Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 5 Review

As with all Telltale episodic games Batman focuses on a building story throughout the “season,” and this is the finale for Batman season 1. Start of course with episode 1. Also see my reviews for episodes 2, 3, and 4.

 

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There’s a a lot to wrap up in this first season finale, starting with the villain I chose not to confront at the end of last episode. I assume that first scene is reversed if I chose differently in Guardian of Gotham, which is a nice way to make the choices seem important even if the net results of everything are pretty much the same.

Of course while interesting I still have the feeling that as opposed to other Telltale games I’ve played most of the choices had a “right” answer. The statistics provided at the end explicitly show they were trying to balance things like mercy vs brutality, being pragmatic vs compassionate, etc, but it practice the harsher dialog options were too harsh and I ended up firmly in the majority on nearly every choice. Less “black and white” choices would have been nice.

The careful balance of the Batman and Bruce Wayne identities continues to great effect. There are reasonable yet escalating reveals and developments, including a suitable climactic battle with Lady Arkham and an expected tease for season 2.

On the technical side things were still reasonably solid, although loading times seemed significantly worse here. There were a lot of interruptions to action scenes where the screen would freeze frame as the next part loaded. It made it hard to get fully immersed in the flow of battle.

Strong finish overall though. Telltale’s first season of Batman wasn’t perfect and had a lot of unusual and possibly divisive elements, but overall it was a compelling story from start to finish and fun to play.

 

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 4 Review

As with all Telltale episodic games Batman focuses on a building story throughout the “season.” Start of course with episode 1. Also see my reviews for episodes 2 and 3.

 

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New World Order (episode 3) ended with a significant reveal and things going horribly wrong for Bruce Wayne. Guardian of Gotham directly runs with those developments and the player immediately has to deal with the realities of Wayne’s new situation.

In some ways Telltale is just screwing with the players now with shocks and twists, but it remains intriguing and all fits fairly well. There is some railroading in the plot where obvious, logical arguments are suppressed or ignored for the sake of the story and the villains are losing some nuance in favor of presenting greater danger, but for the most part it’s internally consistent and the plus side is nicely escalating drama and tension. There are numerous games and schemes in play and the various plot threads weave together nicely.

The supporting cast is being slowly expanded in small doses with more familiar faces (some for those who read Batman comics), and the variations are interesting. I’ll again warn that you have to take this series as it is, and check a lot of preconceived notions at the door so to speak. Most characters still feel right, but some are completely different from any previous incarnation. There continues to be some interesting major choices that don’t necessarily change how events resolve overall but provide different ways of getting there and significantly different scenes and playing choices.

The mystery elements were one of my favorite parts of the early episodes, so with a lot of that gone this installment feels different. But it’s still quite good and the building conflicts have set up for what should be a strong finale.

 

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 3 Review

As with all Telltale episodic games Batman focuses on a building story throughout the “season.” Start of course with episode 1.

 

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The significant choices from previous episodes are reflected in the opening story summary and the first new scene heavily depends on the major choice made in Children of Arkham. In general this series seems to have the most significant and meaningful choices of all telltale games I’ve played, but I won’t know for certain until/unless I play through again changing some things. A lot of them (and a lot of the dialog choices) seem to have “right” answers though, as Bruce’s responses and actions can generally be kind or bitter.

The plot proceeds with interesting parallel developments and threats on multiple fronts. Some of things are a bit heavy handed, but they fit the growing narrative all the same. Like the previous two episodes New World Order has a good balance of investigating aspects, story, and action.

Pretty big surprise to end here, providing a pretty good payoff to one of the main mysteries. I can imagine a fair amount of backlash, but it fit with the story they’ve been telling and raises interesting possibilities for the rest of season 1. Halfway through and this remains a compelling play, albeit with a plot and some characters majorly at odds with normal Batman canon which may bother some people. It still feels like a Batman story though, and it’s a good one so far, which is what matters most to me.

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 2 Review

 

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Children of Arkham jumps right in to deal with the bombshell unleashed at the end of (episode 1 – see my review of that for general gameplay information). It’s an unexpected direction for a Batman story, and the implications are  quite interesting. Telltale is providing extremely different takes on some familiar characters, which gives the story a lot of freedom. But they’re also doing a great job of preserving core elements so the mythos and overall atmosphere still feel like a true Batman story. The focus continues to be split between the Batman and Wayne personas, making the plot nicely character driven.

At first the previous choices didn’t seem to be having much effect, but there are some huge ones in this episode that seem like they could have far reaching consequences. Very curious to see if that potential’s followed through on in later episodes. There are a fair number of shocks and twists here too, including an event that comic fans have been expecting, and I really like the way all the intrigue and mysteries are building. Wayne has significant ethical and moral dilemmas to deal with in addition to physical and societal dangers.

There are a few spots where I feel the quick time events are a little too unforgiving (specifically the ones where the right thumbstick and a target are involved), but they’re doable and the resulting instant deaths don’t rewind things too much.

The graphical environment continue to impress, particularly in the attention to details like the light marks from Catwoman’s swipe to Bruce’s chin from last episode staying visible on the character model. Little consistencies like that improve immersion greatly.

There’s a good amount of story and things to do in each episode to feel like a solid installment while building the overarching plot in a logical manner and providing clues and cliffhangers to keep anticipation high going forward. Really enjoying this series so far.

 

Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney Review

This combination of two distinctly different, beloved franchises takes an archeology professor, a lawyer, witches, and shakes liberally until thoroughly mixed.

 

Wait… witches?! O_o

 

…ok sure why not. It’s not like a fantasy setting can really make Phoenix Wright’s adventures much stranger. 😉

 

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The prologues set up things well, with related events separately running afoul of Professor Hershel Layton and Phoenix Wright. These segments serve to establish the gist of each character’s gameplay elements as well as the central characters.

In an interesting choice the art style from each separate game is kept for its characters. The mix is a little weird at first, but I got used to it quickly and it was probably a better approach than trying to force one set of iconic characters into the other world’s style. Also, the backgrounds tie it all together pretty well.

Similar to the mixing of art styles is the mix of going back and forth between the disparate gameplay mechanics.  I found it jarring at first and a bit forced as during the first half of the game it was basically switching each chapter. But it ended up melding together much more naturally and seamlessly by the end.

While I’ve played and enjoyed both series, I’m traditionally more of a fan of the Phoenix Wright games. Yet here the Professor Layton elements were perhaps just a touch better, likely due to fitting the story more naturally. The trials were a bit contrived, and some of the constructions and limitations implemented to extend them (and thus the gameplay) were ridiculous.

However they were still enjoyable, and the new mechanics introduced (group testimony and related elements) were fun and well done. Also, the “railroading” feeling and unreasonable burden of proof being foisted on the defense fit the themes and historical events obviously being alluded to.

On the opposite side the puzzle elements were pretty much classic Layton. Sometimes appropriate and interwoven into the narrative well, sometimes shoehorned in, yet nearly all reasonably fun and varied in difficulty.

Once everything starts to come together, Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright uses a couple of strong, nuanced characters to anchor the plot amidst a silly supporting cast that keeps the tone from getting too dark. Parts were overly melodramatic, but that’s par for the course with both these series and it never derailed the tension.

Things just kept escalating and provided an excellent story with compelling mysteries, strong foreshadowing that simultaneously avoided spoiling things, and some phenomenally clever twists and red herrings. The story’s climax was fantastic, and overall I left Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright extremely satisfied with the journey I’d been taken on.

Highly recommended to fans of either series, just make sure to stick past the somewhat uneven start.

 

Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma Review

The Zero Escape trilogy comes to a close with a departure from the Nonary Game. Life and death are on the line again, but this time in a deadly Decision Game…

Zero Time Escape is a direct continuation of VLR, features numerous characters from first two games, and ties up plot threads running through all three games. While ZTE does a good job of summarizing important points from previous games I feel a ridiculous amount of important context would be lost without having played the others first, so I highly recommend not starting with this one.

In an effort to remain as spoiler free as I can while still getting into detail about what I liked and didn’t about the game, I will avoid using character names as I discuss things to prevent spoiling elements of 999 and VLR.

 

 

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9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors remains one of my favorite games of all time, and I was pleasantly surprised that while not quite up to 999 its sequel Virtue’s Last Reward was still an excellent game that continued in the vein of the first in fine fashion.

 

I mentioned in my review of VLR that I wasn’t sure I liked where everything was going storywise, and while I couldn’t possibly predict what I was in store for here I was in some respects both right and wrong to be trepidatious. In classic form ZTE’s greatest strength is also its biggest weakness: its ambition. In attempting to be more mysterious and mind bending than 999 and VLR, tie up three games worth of reality twisting plot,  AND introduce no less than FOUR major shake ups to the gameplay formula it was bound to collapse under its own weight at points.

Let’s start with the changes to gameplay. Changing the nature of the game our protagonists play is expected and needed, and the specifics of the Decision Game are reasonable enough (if contrived at times).

Two of the other big changes go hand in hand. The group of nine this time is divided into subgroups of three people. These divisions are preset, so the player has no control over who gets paired with whom. The player will jump from one group leader to another throughout the game, temporarily controlling that character for the duration of the chosen “segment.”

The concept of segments is the other big change that ties into this structure. The Zero in control of this game gasses the characters after each game and erases their memories. So things do not unfold chronologically. The player chooses one of the segments available for the team they feel like playing and get a chunk of the story (with appropriate decisions and puzzles) which could be anywhere in the timeline flowchart. The flowchart is filled in as these are completed so long term you can see how things are coming together, but between playing things out of order and jumping between different point of view characters constantly the flow and immersion of the game is severely hampered.

Another drawback of having three isolated teams is the timelines being traversed are no longer a full exploration of the various combinations of choices made. The first two games used choices made by a single character as branching points, and as such were able to fully consider the consequences of those choices. Here it simply can’t be done due to the unwieldy number of combinations. So as the chart gets filled in there are particular combinations that are simply not represented. Now the story is certainly big and complicated enough as it is, but having “gaps” surprisingly makes the game feel more “linear” and out of the player’s control in a way despite the looser structure of choosing fragments.

With all that said, everything from the amnesia approach to the point of view jumping has an in-game, story based explanation and reason. That makes it all more understandable looking back once finished with the game, but it doesn’t necessarily make these aspects more enjoyable while playing.

 

Which brings us to the last major shakeup in gameplay. Progression from certain branch points are determined by chance. That’s right, there are points in the game that have to be played over and over until the game chooses to give you the result you need to get on the other branch and proceed. This is beyond ridiculous and annoying. Again, there is a important story related reason they needed to be there, but there had to be a better way to address and implement them.

Having to explain these complicated points in such detail to properly convey my issues with them likely gives the impression that I didn’t like the game (and that impression will no doubt grow when I start dissecting the story). But that’s not the case. The mysteries are compelling, the atmosphere appropriately tense and harrowing, and the puzzles and gameplay decisions interesting.

As for the story, it’s insane in scope and yet still manages to come together nicely and ties up the trilogy rather neatly in the end. The philosophical aspects get more and more captivating as things go along, and the numerous different threads intersect in jaw dropping ways.

The biggest problem with the scope is some important things invariably end up being underexplained. I have particular problems with the characterization of one person from the previous games whose actions and reasoning are inconsistent and inadequately justified. Things with this character happen for the sake of the plot of VLR, and result in erratic, unlikeable behavior. The writers also try way too hard to be clever, and at least one of the many shocking reveals is more groan inducing than interesting.

Yet everything is internally consistent (both within ZTE and with what has come before), most of the characters have good depth and are suitably intriguing, and some of the reveals are legitimately brilliant and engrossing. It’s harder to talk about what I liked in the story without spoilers, but there was more than enough here to keep me engaged until the end.

 

So I have major mixed feelings about Zero Time Escape. It’s easily the weakest in the series, most of the changes attempted fell flat for me, and I wasn’t happy with some of the story choices. On the other hand it juggled an insanely complicated plot reasonably well, felt like a Zero Escape game with all the puzzles and mind bending mysteries that go along with it, and had some legitimately compelling characters and twists.

Definitely worth playing to close out the series, but it wears its flaws on its sleeve much more apparently than 999 and VLR.

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 1 Review

I’m a lifelong fan of Batman and the mythos surrounding him in various incarnations. I also have enjoyed previous episodic adventure games from Telltale such as The Wolf Among Us and Life is Strange.  As such I’ve been quite excited to check out Telltale’s foray into Gotham City and their exploration of its iconic hero.

 

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Adventure games of this type are primarily about the story, and Telltale had the proper insight to realize any strong Batman story is at least as much about Bruce Wayne as it is his alter ego. The core plot arises from the Wayne persona, while Batman provides the action. The balance is quite good so far. The themes and certain events are quite dark, but of course a serious take on Batman lends itself to such treatment.

This is set early on in Batman’s career, and the worldbuilding and introduction of their version of familiar characters is well handled. There are several nice cameos and Easter eggs, and the combination of characters used at this point is excellent. I really like one reimagining of classic villain in particular, and there’s a great twist involving another.

The actions sequences seemed a bit different from what I’m used to from Telltale, as the commands I missed didn’t seem to impact the scene at all. Batman still appeared to dodge in the indicated direction even if I missed the input. I could be wrong, or the inputs in this game might just determine a failure of scene if enough are failed. Can’t say at this point.

The conversation parts were the expected solid stuff from Telltale. The choices have small effects so far, but they are there and appreciated. The staying silent option continues to add nice layer to conversation choices. It’s simple but important.

A third part of this game involves investigation of a crime scene. These aspects are interesting and have a lot of potential.

Overall I found this to be a strong start to what will hopefully be a captivating ride. There’s a nice mystery at the center and this episode ended with a big hook for future episodes.

The environment is fantastic. It captures the feel of the locales perfectly, including a boarding school, associated dorms, a run down house, etc. I found myself stopping to look at all the posters and flyers as much out of curiosity as to find clues. There’s a significant amount of little things to poke around.

Some players will find it on the short side, but it had good progression and found a decent stopping point, and is after all just episode 1. I enjoyed this and will definitely be checking out further chapters.