Review: Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows

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via PlayStation 4 You

Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows (Episode 1) (2016)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Telltale Games, WB Games

Developer: Telltale Games, WB Games


Batman has been made great again.  Recently, Batman games have been hitting it out of the park, but it wasn’t until Rocksteady Studio’s Arkham series that the series found its stride.  They portrayed a grittier side of Batman, a vigilante willing to do anything to serve and protect the grungy city that is Gotham.  What about Bruce Wayne?  Everyone knows that Batman’s identity is the rich bachelor Bruce Wayne, but we’ve only had glimpses of him in the video games.  With the mission of exploring both sides of the caped crusader, Batman: The Telltale Series comes to us with the first addition to its episodic series, “Realm of Shadows.”  The episode finally lets us take the role of both Batman and Bruce Wayne as one fights crime in the night and the other navigates the tricky landscape that is politics.  It’s a fascinating start that occasionally gets bogged down in a lot of unnecessary backstory.

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via Press A Key

Characteristic to most Telltale games, Batman’s strongest suit is its story which is more multi-faceted than any of the studio’s games.  In the first episode alone we are introduced to a multitude of different subplots.  The game does a good job at splitting up the amount of time you play as both Batman and Bruce Wayne.  As Batman you patrol the city streets at night, keeping the city of Gotham safe from goons and other evils.  On the other side, players navigate Bruce Wayne around the sphere of Gotham’s elite socialites.  Defense Attorney Harvey Dent is campaigning to take spot of mayor from the corrupt Hamilton Hill and it’s up to Wayne to support him and get him to that spot.  Unfortunately, your forced to support Dent, whether you want to or not, but the extent of Wayne’s support is determined by the player.  The Batman segments are about what you would expect but making choices as Bruce Wayne is really unique and sometimes stressful.  Every single little detail, down to a simple handshake, can change Gotham’s opinion on Wayne, which makes every decision you make pretty important.  As it turns out, entertaining a schmoozy dinner party is a lot harder than you would think.

Hamilton Hill isn’t the only form of conflict that players will have to deal with.  As Batman you stumble across the sneaky Catwoman who has her eyes on some sensitive files that she needs to obtain for her employer.  In attempt to put a stop to her shady dealings you let her get away, but she comes back in a rather unexpected way, one that will bring some deeper and unwanted trouble.  There’s also the powerful crime boss Carmine Falcone who has his hands in many of Gotham’s webs.  His criminal dealings have been driving the city into a hole and his many connections could put a wrench in Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne’s political campaign.  Finally, we’re also introduced to Bruce’s childhood friend Oswald Cobblepot, who could be an alley or a nuisance depending on how you approach things in Gotham.

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via MMoga

The story, which also includes series favorites like Vicki Vale and Commissioner Gordon, is pretty fascinating and has the possibility of going in many different directions, hopefully.  There’s one facet of the story that falters however, and that is the insanely unnecessary amount of backstory that is apparently crammed into every nook and cranny.  Anyone familiar with Batman’s story knows that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed in a theater alley and that the city of Gotham is pretty ugly and corrupt.  Unfortunately, Batman feels the need to belabor these points way too hard.  Your constantly reminded of these facts over and over again.  This backstory is probably necessary in some sort of fashion for those unfamiliar with the caped crusader’s story, but do we really have to talk about the death of Bruce’s parents every five minutes?  Hey!  Hey!  Remember when your parents died!?  Yeah that must suck huh.  There’s even a couple at Bruce’s dinner party that describes the death of Bruce’s parents in brutal detail.  These examples of bashing the player over the head with repetitive backstory is a sign of weak writing, which is a shame since the rest of the story is really well-written.  I’m willing to bet that this type of backstory is going to stop after the first episode, but the inclusion of all this repetition is pretty bad.

There’s three gameplay modes that players will become familiar with over the course of the episode and the rest of the series.  Firstly, the traditional style of Telltale’s adventure games is the main slice of interaction that players will take part in.  You choose your dialog options, which in turn helps shape the story that you want to see play out.  Then there’s the quick-time events, which come into play primarily during Batman’s segments.  Quick-time combat isn’t new to the Telltale games, but Batman’s combat feels a lot faster and requires a lot more focus.  There’s a meter at the bottom corner that fills up with each successful button press during a combat sequence.  When the meter fills up, you have the ability to perform a finisher, a move that involves two button presses instead of one, something new to the Telltale games.  Obviously the combat doesn’t rival Rocksteady’s Arkham combat, but Batman’s combat is fast and fluid, and a lot of fun.  Lastly, we the first episode contains a detective sequence that involves scoping out an environment examining various areas and objects, connecting them together to piece together what took place at the scene.  It isn’t too challenging to play detective, but the first episode’s segment was a fresh change of pace and pretty unique.  There’s also a segment that involves planning out a plan of attack using Batman’s investigative abilities.  I hope we get a lot more of these types of play styles over the course of the series as they were some of the best parts of the episode.

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via VG24/7

Again, the game’s presentation style is similar to Telltale’s previous games, but with an improved engine to boot.  The improvements aren’t drastic, but the game’s art style and lighting do the series a ton of favors.  The game feels like a comic book brought to life, which is the best case scenario for a game like Batman.  The voices for both Batman and Bruce Wayne (voiced by well-known voice actor Troy Baker) are fine, but they could be better.  Troy Baker fits into the role of rich bachelor pretty well, but it’s Batman’s voice that could use some work.  The vigilante alters his voice, giving a bass-boosted voice to the character.  The voice just sounds way too heavy for my liking.  Turning down the voice’s bass levels would do the character wonders.

I am heavily anticipating future episodes from the series, which should all release by the end of the year if things go according to plan.  The first episode closes its doors with a bunch of open sub-plots that leave us with a lot of questions and excitement.  There’s also a massive wrench thrown into the story at the very end that could spell a lot of problems for Bruce and his family’s name.  It comes out of left field, but provides a unique angle, one that hasn’t really been explored in Batman media.  With the absence of a need for backstory, the future episodes could be something special and fun for fans of the caped hero.  What are you waiting for?  Get out there and help change the face of Gotham City.

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Review: Jason Bourne

jason bourne poster
via Live for Film

Jason Bourne (2016)

PG-13 / 123 min

Action / Thriller

Starring: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander

Director: Paul Greengrass


Everyone’s favorite misguided CIA operative is back and he’s looking for more answers.  Jason Bourne has been away from the game for a while now, almost ten years.  The CIA wants him back in the force, but Bourne has other plans.  He’s moved on and he isn’t going to make it easy for the CIA to bring him in.  Director Paul Greengrass brings the dormant hero back to the big screen in his plainly titled summer thriller Jason Bourne, a film that sticks to its guns and packs a punch.

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via Digital Trends

Matt Damon is back and fits comfortably back into the role of the blank-slate Jason Bourne.  It’s been a while since we’ve seen him in the role.  He’s older now and has a grittier look, but he’s still the same guy, looking for answers.  He’s laying low…keeping a low profile everywhere he goes, but this doesn’t last long when CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) demands that he’s brought back into the light.  Aiding him in the hunt, Dewey enlists the help of fresh-faced and capable hacker Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who’s pretty confident that she has what it takes to bring in the elusive weapon that is Jason Bourne.  Coincidently the CIA aren’t the only ones interested in Bourne’s whereabouts.  A familiar face to Bourne fans, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), is also looking to meet up with Bourne with the interest of handing over a bunch of top-secret files that could put the CIA, and its operatives, at odds.

The movie’s central plot is very much a game of cat-and-mouse.  Jason Bourne is on a mission looking for answers in his past while the CIA is constantly on his tail trying to catch him with the upper hand.  The action is very much by the books and should be familiar to anyone who has seen a Bourne film, but that doesn’t take away from the movie’s thrills.  The action sequences are tightly planned out and were very fun to watch come together, especially the bits in Vegas and Germany.  Director Dewey entrusts the help of a certain Asset, played by Vincent Cassel, who has a history with Bourne and wants nothing more than to be the guy that takes him out.  There’s nothing overtly special about Cassel’s rough and tough performance, but he still managed to be one of my favorite parts of the film.

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There aren’t too many breaks to be had in the roller coaster ride that is Jason Bourne’s action, but there are some pauses in between the dust that attempt to establish character and dive deeper into more complex issues in today’s modern society.  The character building?  Nothing to really write home about.  We get some backstory behind Bourne’s father, the main drive behind his question-seeking, but it doesn’t really go deeper than what most fans already know.  There’s some new answers brought to the table, but nothing earth-shattering.  On the other hand, Greengrass pokes at ideas like internet privacy and hacking culture, even referencing guys like Snowden, in an attempt to bring relevance to the film.  I admire these ideas, but nothing is really done with them.  They’re constantly brought up but then quickly forgotten about in the presence of guns and bullets.  Jason Bourne wants to say more, but instead lets its self-settle into familiarity, which is a tad disappointing given the presence of such ideas.

As far as performance go, this is Matt Damon’s movie and his only.  There isn’t much to Bourne’s character to begin with, as he’s painted with a blank slate, but Damon still does a bang-up job at portraying the figure.  Although Damon steals the light, Alicia Vikander brings a much welcomed fresh face to the table.  She’s a strong-willed and very intelligent hacker that is working to bring a change to the CIA.  As the film runs deeper, Bourne and Lee’s relationship gets a lot more interesting as the two work together to bring down the CIA’s internalized sinister dealings.

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Despite it’s by the book plotting and inability to tap deeper into some of the more relevant issues of today, Jason Bourne still manages to provide exhilarating fun.  It was fun seeing Matt Damon slip back into one of his iconic roles, even though nothing has really changed about the character this time around.  I would have liked for Greengrass to have gone deeper than the surface level on things like Snowden and internet privacy, but who knows where that story could have gone.  The movie sticks to what it does best, which works out in the end.

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