Release Date: December 13, 2016
Developer: TellTale Games
Publisher: TellTale Games
Genre: Third Person Perspective, Platformer, Action-Adventure
System: Xbox One (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, PC, Mac, Android, iPhone
Batman: A TellTale Series is a flawed, often promising story bogged by consistent technical issues and unevenly weighted storytelling. In many respects, it’s a story succeeding in providing a fresh take on Bruce Wayne and Batman. In a franchise with many origin stories building the lore on Batman, TellTale takes a successful gamble on building upon Bruce Wayne. By challenging players to take on the toughest obstacles as Bruce and not as Batman, players get a much more fulfilling story.
Instead of following the prototypical Batman story formula, TellTale focuses Bruce Wayne to emphasize how inseparable Batman and Bruce Wayne really are. Their stories tangle together to explore the themes of family, legacy, the individual, and self-discovery. Through this risk, Batman: A TellTale Series creates one of the best representations of Batman and Bruce Wayne out there.
Episode 5: City of Lights is the epitome of both the best and worst of what Batman: A TellTale Series offers: a story that could be great if not for the flaws that bog it down. Whether it’s the consistent technical bugs, or the rush/contrived plot points, or even the emphasis on the action and QTE’s, the game can never get passed being an ok experience. The overarching story just fails to deliver, and fails Vicki Vale/Lady Arkham as a main antagonist. The worst offense is that instead of providing a satisfying conclusion, City of Lights forces an ending to ensure a second season. It’s a damn shame, because this could have been the refreshing experience the Batman franchise needed.
Gotham’s Eleventh Hour, and Batman’s Rise
Depending on which antagonist players decide to take on at the end of Episode 4: Guardian of Gotham, Episode 5: City of Lights starts off like the following:
- Stopped Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot – City of Lights starts off with Bruce Wayne going to Wayne Manor to attempt talking to Harvey Dent/Two Face’s good side and stop him from killing anymore hostages.
- Stopped Two Face/Harvey Dent – City of Lights starts with Bruce Wayne infiltrating Wayne Enterprises to help Gordon take down the Penguin. They also destroy his Black Box in the process.
In my playthrough, I chose to stop Penguin from utilizing his black box that was hacking into Wayne Technology. The beginning of my version of City of Light starts with proving that Harvey Dent’s reign of terror could continue with no end in sight. Any dissent or criticism against Harvey’s character sees immediate retaliation from his special task force.
Having violently seizing Wayne Manor, Harvey sends his special task force to wage an all-out assault on the Gotham City Police Department. This is after Commissioner Groban declared Dent a terrorist for both blowing up a city block and potentially exposing more citizens to the Children of Arkham’s dangerous drug. Although Batman is successful in stopping the destruction of the GCPD, he’s unable to stop them from killing Commission Groban.
There’s no time to mourn the lives already lost; Gordon and Batman receive the news that Dent has hostages up in Wayne Manor. Worse still, Dent has declared that if the police or Batman show up, more hostages will be killed. It leaves Batman with no choice other than to appeal to Harvey as Bruce Wayne.
Upon entering into Wayne Manor, Bruce Wayne begins to plead to Harvey Dent’s good side with recollections of his hopes and dreams as Mayor of Gotham. Subsequently, Harvey begins release a hostage during each plea from Bruce, until it’s just them. In a bout of desperation to end this nightmare, Harvey flips his coin. Heads, he’ll get to live. Tails, he’ll kill himself. Believing that Harvey can still be saved, Bruce catches the coin before Harvey can see the results. Upon Harvey’s arrest, players can have Bruce either tell him he’ll be going to jail, or going to get the best doctors in Arkham Asylum.
After successfully stopping Dent, Bruce gains some positive favor from the citizens of Gotham. For Bruce and Batman, this isn’t enough: the Children of Arkham are still lurking in the shadows and waiting for the perfect chance to strike. Bruce and Alfred begin working tirelessly to figure out a clue that could give them insight on where the Children of Arkham are. Peering through Oswald’s computer at Wayne Enterprises results in determining what the Children of Arkham might do next. However, in order to to achieve their goals they’ll need the piece of Wayne Tech that should have been locked up; the Electronic Skeleton Key. Unfortunately, it’s fallen into the hands of a famous thief; Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman). This is the eleventh hour, and Batman has to do whatever it takes to stop the Children of Arkham’s plans.
Without a doubt, TellTale Games has crafted one of the best interpretations of Batman and Bruce Wayne. Through their story, both characters have faced incredibly complex challenges to their identity, their legacy, and their values. The best part of the series has actually been its focus on Bruce Wayne, the man behind the cowl. TellTale forces Bruce Wayne to examine his parents in a new light, tackling heavy-handed themes most Batman stories seem to shy away from. Players have gotten to see Bruce at his lowest, and gotten to see him rise up from the fall. Just how he rises depends on what the player decides.
It’s a risk by TellTale that pays off in huge dividends, providing a strong bolster that, inversely, gave an all-too-safe story for Batman. Sure, most of the villains introduced in the series saw new elements added to their character, but none of them felt like a genuine challenge for the Caped Crusader. Most characters fell or were defeated too easily.
However, that was the brilliance of the series; their challenge was less on Batman and more on the Wayne Legacy. TellTale makes it a point to emphasize throughout the series how easy it is for Batman to tackle the obstacles, but it could come with negative consequences. Instead, by TellTale challenging the players and Bruce Wayne to tackle the challenges from the villains, it creates a much more fulfilling, engaging story. It also shines light on one of the most important factors often overlooked in the Batman franchise. Bruce Wayne is just as valuable to Batman as Batman is as valuable to Bruce Wayne. The two are inseparable, and in order to defeat their villains they have to work together. If anything, this is Bruce Wayne’s story more than it is Batman’s.
Unfortunately, there’s always been a consistent flaw in TellTale’s approach to storytelling; the inability to not rush an ending. Almost every episode felt solid in the build up but faulted in the overall execution. The episodic conflict would be developed in a perfect pace that felt naturally organic. However, it’s as if TellTale realizes they have to keep the story within an hour and a half to two hours, and rush the ending to make the time frame.
I also wished the story allowed Lady Arkham/Vicki Vale to fully realize her potential. For a character that felt so cold, calculated and always ahead of Batman, she falls apart easily in the final moments. Her plans to destroy Gotham feel far less complex than someone of her caliber would comprise of. It squanders her potential only to ensure that the narrative stays within the ten hours designated to the game.
The Futility, but Importance, of Legacy
The most interesting aspect of Batman: A TellTale Series is the examination of society’s obsession with legacy. As the sins from Thomas and Martha Wayne’s past unravel in front of Bruce and Gotham City rapidly, the city begins to demand Bruce to shoulder the responsibility. Players could choose for Bruce to do the following: accept the truth, ignore it, or deny responsibility. In my playthrough, I chose for Bruce to be adamant that his family’s sins were not his to bear. As a result, both his and his family’s suffered even greater than if he’d simply accepted the burden of responsibility.
In our society, legacy plays a great part in shaping social perception of us. More often than not, a person is often defined by what their ancestors have accomplished. Sometimes it outweighs their actions with either positive or negative consequences. No matter what a person may try to do to carve their own legacy, they’ll constantly be in the shadows of their ancestors.
For example, look at the Wallflowers singer, and solo singer-songwriter Jakob Dylan. Born the son of Bob Dylan, no matter how well his band or his solo records have been received, they’re always held in comparison to his father’s body of work. Even if his work could reach the same level of craftsmanship as his father’s, it will never reach the same levels of critical reception. Or another example would be both Takashi and Yoshizaku Ono, the sons of Michelin 3-star sushi chef Jiro Ono. Although both have trained meticulously under their father’s tutelage and become fine sushi chef in their own right, they will have to be twice as good in order to break out of their father’s shadow.
Bruce’s journey exemplifies this.; Once he accepted his parents’ sins, Bruce was given a chance to grow. More importantly, it heightened his journey of self-discovery. What was Batman to Bruce? His shield against his pain from losing his parents, or the symbol of justice he professes to be? And who was Bruce Wayne? Could he become his own person, or would he continue to live in the shadows of his parents?
The examination of his parents legacy creates a powerful, poignant story of growth and redemption that strengthens the overall story.
My Overall Impression of the Season
I want to say that this game is a must buy, because it’s absolutely one of the best Batman stories I’ve played in a long time. That’s because the emphasis is less on telling a Batman story and more on telling a Bruce Wayne story. This is a story of self-discovery, of the influence of legacy, and how that all ties in together. Sure, players could fall back on Batman to get through some of the challenges presented, but it would have been a safe choice. Pushing players to take overcome these obstacles as Bruce Wayne challenges both the player and Bruce to grow, and it’s a successful gamble by TellTale. Batman cannot survive without Bruce Wayne in his cowl, and Bruce Wayne cannot fully realize who he is without Batman. No comic or movie fully explores this relationship as well or as in depth.
Unfortunately, it’s a great story bogged down by consistent technical issues that have always plagued the series. If Season 2 is ever released, hopefully TellTale can use this series as a valuable learning experience.