Telltale was never going to match the physicality and excitement of the Batman Arkham Trilogy. In a Batman story driven by narrative decision making, Telltale had to explore a side of Batman that we haven’t seen in-depth in any game beforehand. In Batman – The Telltale Series: Episode 1 Realm of Shadows, we explore not only the Bat, but the mask he wears during the day: Bruce Wayne.
Thrown into the thick of Harvey Dent’s campaign for mayor, we find a Bruce Wayne actively backing his District Attorney friend, and both of their quest to make Gotham a better place. Starting with the unveiling of the Thomas and Martha Wayne Mental-Health Facility to replace Arkham Asylum, Telltale shows us a Batman that is already making waves as not just a crime-fighting vigilante, but as billionaire Bruce Wayne.
Telltale sets the player up with a vivid world, and a Gotham that needs saving, but how the player gets there is totally up to him or her. You can play your Batman as a brutal vigilante similar to Frank Miller’s grizzled Batman or the more recent Zack Snyder Batman played by Ben Affleck, or you can hold the punches, using intimidation and scare tactics to squeeze information out of various thugs like Christopher Nolan’s.
The same goes for Bruce Wayne. Are you a quiet, reclusive billionaire? A rich, arrogant playboy? A no-nonsense and loyal friend? The sky is the limit, and everything you say is paramount to how your version of Batman will be portrayed by the media, the police, and the people closest to Bruce Wayne.
Telltale succeeds with Batman by actually making you feel like even the small decisions matter. In the Batcave, you have the option of reading various news articles following Gotham, or watch the news that is constantly reporting on the activities of both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Whether or not you decided to hold a punch or give a quote to the media has repercussions. I’m excited to see how those decisions continue to shape the image of both of these characters as season one progresses, and how different various playthroughs can become.
Perhaps the best bit of the narrative experience is how unique Telltale’s Gotham is. Fortunately, Telltale is under no obligation to follow any particular Batman story line of the past, and they have presented us with their own self-contained take on the Caped Crusader. Different villains have new origins, giving us a story that prevails in its unpredictability. Just because you are familiar with the Batman mythos, and some of his famous villains, doesn’t mean you are going to accurately predict where this story is going.
While Bruce Wayne is the star of Episode 1: Realm of Shadows, Batman still shines as Telltale chose to focus on the detective side of Batman, rather than his martial arts abilities. Instead of only quick time events, you get explore crime scenes, piecing the story together as you go by connecting the dots between different set pieces. As Batman you get to tie evidence together in order to produce a holographic recreation of the crime.
In a similar fashion, that is also how Telltale handles combat. Utilizing Batman’s superior strategic abilities, you plan out how to take out each individual henchman beforehand, producing a streamlined infiltration that can play out a few different ways depending on how your Batman planned to take out his foes.
This approach works largely due to how powerful it makes you feel as Batman. The Arkham games preferred to show that through combat and gadgets, while we get nearly the opposite here. Often we forget that Batman is such a popular and successful hero because of how intelligent and methodical he is. This Batman definitely lends credence to those qualities, as you do truly feel Batman’s unrelenting tactical prowess throughout the episode.
If you enjoyed the dark, grim pallet of other Telltale properties such as The Wolf Among Us, you won’t be disappointed here. Telltale’s signature art style fits perfectly on the grimy streets of Gotham. The Batsuit in particular stands out, mixing the stubby ears of Frank Miller and Batfleck suits with the more modern armor look, creating a believably intimidating Batman.
However, if you’ve had qualms with Telltale’s game engine in the past, don’t expect to find anything different here. While Episode 1 runs better than probably any Telltale game I’ve ever played, the stiffness you feel when walking around seems even more apparent by the fact that you are Batman. Batman’s blocky movement certainly doesn’t make you feel like the stealthy detective that you are.
Additionally, there is no risk at failing in combat. Once the quick-time-event starts, you can quite literally put your controller down, as hitting the correct buttons only allows you to perform a ‘cooler’ finishing move, which is the only event you must hit successfully. This takes away the tension from action scenes. Fortunately, the emphasis of tension emerges from your interactions as the Bat and Bruce Wayne especially, so this shouldn’t be too much of a worry moving into future episodes.
Gotham never ceases to be an interesting setting, and with the Dent campaign in full motion, villains like Carmine Falcone in action, and all the spotlight on the Wayne family, Telltale succeeded in presenting a unique, and fun Batman story.
With the twists and turns expected under the Telltale banner, Batman – The Telltale Series: Episode 1 Realm of Shadows is a fantastic start to a hopefully exciting first Batman season.