At the 2015 Game Awards earlier this week Telltale Games announced a new game series slated to commence next year, and while normally I’d be a little annoyed since we’re still holding out for a third season of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones had such an unsatisfying “wait for season two” ending, I can forgive them because BATMAN.
Yes, Telltale Games is tackling the Dark Knight himself. CEO Kevin Bruner gave little details other than the game exists, showed a vague trailer and said the series will “give fans a first-hand opportunity to dive deeper into the complex life and mind of Bruce Wayne, the duality of his own identity, and the struggle of responsibility in saving a city overcome with corruption and villainy.”
But again: BATMAN.
Telltale have some big shoes to fill. The Batman Arkham series has been lauded not only as the best Batman games around but also the best comic book ones too. However, Telltale’s approach to gameplay and storytelling could make for a whole new kind of interactive Batman experience that the more action focused games could not. How so? Two reasons immediately struck me, them being that Telltale Games can help us:
Embody the World’s Greatest Detective
Batman films and games over the past couple of decades seemed to forget that the character is more than just a billionaire with ninja training and a tonne of gadgets; he’s also known as the World’s Greatest Detective. That’s not to say that aspect of him is completely ignored in other mediums, the Arkham series often involved scanning crime scenes and The Dark Knight trilogy dangled many a goon from a roof top in the pursuit of information, but these have all been side elements to an overall action oriented story.
As Telltale have shown with their 2014 masterpiece The Wolf Among Us, they can make a compelling detective story, especially one where the detective themselves is an aggressive authority figure toeing the line between hero and vigilante. Wolf placed players in many precarious situations where deducing the trustworthiness or guilt of a person came down to asking the right questions and judging how much physical aggression would help or hinder you. Controlling your emotions was key.
Walking that line was a highlight of that game, as it not only directly affected your progress in solving the case but also influenced how the surrounding community treated you; a narrative approach that is perfect for Batman.
Test our moral code
Rule one: Batman doesn’t kill. Sure, he has done so over the years for various reasons, but his quest to be better than the people he fights against is based on him not killing them. The no kill rule has been debated within and outside of the comics, a big example being Batman’s relationship with Joker. Every time Batman catches him, Joker always seems to find his way out of jail and back on the streets, so why does he not just kill Joker and end his reign of terror for good?
The graphic novel The Killing Joke, my personal favourite by the way, showed us a Batman who was facing this same dilemma. The story opens with Batman speaking to a man he thought was Joker (they turned out to be an imposter) about how he has come to the realisation that one of them was eventually going to kill the other, and how he didn’t want that to happen. By the end of the book after Joker has committed more heinous acts against both Jim Gordon and his daughter Barbara, he and Batman stand alone laughing in the rain. Many fans speculated that perhaps in this moment Batman made his choice regarding his earlier concerns and finally ended Joker’s life.
The theory turned out to not be true as Killing Joke author Alan Moore’s script for the comic states that Batman is simply leaning against Joker as he is overcome with laughter. But the very notion that he might have makes for some amazing discussions. Would he have been right to kill Joker? Is the no-kill rule that important in order to maintain the moral high ground? Would killing Joker in that moment mean Batman is no longer Batman?
Telltale’s game could ask these questions, and put us in the position to make good on our feelings for Batman’s moral code. While the validity of Telltale’s choice-based narrative system is questionable, it can most certainly make us agonise over decisions such as the one implied in The Killing Joke. After all, agonising decisions is Telltale’s bread and butter, and what other kind of decision would hurt Batman more?
We’ll have to wait until next year to find out more regarding Telltale’s Batman, but at least until then we have the new trailer for the horribly titled Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to tide us over.