Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows (Episode 1) (2016)
PS4 / Rated M
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.
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.
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.
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.