Batman has been written and used many different ways over the years, and he has been in many video games in that time as well. Telltale has always been big with their story games, and now they're taking on the legendary superhero. Batman: The Telltale Series released its first episode, Realm of Shadows, and it makes some interesting changes to the usual Batman formula. Do these changes work with the usual Telltale formula or did they need to do more?
Realm of Shadows starts out early in Batman's career. He's still not widely known enough to be considered a real threat by the criminal populace, and the police don't trust him yet, but he's building his reputation. While Batman is here, the game spends quite a bit of its focus on Bruce Wayne and the Wayne family. Bruce is attempting to help Harvey Dent get elected as mayor and going through the problems you would expect from a rich donor getting thrust into the political spotlight. Backroom deals with Carmine Falcone, press conferences gone wrong, and the fascinating question of how the Wayne family actually made their fortune is all brought up.
In fact, Batman takes a backseat in his own game. While he gets his time to shine at the start and near the end, for the most part, you'll be approaching everything as Bruce Wayne. If you are here looking to see Batman conduct some investigations and punch some criminals, you might leave disappointed. As for me, I found it to be a refreshing take on Batman. We usually don't get to spend much time with the man behind the mask, and seeing him try to handle public speaking and mingling with rich people when he wants to be out punching criminals is interesting. As usual, your dialogue choices matter and what you say will change what characters think about you and how some events play out. Sure, the conversations aren't going to cause any significant changes, but it's enough to at least make my playthrough feel unique.
This isn't to say that Batman gets no spotlight. Realm of Shadows has a few Batman scenes, mostly of him beating up thugs. Combat works similarly to past Telltale games, giving players a series of quick time events that require just a button press or two, sometimes with the added action of moving a crosshair. There are some small changes, as Telltale has completely removed any "mash a button until you win" events. Honestly not a huge loss, as I always found those annoying to get through. Finally, there's a new finishing move system. Every time you complete a quick time event, you fill up a bar that allows Batman to perform a special move at the end of the fight that gives you a bit of extra flair. It's not an important mechanic or one that changes the game in any major way; it's just there to look cool mostly.
There's also a bit of investigation to be done. One scene has Batman coming across a crime scene, and I had to inspect elements and match them up if they corresponded with each other. It's probably the most in-depth gameplay I've ever gotten out of a recent Telltale game. It's nothing new or amazing, but it's a nice little investigation scene that I found to be a good way to showcase Batman's skills while also giving me something to consider. A later scene combined both the investigation mechanics with the combat mechanics in the form of having Batman preplan an assault, and it's easily the best gameplay related part of the game.
Graphically, Realm of Shadows looks slightly better than recent Telltale games, but isn't any real improvement on their usual fare. I did not notice any stuttering problems, inactive reaction commands, strange character model jumps, or any of the other little glitches that tend to plague their games, and this alone makes Batman: The Telltale Series feel far better. While I didn't see any little glitches, one major one did bother me. A scene allowed me to choose how to interrogate a man, and I ended up with a non-violent interrogation to please Gorden. The scene directly after saw Alfred scolding Bruce for selecting a violent interrogation. I was bothered that the game messed up my decision, but in the end, it was one ultimately unimportant scene, and if the game continues without these types of hiccups, then it's not a huge deal.
It's not hitting the heights of Tales From the Borderlands or The Wolf Among Us, but at the very least Batman: The Telltale Series is off to a good start. Realm of Shadows is an interesting new take on Batman and putting the focus on Bruce Wayne may have been one of the better decisions. It still means we have to wait how it pans out, but this episode leaves a good first impression.
Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode 1: Realm of Shadows was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the developer. The game is also available on Steam and Xbox One and is coming to the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS, and Android.
The Bruce Wayne heavy story is going to turn some people off, but this is a rather unique and interesting take on Batman and it features the most gameplay that Telltale has offered yet. A great first episode that has me interested in the rest of the series.