A lot of interesting things are happening with Telltale’s new Batman title. Though the first episode is now available, I had the opportunity to see it a bit early and hear about where Telltale plans to take the series in the future.
“The biggest thing that you can take away from Telltale's take on Batman is that we believe that Bruce Wayne is as important as the Batman,” said Telltale’s rep as we began to dig into the differences between how Telltale was approaching the Bat compared to film or comic adaptations. “Being Bruce Wayne is political. It's personal. It's working directly with people and seeing how you influence them and actually how they influence you maybe, and how you influence the story of course. It's a Telltale series where choice matters,” the rep explained as the PC demonstration began.
It is almost immediately apparent that Telltale put their M rating to good use. Their Batman series features some brutal violence; the camera lingers on a security guard with a fatal head shot wound as a mercenary team executes a night raid on city hall. “Actually, having an M-rating is really, really good for us. It opens up the ability to tell a fantastic, hard-edged Batman story, a mature Batman story,” Telltale’s rep later explains.
As the mercenaries slowly check their corners and walk through the nearly deserted building (after delaying the inevitable police response, of course), they worry aloud about interference from a certain vigilante. The camera pans out to show a shadow observing them from in front of a “Harvey Dent for Mayor” billboard.
“You're going to see some new combat mechanics you haven't seen before in a Telltale series,” the rep states as that shadow leaps into motion, crashing through a window into the panicked killers. To be honest, the new combat mechanics aren’t exactly a huge departure from the quick time events that have been the primary form of action in past Telltale adventures. However, there is one prominent new addition: A finishing meter. As combat progresses, a meter will fill up with each successful QTE move. Once it is full, Batman will be able to use a finishing move to take down his opponent. Interestingly, players can fail a large number of QTE without getting a game over screen as long as Batman isn’t in a situation that would obviously kill him. Fights can also be finished without performing a takedown maneuver. Sometimes failing a prompt during a fight can affect the outcome of the story, too. “It is all part of that Telltale magic.”
This sequence flashes back and forth between Batman’s conflict with the thugs and the contemplative conversation between Alfred and Bruce in the aftermath. “A myth can't be killed. You, however, are flesh and blood,” states Alfred as he helps Bruce clean his injuries. The game flashes back to Batman’s first encounter with Catwoman, who has beaten the mercenaries to a their prize: A hard drive. “[The hard drive] contains some very, very sensitive data. Catwoman [is] being sent to get it, obviously these guys know what's going on. The mercenaries upstairs are being sent to get. Batman's aware of what's going on. You'll find out how this story came to be as we move forward into the actual game episode itself.”
As the combat and conversation between Batman and Catwoman comes to a close and the segment of the demo focusing on Bruce Wayne begins, the demo crashes. I’m told this is due to the game’s QA testing not being complete yet. Someone asks if Batman is running on a new engine, suspecting that the performance issues and improved visuals might be attributed to new technology. Telltale’s rep explains:
So everything's being updated, yeah for sure. It's not really a new engine per se. We iterate continuously on the engine we have. So I would say normally at this stage, you know, performance has been improved but [this is a] demo that hasn't gone through our full QA for retail release, that's why we're seeing these issues today. But yeah, […] as you saw we've got cloth and physics simulations going on there with Batman's cape. There are going to be, for the appropriate characters, all the hair simulation, lots of different technology we can talk about. In fact, technology that's not even visible in the demo that we have today […] will affect the next season of The Walking Dead too.
Due to the nature of the build they are using, they can’t skip back to where things went wrong. I’m shown the same sequence over again. The presenter adds additional context for events, saying, “This is relatively early in Batman's career. James Gordon is still a lieutenant. This is the first time as you saw earlier that he met Catwoman. And there's some other characters that we're going to meet as well early in Batman's career. So I'm a bit beyond that kind of Year One stage if you like, he's obviously quite capable right now as Batman.”
The demo crashes again. We’re shown another attempt at making it to the second section of gameplay. What was a half hour demo slowly stretches toward an hour.
Finally, we make it through the glitchy section. Visibly relieved, the presenter continues, “So now as Alfred said we go from wearing one mask to another. We go from the Bat to the billionaire. This is where things get political and personal. […] The next part is a gala in support of the election of Harvey Dent as mayor, so obviously this is before Harvey becomes Two-Face.”
Telltale’s focus on Bruce Wayne places additional importance on the schmoozing Bruce does during these parties. How players have Wayne act can determine how much support Harvey enjoys in his bid for the mayor’s office. Players can even choose which slogan Dent uses for his campaign. However, there’s clear conflict between Bruce Wayne’s two identities as he tries to help his friend Harvey make a good impression with the elite of Gotham. The attempts make him feel disingenuous, but the stakes escalate when Carmine Falcone arrives.
Falcone, a known, but legally untouchable, criminal, knows the right people and could help rig the election for Harvey Dent, but he has little to no respect for either Harvey or Bruce. “You listen to me, kid,” Falcone explains in a tense one-on-one conversation with Bruce, “I know somewhere inside that tuxedo you understand the situation. Money gets money. The risks, the alliances, the hidden costs. Your father knew which hands to shake. And which to break.” The demo ends with threats and Carmine Falcone leaving Wayne Manor with his thugs in tow.
There are things, of course, that you didn't see in today's demo that we're super proud of and we're really excited that you're going to see. We've obviously got a fantastic- or what I should say is this is Batman, the world's greatest detective. So where would we be without some cool detective work? You're going to see that in the episode and in the season, in fact, in a way that Telltale has never really done […] before. We're super happy about that. And then one thing that I'm really looking forward to is there's going to be key moments throughout the season where you get to choose how to approach a situation; am I going to go as Bruce or am I going to go as Batman? Obviously that's going to have a huge effect on the season too.
I asked if the series would be drawing on previous Batman storylines from comics, movies, cartoons, etc. and received a pretty intriguing answer:
There's 75 years of content to pull from so obviously it's hard not to have inspiration, but we should make it really clear this a brand-new story being built from the ground up, so you will have not have seen this story before. Based on the demo that you saw today you might feel really comfortable with what you saw as like "Oh I know these characters, I kind of feel very comfortable with where this is going" but trust me, it's all going to get turned on its head so we're really looking forward to that.
The demo concluded and I was left with a generally positive view of the series’ future, though with some deep misgivings about the stability of the tech. Telltale’s games have always been a bit wobbly right out of the gate, but I had never seen a build crash in an early showing, let alone crash multiple times.
An interesting feature that will be included in Telltale games beginning with the Batman series onward is the ability to initiate Crowd Play. Essentially, Crowd Play makes a Telltale game into a multiplayer experience. There are two different types of Crowd Play with which players can experiment. The first is a rule of the majority, with the most popular audience vote taking priority. The second gives the player with the controller the voting information, but allows them to make the ultimate choice.
Choosing crowd play when beginning a new game generates a URL that an audience can use to participate, similar to the mobile participation in party games like the Jackbox series. This could make for some really fun, unique events or game nights.
The first episode of Telltale’s Batman, titled Realm of Shadows, is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. It will be releasing on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and mobile in the coming weeks.