Batman: The Telltale Series, Ep.1 Review

 

Batman: The Telltale Series’ first episode has taught me some interesting stuff about Bruce Wayne. Honestly? He’s a bit shorter than I imagined. He’s actually kind of funny, in a dry sort of way. Frankly, it is kind of wonderful that I got the chance to notice these things.  

Entitled “Realm of Shadows”, the first episode of Telltale’s new series attempts to veer off from the established Batman formula of beating countless thugs and rooftop gliding to focus on the man behind the mask. It is in these moments where we get some interesting insight into a part of the Caped Crusader’s life that we don’t often get to see for long.

 

 

Bruce Wayne is not perfect in this game. He loses his temper at times, and makes decisions he may come to regret later. And yes: Even Bruce Wayne sits down for coffee. Telltale’s choice-based approach to storytelling is a perfect format to explore Bruce’s life beyond the cowl. Telltale’s: Batman is at its best when it’s showing Bruce Wayne work through conflict and exploring his relationship with Gotham city and the residents at large. The game becomes less engaging in its attempts at action and crime-solving. However, despite these shaky moments, and some technical issues, Telltale’s Batman manages to weave an interesting story that I can’t wait to explore in further installments.

As the game begins, we see a Batman that is just getting his feet wet, investigating a break in at the Mayor’s downtown headquarters. Gotham City is still getting used to the idea of “The Batman”, and what side of the law he really falls under. He is still a myth in the eyes of criminals, as we hear them gossip to each other about run-ins that happened to a “friend-of-a-friend”. While Batman is busy fighting a war at night, Bruce Wayne is equally busy fighting a different kind of war. Bruce Wayne has teamed up with district attorney Harvey Dent in his campaign for mayor, and a project to build a new-and-improved Arkham Asylum. Bruce hopes that, with his endorsement, people will support Harvey Dent, as he believes Dent is courageous enough to fight the criminal element in Gotham City, as well as the broken and corrupt criminal justice System. Meanwhile, we see interference in the form of notorious mobster Carmine Falcone, who hopes to get Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne in his pocket. Meanwhile, Batman is taking to the streets at night to uncover secrets that will inevitably lead to darker truths.

Visually, the game is beautiful and vibrant, with silhouettes throughout that give the game a very comic-inspired feel. Gotham city is a very different creature at night, than it is during the day as the game jumps back and forth between the somber blues and greys of the Gotham City nightscape to the brighter colors of the world in which Bruce Wayne inhabits. Speaking of colors, it is a great touch to give players control over the color scheme of Batman’s gadgets. I went with yellow, myself, as it reminded me of the Tim Burton-era of Batman. However, one could easily go with blue for a more modern feel, or a few others.

Its these kind of touches that really helped sell the idea that I was creating my own version of Batman. As far as Batman’s design, Telltale plays it pretty safe, opting for a look somewhere between Nolan’s Batman, and Ben Affleck’s current incarnation. They play it less safe with the designs of certain characters, one in particular, but I won’t spoil that here.  It’s nice to see Telltale taking a few risks with the license.

 

 

Telltale gives players a good amount of control when it comes to creating the Batman of their choice. Does Batman work with the law, or in spite of them? Does he simply incapacitate enemies, or leave them with a lasting scar? These choices push the boundaries of who Batman is, but wisely don’t take things too far, allowing the player to create their own moral code, yet still maintain the integrity of the character. However, do not expect to feel the ripple of your choices right away, as much of the decisions you make in this episode feel like a setup for future installments. The dialogue is certainly at its most interesting when dealing with Bruce and his various conversations with socialites, mobsters and others.  These conversations seem to have a more immediate impact on the story, and are more nuanced. One conversation in particular, that I won’t spoil here, is extremely clever, and really captures the potential that Batman has in a Telltale-style format.

Speaking of conversations, the voice acting in this game ranges from good to excellent. Troy Baker, who you may recall voiced the Joker in Batman: Arkham Origins, does a very nice job as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. His portrayal is very reminiscent of Kevin Conroy’s, yet he also manages to instill Bruce with a wry sense of humor that’s a welcomed addition to a character who can often come across as one-note. His Batman voice is heavily modified via voice modulation. You may remember a similar approach being used for Ben Affleck in the critically adored Batman v. Superman.  It works well, and Baker does a nice job of displaying a wide range of emotions underneath all the gruffness. Other characters, like Alfred, sound pretty much exactly the way you think they would. Outside of Bruce Wayne/ Batman himself, none of the voices sound much different than most D.C. animated features.

The music in the game attempts to appeal to everyone, showcasing the percussive drive that has become synonymous with Batman in recent years, but also mixed with the haunting string melodies that made Danny Elfman’s score so mysterious and memorable. The two styles are interwoven well, and do a nice job of complimenting the action and various conversations throughout the game.

 

 

Telltale does a nice job of mixing various aspects of the mythos to appeal to all fans, but It is the elements that do not quite mesh that drag the game down at certain points. There are moments when the developers try to shift the focus of the story, in what feels like an attempt to pull in fans of the Arkham games. In these moments, we are bombarded with Quick Time Events while Batman fights various foes. Action is something that Telltale has always struggled with, and it fares little better in Telltale’s Batman. The QTEs are long, and feel uninspired, in the form of button combinations that felt like they were selected at random. The fights themselves look gorgeous and are well choreographed, but it’s rare that I ever felt in control of anything that was happening.

More than once I botched a button press, to see what would happen, but there are little consequences for failure, making these fights feel even more redundant. It is worth mentioning that Batman can build up a meter by executing correct button combos in succession to perform a finisher. However, beyond the cool aesthetic, it doesn’t have much of an effect on gameplay. There is one moment towards the end that finally put me in control of the action, and it was so refreshing, and I hope there are more moments like this in the future. You will know it when you get to it.

Lastly, the game suffers from a few issues that have been carried over from previous Telltale games. Character movement can feel really stiff, using the left joystick to move around while awkwardly using the right joystick as a reticle to select points of interest. Also, characters often suffer from a slight frame-rate drop when moving. This can lead to moments where Bruce Wayne is walking just fine, while people in the background look as if they are underwater. I noticed this phenomena more than once throughout the game, as things would slow down slightly and speed back up. These issues aren’t game breaking on Xbox One (which I used for this review), but currently a much bigger problem on PC, with frequent crashes being reported.

Batman is known as the World’s Greatest Detective, and the Telltale universe provides a unique opportunity to showcase this aspect of the character that so often gets overlooked in games.  Sadly, the one attempt at crime-solving in this episode feels like a wasted opportunity, as we control Batman around a crime scene, making links to various pieces of evidence in the room. The game gives you scant evidence to work with, making the solutions pretty clear from the start. It’s a shame, because this is the kind of title where a more cerebral approach could really work.

 

 

All in all, Telltale’s: Batman doesn’t break the mold of previous Telltale games, but that’s okay. The game offers some wonderful character-driven moments in the form of Bruce Wayne, and even Batman to a degree, but also suffers from a bit of an identity crisis with some of its more action-heavy scenes. This episode is only the first of five, so Telltale has plenty of opportunity to make the choices we made in this game matter, and also to provide more depth to Batman as a detective. While not perfect, Telltale’s Batman is off to a pretty promising start. There are lingering questions that I am dying to have answered, and I can’t wait to get to know this version of Bruce Wayne more. Like all Telltale games, the episode only lasts a few hours, and many may opt to wait for more episodes to release before jumping in. However, just like any good comic, it’s the cliff hangers that can really pull you in, and this game has quite a shocker. I recommend  checking out Telltales: Batman right away, and wait in agony with the rest of us.  

 

+Pros:

  • Beautiful Visuals
  • Engaging moments as Bruce Wayne
  • Choices feel like they have weight
  • Interesting story and twist

 

– Cons:

  • Cumbersome Quick Time Events
  • Disappointing Crime Solving
  • Performance Issues

 

Verdict: Play

Batman, Ep. 1: Realm of Shadows doesn’t break the Telltale mold, and has a bit of an identity crisis.  However, an engaging story and interesting characters make this first episode worth your time.