Pointless Nonsense

Posted in video games by Bill on April 21, 2017

Batman – The Telltale Series had a thing months ago on Steam to play the first chapter free. Which I did, and I liked it, but I’d gotten all the other Telltale games for super cheap in a bundle, so I didn’t want to actually pay full price. Then some time later, while I was playing the Witcher 3, it went in sale for $10, and now I’m actually getting around to playing it.

It brought a lot of the same voice actors from previous games, updated the game engine, it’s Batman, and I liked the first chapter. So what could go wrong? It turns out, a lot. Catwoman was basically perfect, but everything else? The worst of these Telltale interactive story games that I’ve played.

Story issues, which contain a few spoilers:

  • You don’t give an established “good guy” character a surprise turn into a villain. It’s kind of a betrayal of the character. In The Dark Knight, I’m sure every comic fan wondered for the first half why Gordon’s trusted hispanic lady cop wasn’t named Renee Montoya, but then (spoiler for TDK) you learn she betrayed Gordon, which is something Montoya wouldn’t do. So it made perfect sense that they didn’t use her name. Here, they have the masked villain turn out to be a known non-villainous character. So… bullshit.
  • You also don’t undermine the fundamentals of the Batman story. At the end of chapter 1, I assumed the story would be about proving these baseless accusations wrong. But then at the beginning of chapter 2, Alfred’s like “sorry, totally true.” So… also bullshit.
  • Basically, I worry if they did a Spider-Man game, that Uncle Ben would be a human trafficker and you’d unmask the Green Goblin to find Betty Brant.
  • The bad guys get hold of a drug that they can use to compel people to act against their will. They use it publicly in a few instances, and the police know it exists, as does the press. Then they use it on you, you get sent to Arkham, and and at no point can say “I was drugged, please note this injection site and other symptoms, can you draw some blood for a tox screen to prove my innocence/sanity?” And even though the fact that you’re in Arkham is literally broadcast on TV, you have to call Alfred to have him call your lawyer. Like apparently he’s too dumb to think to do that on his own. And once you get out, you get trashed in the press, but at no point do you present the “I was drugged” defense, you just take it like an idiot.
  • Dent becomes mayor during his downfall, and just starts violating the constitution left and right (hiring non-police, arming them, and authorizing them to conduct search and seizure without probable cause,  seizing land by fiat). And you never have the option to like… sue, call the state law enforcement, or FBI (I’m not sure which one you do when a local official just starts violating rights on a massive scale, but… one of those is probably right). Instead, you just put on your costume and go around punching people.
  • Smaller gripe, but you don’t pick a CEO for a multi billion dollar international corporation by reading their resume and calling their references. Your investors would google the name, and if it didn’t immediately come up with news articles and trade publications that indicate a long history in this or a related industry, they’d bail and your stock would plummet. This prevents you from hiring a career criminal who can fake a resume and get people to pretend to be references.
  • Smaller gripe, Gordon gets some information, then Two-Face gets it to do something bad, and then he tries to take out Gordon. You save Gordon, but then start to accuse him of helping Two-Face, which makes no sense because Two-Face was just trying to kill him. Then I pick the dialogue option “I’m not blaming you,” which I say, and then go right back to sounding like I blame him.
  • Tiny gripe, but the Penguin is lying on the ground and Gordon is standing straight up about 5 feet away, and somehow Penguin manages to spit in his face from that distance.

Choice issues:

  • You have a couple options early on to “brutalize” a bad guy. Which, as a fan of the traditional, non-psychopath Batman, I didn’t not take. But I still got shit from Gordon for roughing people up who I didn’t rough up, and compliments sorta from Penguin for beating the shit out of someone who I didn’t really beat the shit out of. I get that in order to keep a game’s scope within reason, choices have to lead you down the same general path. But I would think of you specifically choose not to be overly violent, there wouldn’t be subsequent dialogue about how you’re overly violent. And to be clear, these were some of the big chapter choices. A lot of dialogue options seem to not really matter at all, but Telltale will give you 5 big decisions per chapter and show you what percentage of your peers chose which options. And these showed up on that screen, so I’m quite sure it should be reflected in dialogue at least.
  • Looking through wikis and whatnot, most of the choices have very brief, cosmetic impact. There are 5 per episode that “matter,” but it seems like only 3 in the whole game make a real difference. It’s possible that’s typical for their games, but this is the first time I’ve been so frustrated with the story that I went back to find out if I could have saved it.

Technical/Interface issues:

  • Despite a pretty big update to the game engine with new features, their cloud save thing 100% does not work. I played chapter 1 for free, installed the game several months later, found that it created a whole new directory for save games, figured it might have been patched and I forgot a lot of stuff anyway, so I just decided to replay chapter 1. Got halfway through, took a break, then found I forgot to disable cloud saves, so it recorded none of my progress. So I actually ended up playing the first half of chapter one three times.
  • You can’t change the key bindings, which is normal for Telltale. Not normal for Telltale, shift+Q is sometimes a game-critical keystroke in QTEs. Shift+Tab, the button immediately next to Q, and fairly easy to hit by accident when suddenly reaching to hit shift+Q really quickly, brings up the Steam overlay, and prevents you from interacting with the game until you close it, and during which, QTEs whiz by, and you die. I mean it’s easy enough to disable the overlay, but did no one anticipate that problem?
  • There’s this really shrill beeping noise when you mouse over any of the menu options. The rest of the game volume is fine, but the menu sound makes me want to slash my wrists with a batarang.
  • Unskippable logo animation at the beginning that you can’t even alt-tab away while it runs. Maybe 5 seconds tops, but I’d think most people take 2 sittings to play a chapter at least, so that’s 10 times sitting through that logo.
  • It’s frequently telling me “to move, use WASD,” but A, S, and D are locked out, because it’s a scripted sequence to get you to walk to an exact spot, with the W key letting you turn on progress towards the scripted event. This is obviously pointless interactivity, a hallmark of Telltale games (“move the mouse back and forth to wipe blood of the sword” was my favorite in GoT), but why not “press W to move forward”?
  • They did an admirable attempt to bring detective work into the game by having this thing where you examine clues and then make links between pieces of evidence to construct the story. And sometimes that makes sense… link a bullet hole in a chemical container to a bullet hole in a dead body, and determine it’s the same bullet. Other times, it makes no sense at all. There’s a train car modified with a tank and a sprinkler, so I naturally tried to link it to the store of chemicals that will go into the tank and be dispersed, but they wanted me to link it to the location where the dispersal will happen. Most of the time I just make the links that make sense, and then hopefully there are only two things left over, otherwise it’s trial and error to find the right combination. Plus you have to match even the insignificant stuff… “I know who killed these people and where they went to, but I can’t do anything about it until I figure out what this bloody belt and this belt-buckle-shaped blood stain mean, could they be linked???” Also one of them is 100% pointless. You get a call from Alfred that someone’s coming into Wayne Manor, so you rush back home and find the place torn up and Alfred gone. So he was obviously abducted, and the mess probably means he put up a fight. So you spend some time linking shit together to determine that… Alfred put up a fight and then was abducted. Then only after all that investigating is done, next is a scene where you find a note that progresses the story.

Sadly, I’ll probably play any sequel too, if it exists and when it becomes cheap enough, but I might have to wait until it’s well under $10. But they’ve got another TWD game and a GoTG one both with chapters in progress now, so I’ll probably end up with those too when they get cheap enough. So even though I strongly disliked this game, that damn company has their hooks in me.

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