Does Batman Need The Telltale Treatment?
Telltale is on a roll.
The Walking Dead took the gaming industry by storm and left us craving more. The Fables series adaptation The Wolf Among Us has started off with a bang, wowing newcomers to the franchise and even surprising Fables comics fans (myself included) with its cliffhanger ending. With news of the Game of Thrones and Borderlands franchises joining the Telltale family, there’s plenty of gamers wondering…what other franchises can Telltale take on?
Telltale recently stated that they only consider taking on licenses that provide a challenge, ones that are hard to translate into gaming. With that in mind, and with their history with The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, I dived into that thought, wondering what other franchises could be interpreted (or reinterpreted) by telling stories in video games the Telltale way.
Recently, DualShockers’ very own David Rodriguez argued that perhaps it was time that the Batman: Arkham series hung up its cape for a little while. So when thinking about reinterpreting a franchise the Telltale way, that brought me to everyone’s favorite caped crusader, the Dark Knight, one half of the Dynamic Duo, and the hero that Gotham needs, if not deserves:
Sure, Batman has been showing up in video games for about the entire run of home consoles, from the Amstrad CPC, Amstrad PCW, MSX and Sinclair ZX Spectrum personal computers’ Batman, to the recent Arkham series on the PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U, PS Vita, 3DS and mobile devices. Some of these games have been serviceable for their time, some have been forgettable, and a few have been absolutely amazing. But while these games have usually created a world full of action and danger, none have really dissected the real horror of what Batman faces night to night.
Yes, games like Arkham Asylum and its sequels have placed Batman in horrible places to face horrible enemies. And yes, many of these games showed some horrible things happen to some innocent people. Some of these Batman could prevent, others he couldn’t but there has never been much weight behind these moments, and never has there really been a choice put into players’ hands–a choice that would weigh on their mind later. Rather, it’s:
“Batman prevents Major Disaster A. Minor Disaster 4. Batman doesn’t prevent. Batman grimaces and grunts. Batman moves on. Batman stops Major Disaster 2 and saves the day. Happy ending.”
We love playing as this badass, paramilitary super-ninja who fights the craziest of the crazed, but we don’t really get as involved with the man under the mask as we could, or should.
This has only diluted the real horror behind these villains’ deeds, reducing them to momentary frights that are quickly forgotten, no matter how much they’re briefly enjoyed. But a Telltale game could truly magnify the terror these villains are meant to instill, not only in the citizens of Gotham, but even, to some extent, Batman himself. The best Batman stories ask: Just how far can a man be pushed? And more importantly, just how far can you, the player, be pushed?
The Dark Knight film trilogy by Christopher Nolan may have polarized fans with its plot holes, various omissions and realistic reinterpretations of characters and concepts, but one of the things that has made them so successful was the nail-biting scenarios Batman’s enemies put him into. Forcing him to decide who to save and dealing with the measure of loss that comes with those decisions is what makes Bruce Wayne Batman. Every time an innocent falls victim to crime, it’s another moment Batman believes he’s failed.
Some of the best moments in the trilogy have come from the consequences of his actions. Some of these choices are for the greater good, even causing him to sacrifice his personal happiness; some personal choices have haunted him, especially when –like in The Dark Knight— those choices have been twisted and flipped to play with his idea of morality.
This is why a Telltale Batman game would do what no other game has ever done before: make proper and full use of Batman’s villains.
Every Batman villain has some kind of psychological quirk which, when applied to some kind of specialty or set of resources they possess, become a dangerous challenge that Batman has to defeat. We love detective shows so much on television because there’s something dynamic about taking logic, reason and science to decipher the machinations of the illogical, the unreasonable and the insane.
Many of these confrontations with Arkham’s worst have employed the most unusual, creepy and disturbing plans, some that would fit easily into a top grade psychological horror or thriller flick. When you have men who play with lives using puzzles, phobias, hallucinations, and clown-themed death traps, it could take a toll on anyone, let alone a billionaire ninja/soldier/scientist like Batman.
A Telltale Batman game should remind fans of the horror Batman faces, drawing upon the same life-or-death situations of The Walking Dead. A game like this could revisit moments in Batman’s life when he’s lost a comrade-in-arms, tried to find love but failed, or has been haunted by the terror he faces every night. Or it could create new stories and situations, where Batman has to choose not only how to save a life, but choose whose life he can save.
What happens when Batman is forced to choose between one innocent or another? A child or the mother? A personal friend or honest city official who could change Gotham? One ally/sidekick/partner over another? And how does that affect Batman’s relationship with others as the story develops? How does it affect him?
A game like this could even span over several periods of Batman’s life, showing how certain choices and consequences impacted him over the years. Sure, you let the Joker go so you could save an innocent now, but two months later–in a reference to seminal tales like The Killing Joke and Death in the Family–Joker is now free to attack Commissioner Gordon, cripple Batgirl and murder a Robin before you can get to him.
Another way Telltale could approach a Batman game is by telling the story from someone else’s perspective. Sure, the average fanboy may cry foul over a Batman game whose narrative is told from a Gotham City detective or sidekick’s perspective, but this really could intensify actions and choices made in the game.
What if you were playing as an honest GCPD cop in a police department where Gordon has been removed from service? And what if you were blackmailed into turning on Batman? On needing to trick the World’s Greatest Detective into believing he needs your help as the only honest cop on the force, so that he can trust you long enough for you to trick him? Do you choose between saving your family or saving a vigilante? What can a powerless officer do against a rogue Arkham escapee and their twisted games?
Or imagine trying to start from the ground up as an amateur vigilante. Following a tired Gothamite who just wants to make a difference, the story could follow a young hero who gets caught up in a trap they weren’t ready for. At first it’s all fun and games: emulating the great and mysterious Batman, facing danger, fighting crime and saving lives. But then you begin to realize that this isn’t a game at all when you see the true face of Gotham’s underworld.
You witness acts of depravity performed by the politicians and police of Gotham that you have no one to report to. You see crimes that stem from poverty and injustice that can’t be fixed with a one-two punch and roundhouse kick. You make a mistake with your identity that puts you and your family into risk. And then you get into the crosshairs of someone devious like Black Mask, insane like the Riddler, or truly destructive like the Joker. How do you survive? What do you do?
Revisiting a character like the fan-favorite heroine Stephanie Brown (a vigilante who eventually became a successor to both the Robin and Batgirl mantles) could explore some of those themes and ideas, which would fit perfectly with her character. Beginning as a girl who just wanted to stop her villainous father from committing crimes, she soon was swept into the euphoric joys and suffocating depths of the hero lifestyle, facing everything from love to death and parenthood to reinvention during her two decades worth of stories.
Starting a series from the point of view of such a character also benefits both Telltale and the player, because Telltale has a little more leeway to flex their creative muscles and the player has a new character to connect to, a character a little more down to earth and more–for lack of a better word–human to sympathize with than Batman.
There’s also the possibility to feature several of the characters who make up the Bat-family, perhaps one per chapter, in one bigger interlinked story surrounding a major story. The recent Zero Year, Death of the Family or Court of Owls storylines that are set in DC’s rebooted New 52 continuity could make for great settings. Older ones like Bruce Wayne: Fugitive and Cataclysm could also work as inspiration, with the former involving Bruce Wayne accused of murder and the former involving the Bat-family working together in a ruined Gotham city that had been destroyed in a disaster and taken over by Arkham villains and their gangs.
There are so many possibilities for a city like Gotham, one that is ripe with the same kinds of decisions Telltale fans love, and a variety of characters to choose from. There’s a reason why Batman has been around for seventy five years: his character endures to remind us that with the right drive, passion and persistence, anyone can make a difference, no matter the impossible odds. And with a game like this, any one of us could finally experience that feeling in a way that can’t be expressed in any other medium so far.
Be the (k)night.