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Telltale's 'Batman' game does Bruce Wayne justice

Engadget Engadget 2/08/2016 Nick Summers

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Batman comics excel when they dive into the psyche of Bruce Wayne. The moody billionaire is conflicted by his desire to be a good person while protecting Gotham by any means necessary. How much force is excessive? Where do you draw the line? It's easy for the Caped Crusader to lose sight. Bruce is also a genius, capable of unravelling the most complex mysteries. Watching him scour the city and piece together a supervillain's plot is as rewarding for the reader as seeing the Dark Knight foil it with fists.

It's these aspects of Batman that Telltale is trying to infuse into its next point-and-click adventure game. BATMAN, a five-episode series that premieres today, looks and plays like a comic book. Unlike previous games featuring the Dark Knight -- which have prioritized action and weaving in every supervillain imaginable -- this new title puts story above everything else. The result is an experience that feels closer to the comics, balancing the measured Bruce Wayne and his often brutal alter ego Batman.

The episode starts with a group of thugs flooding into city hall. Gotham City Police Department quickly arrive on the scene, led by Commissioner Gordon, but are thwarted by an explosion that erupts out of an elevator shaft. Batman, meanwhile, is hiding in a nearby building and swoops in using his grapple gun. A series of quicktime events follow -- linear, scripted sequences that required carefully timed button presses -- with Wayne dashing between desks and using his assortment of gadgets to gain an advantage. He sticks to the shadows, picking off heavies one by one.

Later that night, Bruce walks into a room packed with guests in Wayne Manor. You'll be asked to explain your late arrival (crack a joke? Make an excuse?) and a cut that's visible on your left cheek. These conversations add another dimension to your life as a superhero; you have to live through the fallout, covering your tracks and listening to what people think about your actions. One individual, who respects the Wayne family, describes Batman as a vigilante dealing out justice "like the Wild West." You can choose how to respond and a pop-up will appear in the corner of the screen, reminding you that the guest will remember what you say.

The message here is simple: what you do as Bruce Wayne is just as important, if not more so, than your crimefighting as Batman.

Bruce's morals are later tested by a mobster, Carmine Falcone. He controls a large part of the city and Harvey Dent, pre-Two Face transformation, wants him to support his campaign for mayor. Here's the conundrum: as Batman, Bruce would like to destroy the crime lord and his operations. As Dent's ally, however, he faces a larger dilemma -- should he work with the slimeball to get Dent into power, believing the District Attorney will follow through and help Gotham? Or does he stand firm and reject Faclone's support, jeopardizing Dent's campaign and the city's future?

Interactions like this one are littered throughout the episode. You're forced to make decisions that will shape Bruce's relationships with other characters, such as Selina Kyle and Oswald Cobblepot. They all have motivations and allegiances, as well as the ability to help Batman. Like many Telltale video games, however, it's impossible to please everyone. You have to choose a path you think will serve Gotham best.

"You're not brawling for the sake of beating a boss or racking up combos; it's to uncover a truth that propels the story forward."

Bruce's intellect and detective skills are presented through some surprisingly elaborate puzzles. Midway through the episode, Batman stumbles upon a crime scene inside a warehouse. The game gives you the freedom to walk around, investigate objects and analyze chemicals with the Batsuit. Based on Batman's musings, you have to link up the various clues in order to build a sound theory. It's trickier than you might think, with plenty of combinations that ultimately lead nowhere.

The game is constantly flipping between Batman and Bruce. The two characters are distinct but intertwined, providing new insights into the hero and opening up different avenues of investigation. Few games have portrayed the Dark Knight this way, instead focusing on his prowess as a crime fighter. That's a shame, because Batman is more than a vigilante beating up crooks in the dead of night. He's also Bruce, a broken man struggling with his past and inner demons. That complexity is why the comics have been so successful, and it's a part of the character that deserves to be explored in video games too.

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