Batman – The Telltale Series exists in a world all of its own, and that's perhaps the best and boldest choice it has made. While the story itself is pieced together from borrowed parts of past Batman tales, its cast is made up of familiar but slightly skewed versions of the DC Comics characters we've come to know and love. The gameplay too is familiar, but the first episode of this Batman adventure is still an exciting debut.
Batman – The Telltale Series Episode 1: Realm of Shadow takes place during the early days of Batman's vigilante career. The game's opening sequence is Batman's very first encounter with Catwoman, a rooftop chase made up of quick time events. While overreliance on the mechanics of QTEs has been the biggest criticism against Telltale's narrative-driven episodic games (which included other critically-acclaimed comic book adaptations like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us), they are less bothersome in Telltale's take on Batman. In combat, the rapid-fire QTEs allow players to make Batman react to and counteract an opponent's attacks. It feels like playing an incredibly simple version of the combat from Rocksteady's Batman Arkham series in slow motion. The QTEs may lack depth, but they're used effectively to add tension and excitement to scenes as needed, primarily during fights and high-speed acrobatic chases. There are also fewer instances where a failed QTE forces a game over screen compared to past Telltale games have, which is a welcome relief.
However, if you're coming to Batman – The Telltale Series for deep combat or action sequences, you're coming for the wrong reasons. The strength of a Telltale Game is in its branching story, and Realm of Shadow does not disappoint. In addition to Selina Kyle, Realm of Shadow also introduces players to Telltale's version of Harvey Dent, who is still a District Attorney. Dent is challenging Gotham's corrupt mayor in the current election, but this version of Harvey is far more compromising and easily influenced than the idealist seen in The Dark Knight. We also get an interesting twist on the Penguin. Telltale's version of Oswald "Oz" Cobblepot has him as a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne, and as the last descendant of one of the great families of Gotham. With his own family legacy in ruins, Oz seems to have plans to upset the city's status quo, though we only get hints of those plans in this episode.
In fact, the entire story of Realm of Shadow is mostly setting up things to come, and family legacy is a recurring theme. Stepping into Batman's shoes and interacting with his enemies and allies is engrossing in and of itself, but the story of Episode 1 is fairly simple for most of its length. The story is more concerned with Bruce Wayne and the Wayne family legacy than about Batman, which, by the end, creates high personal stakes that we won't see played out until Episode 2 and beyond.
Batman – The Telltale Series divides your time between Bruce and Batman. As Batman, you participate in rooftop chases, investigations, and raids on criminal lairs (we'll get to those last two in a moment). As Bruce Wayne, you'll have to make most of the hard choices that Telltale has become known for forcing on players. Do you welcome a known criminal into your home, where all of your guests are watching, or do you turn him away and risk upsetting Harvey's campaign? Do you trust reporter Vicki Vale, or do you only rely on Jim Gordon, still just a GCPD Lieutenant and head of the special crimes task force? As with all of Telltale's games, characters will remember your choices and the narrative will change accordingly, but the timer is always counting down, so there's no time to overthink answers.
While Telltale's Batman combat may not be able to compete with Batman Arkham, Telltale handles detective work in a superior manner. While you'll still be sweeping rooms for clues, you'll then be tasked with linking clues together to form a logical scenario, unlocking the truth about a crime scene one smaller puzzle at a time. Realm of Shadow keeps things simple, but it's a solid mechanic that actually feels like using detective logic, and it could easily be expanded to encompass more complex and devious scenarios.
The same mechanic is used while Batman is plotting an assault on a mob hideout. Players are tasked with linking henchmen to a possible means of elimination. Plotting out the attack creates the feeling of being a movie or television director, though players still have to execute the actions, through QTEs, as the Dark Knight.
The overall presentation of Batman - The Telltale Series is among the best Telltale has produced yet, but it isn't without its hiccups. We played the episode on PlayStation 4, and while we didn't have nearly the problems that some Steam players are reporting, there was noticeable stuttering during several of the game's cinematic sequences. It's a shame that this technical shortcoming takes away from what is otherwise a beautiful comic book aesthetic. The game also features a stellar voice cast, led by Troy Baker as Bruce Wayne, but they're saddled with occasionally clunky dialogue, particularly Enn Reitel as Alfred, who is carrying much of the story's pathos.
Batman – The Telltale Series Episode 1: Realm of Shadows takes the slow and steady approach, but is an excellent introduction to a new imagining of Gotham City and its colorful inhabitants. The story is personal and cuts the core of Bruce Wayne's character. The end of Realm of Shadows leaves players in a surprising and exciting place, with some of Batman's strongest relationships strained seemingly to the breaking point. Technical hiccups and bit of unwieldy dialogue aside, Realm of Shadows plays like a good Batman comic, or a lost episode of Batman: The Animated Series. If that's a sign of things to come, we can't wait for the next episode.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 copy of Batman – The Telltale Series provided by Telltale Games.
Have you seen Suicide Squad yet? Want to win a Hot Toys Joker figure from the movie? All you have to do head on over to ComicBook.com's Movie Database or click the image above and rate the movie to enter! A winner will be chosen August 19th, 2016!