Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 1: Realm of Shadows Review

Who’s Your Batman?

Batman’s recent foray into video games has involved a lot of punching and fancy gadgets. While that remains fun, a refreshing new direction for the Caped Crusader is welcomed. Telltale Games delivers a new experience that leans more in the direction of the Worlds Greatest Detective in the best way possible. What’s more, an exploration of Bruce Wayne’s character out of the cape and cowl allows for a more full perspective that is simply absent in other Batman games. Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 1: Realm of Shadows does not hit every technical or character mark, it takes strides toward a new way to play as the Dark Knight. You may wonder, “Is this like a Frank Miller Batman? A Christopher Nolan Dark Knight? A Paul Dini Caped Crusader?” but there is not concrete answer. Sure, there are influences from all sorts of depictions of the character, but it boils down to your interpretation of three core directions at your disposal.

Becoming the Bat

Telltale’s storytelling method has been built on tailoring the experience to the way you play. The familiarity of Batman could be difficult to customize on a personal level, because the character has existed for decades in several forms. However, the breadth of Batman and Bruce Wayne in comics, television, movies and video games allows for the player to pick and choose how they perceive the Detective. As Batman and Bruce Wayne, the player may make decisions that shape the story and the world around them. There are often three dialogue choices as well as the option to remain silent when conversing with other familiar faces around Gotham. This is a young Bruce Wayne who is still making his way in his business, social life, politics and side job. There are many learning experiences and unpaved roads that must be traversed anew, making the player’s experience fresh as well.

Batman: The Telltale Series Batcave

Bruce and Alfred in the personalized Batcave, via telltale.com.

You can choose to play a kind and positive, distant and quiet or aggressive and antagonistic Bruce Wayne. Furthermore, as if they were two separate characters, you can play apply these same three approaches to Batman, deciding to talk it out with the thugs, intimidate them or beat them senseless. All of these choices shape your character as well as those around you, altering your story experience like in other Telltale games. The ability to split time between Bruce and Batman gives Batman: The Telltale Series a depth unlike other Batman games as well as others from the storied developer. There is a heightened sense of immersion in controlling two characters that are one in the same.

Detective Comics: The Telltale Series

Batman: The Telltale Series benefits from a more meditative pace than other Batman games have lacked. There are extended scenes filled with cleverly written dialogue while in the guise of Bruce Wayne and much more detective work when dawning the cowl. The traditional adventure game methodology to the item interactions and set piece walk-abouts are still there, allowing for a thorough analysis of crime scenes. You don’t have to worry about bashing heads between scanning chemical samples; it’s just straight detective work. As a result, Telltale has injected some of Batman’s investigative nature into their game that doesn’t rely on a constantly slew of quicktime action scenes. The more deliberate pace is a welcomed change, and is the right kind of slow when balanced with the physical crime fighting.

A Skull-Cracking Good Time (If you want it to be)

The combat is simple as it is to be expected in a Telltale game. Batman: The Telltale Series‘ emphasis on cinematic flow leaves little room for straying too far from the path when taking on goons. However, this is where things ramp up. There are slow-motion fight sequences that give the player a second or two to react to the on-screen prompts, but there is room for mistakes to be made. Dodges and body movements are integrated in a way that feels natural when using the sticks on a gamepad. The updated engine shines most in these scenes, demonstrating a smoother animation than in recent Telltale releases. However, it is the quieter moments with free mobility that struggle. There are frame rate dips and syncing issues with character animations and dialogue that appear occasionally to jar the immersion. It is not a rampant issue and hardly distracts from the game but it is disappointing to see old issues return even slightly.

Batman: The Telltale Series use of physical combat is best in this episode’s final chapter while encountering Carmine Falcone’s goons. There is a penthouse full of armed mobsters amidst environmental points of interest and harmless partygoers. As Batman, the player uses a drone to analyze the layout of the room, the positions of particular threats and objects open for manipulation. Just like Batman would choose the best plan of attack in a hostile situation, you can choose how to eliminate the armed thugs with efficiency. Once you’re confident with you’ve drawn your line through the room on with your augmented reality gadgets you can play it through, hitting the prompts in time to deliver seamless barrage.

Telling the Bat-Tale

The game’s heavy influence from comic books and Batman: The Animated Series is quite evident in atmosphere, visuals and narrative style. While this is your Batman to do with what you wish, it is very much Telltale’s Gotham. The best pairing for a detective-centric Batman story are the crime bosses that call the grey city their home. Falcone appears to play a large role in some seedy underworld movements in the first episode, but there is a larger player yet to be revealed. Oswald Cobblepot, before he becomes the Penguin, has returned to Gotham and may become more of a villain to Bruce Wayne than Batman. This would prove more interesting than bombarding Batman with every criminal in the city.

Batman: The Telltale Series

Bruce and Alfred choosing allies, via telltale.com.

Batman: The Telltale Series is as much a Bruce Wayne story as it is a Batman narrative. An unseen puppet master is moving the pieces on the Gotham game board that has the Wayne legacy in hot water with dirty money and Falcone. This not only put Bruce in the public eye for undesirable reasons, but it also forces him to question his cause as Batman. So far, Telltale is making their new episodic game worth checking back into strictly for the dissection of Bruce Wayne as the suspected illegitimate billionaire and conflict hero. Unfortunately, not every character is as interesting as Gotham’s Golden Boy. Harvey Dent, while a curious pawn in Gotham politics, is mostly an uninteresting speaker. He delivers some stilted dialogue and appears to be weak-willed unlike other depictions of the character. We have only scratched the surface of Selina Kyle and Catwoman. Hopefully she comes into her own in future episodes. Lieutenant Jim Gordon is delightfully sardonic, but genuine when he needs to do his job. Hopefully he and Batman are able to become more familiar in the near future. As for Alfred, the faithful butler could play a larger, but controversial role as a piece in the seemingly criminal dealings of the Wayne family’s past.

Is Batman: The Telltale Series Worth It?

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 1: Realm of Shadows struggles with some familiar technical issues, but it is ultimately a good first entry. It leans heavily into the quieter moments of Bruce Wayne’s life as well as his detective work, allowing the player to wander comfortably into its adventure game roots. For now, it appears that the series will remain grounded in the world of the crime bosses of Gotham. It could benefit from getting a little weirder with its villain. However, that could risk throwing away the uncomplicated nature of crime scene investigation. Moving forward, future episodes could shine with careful detective work and character-progressing conversation. The more Bruce Wayne the better.

Billy Arundell is OmniGamer's Reviews Editor. He has an unapologetic love for Gears of War and would rather spend his evenings with BoShek at the cantina. You can follow him on Twitter @billyarundell.

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