Telltale Games, who have demonstrated their knack for emotional storytelling, always seemed to have one major problem: a poor game engine. Their games are fairly simplistic, with gameplay comprised of pointing and clicking and choosing dialogue options. What should be a cinematic adventure is plagued with immense lag and choppy movements. Moving from scene to scene often causes the game to have to “catch up” with itself, which creates a very disjointed experience. The upcoming Batman is said to be running on a new engine, aiming to make their games run more smoothly from this point forward. At this year’s E3, I had an opportunity to view a behind-closed-doors presentation of the game’s first 30 minutes. While I found the game’s story to be intriguing overall, I unfortunately noticed many familiar engine hiccups.
Visiting Telltale’s booth at E3 was quite an experience in itself. Built to look like Wayne Manor, it was made up with chandeliers, a library, a sitting room, expensive-looking furnishings, and a bar that served complimentary whiskey drinks. Behind a bookshelf was the appropriately dark Bat Cave, housing Bruce Wayne’s high-tech computer system. Within the cave, the game demo was held.
To be clear, what I saw is not the final product. It was a press-only demonstration of Batman’s general mood, premise, and storyline. Focusing largely on the duality of Bruce Wayne and Batman, equal time will be spent playing as both personas. From what I saw, it plays almost identically to previous Telltale games, which unfortunately includes the rigidness and lag. While I do anticipate the game to be a strong entry in the Telltale catalog, it does not appear to be the leap forward that was promised. Fast, action-packed sections seem to run especially poorly, with brief freezes and choppy cinematics.
Telltale co-founder Kevin Bruner spoke about the new engine at their South by Southwest panel in March, stating:
“We’ve got a whole lot of new technology that’s going in that you’ll start to see in Batman, and Telltale games going forward […] We have a bunch of new engineers that have been working on rendering technology – non-photorealistic rendering technology […] but it’s really cool, very much upgraded from the kinds of things that you’ve seen from Telltale in the past […] It’s still a Telltale game, so it’ll be evolved from what you’ve seen before, but I think a more significant step than you’ve seen from any of our products in the past.”
From what I saw firsthand, the graphics look slightly more polished, staying more true to a comic book art style. Graphics, though never extraordinary, have never been the issue with Telltale games. Many fans had hoped that this new game engine would fix technical issues and allow the game to run more smoothly. Bruner promises an engine that is “evolved” from previous games, though it doesn’t seem outwardly apparent. It is not a significant step from past products.
It should be noted that the demonstrator was playing with an Xbox One controller, which could mean that it was running on Windows 10. If this were the case, it doesn’t bode well for the console versions either, which are less powerful than their PC counterparts. Previous Telltale games do not run well, even on the current-gen hardware.
More recent Telltale entries such as Minecraft: Story Mode and The Walking Dead: Michonne have been fairly lackluster, especially compared to what they were putting out a few years ago. It feels like the formula has become a lifeless variation on a theme. With Batman, I was hoping for a new era of Telltale Games, with a revamped engine that felt like a generational leap. However, with the way things are looking at present, Batman will be more of the same formula. I hate to say it, but their approach has grown stale, which isn’t what I expected from a developer who have previously been a shining example of good video game storytelling.
Telltale’s Batman is not set in any existing universe of the franchise and will indeed be a wholly original Batman story. This is great news for fans of the World’s Greatest Detective, as this has the potential to be a fascinating take on the franchise. Batman will consist of five episodes, released periodically starting in September.