Telltale Games are quite noted for their grim, gritty take on the backstories of already famous plots. Playing lore to shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones and adding unique content with The Wolf Among Us, the company have gotten more daring with each release, and for the most part, they’ve yet to disappoint. Batman – the Telltale Series is perhaps the largest undertaking of them all; and true to their reputation, it does not disappoint.
Episode One: Realm of Shadows is by no means a deceiving title. Dramatic, perhaps, but so is Batman, and it fits. Thrown immediately into the story, the dark, action-packed 30-minute introduction dives right into the gore and lore expected from Telltale. Kicking butt with Batman is only the beginning, however, and the story soon slows to the comfortable, just-one-giant-cutscene that is always expected in any Telltale game. Playing primarily as Bruce Wayne, the story follows the struggles of both the Man and the Bat, trying to unravel the conspiracies of Gotham. So goes the episode, a mixture of curiosity and emotion as Bruce falls deeper into the rabbit hole.
Aesthetically, Batman is both typical and unique; that is to say, while the art style is typical of Telltale, the quicktime animations, movements, conversations and backdrops have a certain crispness to them that hasn’t been seen before. While there are still graphical glitches (people walking through trash cans, cigarettes coming directly out of fingers), they are few and far between, and do very little to distract from the story. Character animation is precise and well thought out, and each character is unique, even those who don’t play a major role.
While not necessarily new to being Batman, Troy Baker does an incredible job voicing the Dark Knight. In fact, all voice acting in Episode One is superb. Conversations are natural and draw the player into the unfolding story just like a movie. Characters are easy to attach to, easy to trust or dislike, and behave like real people. That, mixed with a deliciously simple and eerie soundtrack, creates the immersive world of Gotham. Simple and unobtrusive, filled with light piano and heavier orchestration when called for, the soundtrack is nothing but complimentary to the main focus, which is the story.
Gameplay, naturally, is filled with quicktime events and fast decision making, with a few new (and enjoyable) elements that are unique to the game. Being the world’s greatest detective, Batman now has to find and connect clues found in the crime scenes he encounters. While these clue connections are fairly obvious in the first episode, they’re challenging enough to keep the moment fun, and they open a whole new possibility for future episodes. The technology of the Batcave is also available for use in certain scenes, adding completely new and enjoyable combat possibilities. One of my favorite added elements is the use of the Batdrone, which allows you to map out and choreograph an entire combat scene before it even starts.
The controls are simple, but can be challenging, especially during the initial combat event. Comic-style arrows direct your actions, and can take a few tries to get used to. There is also a new addition of combined buttons, which make button mashing the correct sequence even harder. Once figured out, they only add to the comic landscape, keeping the player immersed in the world of Gotham.
As with any first episode of a Telltale series, choices play a part, but do not yet show any consequence. Really, there’s only one or two decisions that bear any weight on the first episode at all, but that does not mean they will not show significance in future episodes. As always, the choices are both exciting and incredibly stressful, and the prospect of seeing their severity in future episodes creates a similar feeling.
For fans of the Batman comics, one of the first difficulties may be the story. Completely different from any story that has come before, the backstories and current state of many of the characters involved aren’t even recognizable. While Bruce Wayne keeps his identity as the orphaned heir of Wayne Enterprises, most other characters have very obvious differences from typical Batman canon. To avoid spoilers, none will be named, but suffice it to say several characters share the name of their comic book counterparts, and nothing else. In my opinion, this isn’t a bad thing – each fresh take on Batman (and a “fresh take” is difficult indeed) is fun, interesting, and adds variety to a very, very tired hero.
Batman – the Telltale Series, Episode One: Realm of Shadows is well done, and there’s little more to it. While it is very “typical Telltale,” that itself is a tried and tested formula that provides a new experience every time. Replayability of the episode is high, with different decisions and outcomes ever-possible. With the addition of token Telltale violence, Batman takes an even darker turn to examining corpses and digging through wounds for clues. Still, the series seems to lack a lot of excessive profanity, which seems to be a plus, as other vocal exclamations and interactions are made possible to keep profanity out of the mix. The story is different, dark, and absolutely enthralling. I have high hopes for Episode 2, and I can’t wait to experience this new Gotham in full.
*all images provided by Telltale Games.