"DC Comics is giving Telltale a great deal of artistic liberty in interpreting the Batman universe, and fan expectations are equally likely to be fulfilled or dashed."
Telltale Games has been refining their take on the classic adventure game formula since 2005, typically in the form of episodic serial games based on existing intellectual properties. Telltale had niche popularity for several years, but found major mainstream success with The Walking Dead in 2012. Now, every new Telltale game is an event, and their next big miniseries stars the world's greatest fictional detective this side of Doyle and Christie: Gotham's Dark Knight.
Telltale showed groups of journalists a 30-minute demo of Batman throughout E3, in a small theater behind closed doors, with one of the game's writers playing the PC build of the game. The first 15 minutes of the demo feature an action scene of Batman foiling a group of masked burglars breaking into an office's safe room, then dueling Catwoman (verbally and physically) on the top of the building, with dozens of Gotham police in hot pursuit. These action sequences are smartly choreographed, with Batman taking out the thieves with stealth and guile and sparring against Catwoman with fluid, fierce martial arts. The gang of thieves definitely know who Batman is, but this is The Dark Knight's first-ever meeting with Catwoman in this interpretation of Batman mythos.
The second half of the demo is set in Wayne Manor and stars Batman out of costume, with Bruce Wayne hosting a fundraiser for attorney general and mayoral candidate Harvey Dent. Bruce doesn't seem terribly interested in schmoozing, but Alfred insists that he at least make an appearance at the party he volunteered to host. Bruce speaks to a few donors, plus Gotham Gazette reporter Vicki Vale and powerful crime boss Carmine Falcone. These conversations are mostly our hero talking up Dent's candidacy, but also reflect the status quo of the game's world. Batman's vigilante activity is well known, but widely criticized; Bruce Wayne is the scion of one of Gotham's oldest and wealthiest families, and his activities are of interest to the entire city; and Falcone threatens to make Wayne's life much more difficult if he refuses to work with Gotham's criminal underworld.
The gameplay for these two halves of the demo should be familiar to any player of a recent Telltale game. The action scenes make heavy use of quick time events, with large, bold directional arrows and button symbols indicating when players should input commands. A bat-shaped meter fills up with successful strikes, allowing Batman to perform a finishing blow upon maxing it out. The conversation scenes provide three or four responses for each directed question, with characters reacting naturally to any response and remembering your responses for future events. It's unknown how many members of Batman's rogues gallery will appear in the Telltale game, but seeing Catwoman, Falone, and Harvey Dent (prior to his Two-Face transformation) is a promising start.
The comic book look of Telltale's Batman is sharp and expressive, without being distractingly cartoony. Batman is grim and intimidating (sporting less armor than his recent movie outfits) and Bruce Wayne seems uncomfortable at his own party, but alternately charming, aggressive, or standoffish based on his responses. Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Travis Willingham, and Richard McGonagle's turns as Batman, Catwoman, Harvey Dent, and Carmine Falcone all fit their characters beautifully. Fans should be very pleased with the art direction and voice performances.
Batman: A Telltale Series is scheduled to be released in five episodes, all in 2016. The Telltale writer present at the demo promised to give Bruce Wayne near-equal screen time to his alter ego, and some situations can be approached as Wayne or Batman, allowing players to resolve them with money and diplomacy instead of threats and punches. DC Comics is giving Telltale a great deal of artistic liberty in interpreting the Batman universe, and fan expectations are equally likely to be fulfilled or dashed. While it's pretty certain that we'll see Harvey Dent eventually become Two-Face in this game, exactly how that happens remains to be seen, and the final destination of this Batman story is completely unknown. Will Gotham burn or thrive in Telltale's Batman video game? We'll know before year's end.