Over the last few months, development studio Telltale Games have been radically re-configuring key parts of the Batman mythos to give players a shockingly different take on the Dark Knight. It all comes to a head in the final chapter of Batman: The Telltale Series, which puts a capstone on a very good portrayal of Bruce Wayne.
In Batman’s video game history, the focus understandably tends to primarily be on superhero action. At best, Bruce Wayne has been an alternate person to temporarily slip into for story-specific reasons or a fun skin unlocked as a reward. Tension between the two sides of the man’s life has been minimal, because even in the excellent Batman Arkham games, we’re meant to understand the Dark Knight and billionaire CEO as the same person. The question of whether Batman or Bruce Wayne is the device for achieving the other persona’s goals has been a core concern for comic books in the modern, post-1970s Bat-mythos. But as a medium, video games centre Batman as the “real person” and treat adult Bruce Wayne as more like a fiction.
Telltale’s Bruce Wayne resonates more deeply than his forebears. The formative experience that leads to the creation of his double identity gets morally muddied in this series, and from that moment on, the drama is about the kind of man/superhero Bruce and Batman can be. After the revelation that his father was part of a corrupt triangle that stole and killed to cement their power, this Bruce Wayne’s emotional foundation feels wobbly and his public reputation is in tatters. If your player choices make for a more ruthless, violent Batman, he winds up feeling like the cruel opportunistic Thomas Wayne who locked away the people who stood in his way. This is a Bruce Wayne who feels much more interesting because he isn’t psychologically static.
For similar reasons, the goodbye sequence with Selina Kyle stands as the highlight of episode five of Batman: The Telltale Series. The typical will-they/won’t-they dynamic between the two characters gets blown away by a sequence where Catwoman comes across as satisfyingly cold-blooded and ruthlessly self-directed. I thrilled at the chance to get to make Bruce Wayne say he loved someone, but enjoyed it even more when Selina laughs if the player chooses to have Bruce tell her he loves her. This isn’t a Catwoman who’s meant to be redeemed or romanced. She’s going her own way. It’s a take on the character that’s well-established in the comics but, again, not one that’s prevalent in video games.
Reckonings are had with major characters and the plot wraps up in a largely satisfying fashion in the last instalment of Batman: The Telltale Series. The surprises delivered along the way offered fun shocks, but the best part of this episodic game has been the way it has prioritised Bruce Wayne and the relationships that make him who is. Nothing’s been announced yet, but there will almost surely be more in this series. Here’s hoping that Telltale can build on this Bruce-centric approach even more in future Bat-games.