Telltale is very hit and miss with its many, may different titles. When the company is focused on putting all of its resources behind a particular game, it gets in the conversation for year-end awards. When they half-ass it, people worry that Telltale was nothing more than a flash in the pan and that it’s poor efforts of the past are more indicative of the company’s quality than its critical highs.
The Batman series finds an odd middle ground for Telltale. The story is largely compelling, even if the characters aren’t, but the actual execution of the game is so poor that you wonder if Telltale was taking notes on PC ports from Rocksteady’s Arkham Knight.
Unlike the first episode of Batman, this episode doesn’t throw you into the middle of everything saying “It’s Batman! You’re Batman and Bruce Wayne! How cool!” Instead, Telltale throws you neck-deep into the lore they’re creating for their interpretation of Batman. A lot of the questions that are brought up as a result of the new lore that Telltale introduced in the first episode of Batman is resolved in this episode as well.
Telltale’s strength is storytelling, even if they are terrible at presenting the choices you make in that story actually mattering to the story. They spent a lot of time creating an alternate version of Gotham rather than rely on the standard tales of Batman’s origins. While Batman’s parents are still dead and Bruce still becomes Batman, the new history of the Waynes that was the focus of Episode One does create a compelling tale for Batman to confront moreso than his villains.
What I don’t like is that Bruce has a convenient case of amnesia about the night his parents were murdered, that cleared up at the start of this episode. Bruce remembered everything except one line the killer and his father said before he was killed. The line basically telegraphs the direction of the story for the rest of the episode. Speaking of which, this month’s villain was obvious from the game’s second scene.
Sometimes, obvious is good. A swerve in the story for the sake of a random plot twist to keep you on your toes isn’t good storytelling. Telltale certainly didn’t do that with the plot proper but I think that they could have done a better job with some of the characters in the game. Telltale seemed in a rush to move from featuring less popular Batman characters that they were working on establishing in their world to introducing big name villains that will have a bit more mainstream appeal. It would have been nice if they kept with the cast introduced in the last episode but I guess that’s just not Telltale’s style. They could have done their own story but switched to fan service at the end of this episode.
This episode also features one of the great moments of Telltale’s helix story design that I’ve ever seen. There are a couple of decisions you can make based on your political entanglements that are instantly undone. Any consequence that these decisions would have, bar a line in a later episode, is erased within 15 or 20 minutes of you making them. They were both shown on the end of episode decision recap screen which makes me question what Telltale was thinking. Are there so few decisions in this episode that they had to pretend these ones mattered? Given the episode’s conclusion, they were in the game to either pad the game out or throw you off the actual ending to the episode.
There is a decision that may be of consequence and that’s the last one. I can’t really describe it without spoiling it but I think you can see where the consequences of the decision are heading when you are confronted with it. Of course, I doubt that decision will have a permanent effect and will helix back together eventually but Telltale could be on to something interesting in the interim.
Unfortunately, this game might be one of the worst that Telltale has put out from a technical perspective. To say that it runs poorly would be a terrible understatement.
The opening scene takes place in the alley where the Waynes were shot though it was hard to tell as one of the wall had some pretty bad artifacting. It was to the point where it was just black in the background of a shot. The rest of the game suffered from some pretty bad stuttering. While my framerate was seldom at 60 FPS, it never dipped below 40 FPS but still had noticeable stuttering. I failed a couple of QTEs as a result of this. Whether it was the frame stuttering or a different problem with the game, cuts to different cameras or animations in scenes would occasional see short (less than a second) freezes. In other words, the game is a technical disaster.
Batman isn’t unplayable but it might be the worst I’ve seen from a Telltale game. I feel as though every Telltale game that I review might need an obligatory paragraph saying that Telltale either needs to spend some time on PC optimization or scrap the Telltale Tool. It’s not Arkham Knight levels of bad but a game that should be as easy on the hardware as a Telltale game shouldn’t be running as poorly as Telltale’s Batman is. It’s getting to the point where the technical issues are really detracting from the experience. People can praise the graphics all they want but it’s lipstick on a pig called the Telltale Tool.
And maybe the worst part of this episode of Batman is the running time. I completed the episode in 80 minutes. Considering I had to replay a few sections because of failed QTEs and restarted my computer to see if that would solve the framerate issues (it didn’t), if you said that this episode took between 70 and 75 minutes without rushing, I would believe you. The story was fine but there wasn’t much to it. Remember when The Walking Dead: Season One had three hour long episodes? That seems like forever ago compared to what we have now. It’s still better than TWD: Michonne but that’s an example of being damned with faint praise.
I brought this up in my review of the finale of The Walking Dead: Michonne but Telltale increasingly feels like they’re pumping these games out to get them out rather than putting the time and care into these games that they so clearly require. I don’t want to accuse Telltale of acquiring licenses like Batman, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead and cashing in on them like thousands of other licensed games but maybe The Walking Dead was the exception rather than the rule when it comes to Telltale. Before TWD, Telltale wasn’t considered an elite developer. I’m not sure we should consider them one after.
Batman – Episode Two: Children of Arkham was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Mac OS X, iOS and Android. The review code for this game was provided by Telltale Games. Your impressions of the game may change depending on platform played on, PC specs and if you think a game should run smoothly on all platforms.
Cross-posted from et geekera. For more from et geekera, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Steam and RSS.