aspect is reduced but that’s OK as it is not the central aspect of this season. Season 2 is all about relationships, choice, and the tangled web that ties them together. Telltale made one hell of an overhaul to their standard episodic format by making big choices lead to radically different outcomes, especially when it comes to the finale. Depending on the person you shape John to be you will play one of two very different final episodes. I hope Telltale continues this trend in future games because it is a fantastic way to give players replay-ability.
Telltale’s Batman pulled me out of the fatigue that I was feeling for Telltale games. With a deep mythos that has plenty of rich detail and with interesting twists on the Batman staples, Telltale has made a series that is a must play for any fans of Batman or story based games. This game made me feel like I was Batman because I played the game to my vision of Batman. My Batman believed people can find redemption, that justice always comes first, and if one life can be changed for the better than this is all worth it in the end. That is Batman to me. Who or what is Batman to you?