Batman: The Telltale Game Series – Episode One: Realm of Shadows is the first chapter of Telltale’s new highly-anticipated episodic Batman series which explores the duality of existing as both Bruce Wayne and the Dark Knight.
I should preface this review, for people who don’t know me, by stating that I am a huge Batman fan. If you were to walk up to me on the street and ask me who my favorite character of all time is, I’d say Batman. If you stepped into my home and looked around for even 30 seconds, you would spot something with a Batman logo on it. HUGE fan. So, know that I’m going into this review with an even more critical mind than the average reviewer because I get quite angry when people don’t treat my hero right.
As is the case with most Telltale games, the story here is ultimately the defining factor… and the story is great. Throughout the two hours that my playthrough lasted, I was captivated the whole time. I admit that some of that was due to the visuals, which I’ll get to later, but I was heavily invested in the outcome of each decision I made.
This episode starts in James Bond fashion, with an action scene to get the ball rolling. There’s a heist taking place by armed thugs and you, as Batman, have to put a stop to it. The action sequences are broken up by quick flashes to Bruce back at Wayne Manor, debating his crime-fighting existence with Alfred as his wounds are tended to. This establishes the previously mentioned duality approach of the game early on, by showing you how Batman’s actions affect Bruce, and vice versa. You soon encounter Catwoman, and their interactions suggest that it’s still very early in their relationship, possibly even meeting for the first time.
Meanwhile, District Attorney Harvey Dent is running for mayor, and you as Bruce are helping your buddy with his campaign. A fundraiser at Wayne Manor is taking place when mobster Carmine Falcone arrives in hopes of gaining your favor. That’s just the start of things. I could continue summarizing the rest of the plot, but I’d be robbing you of the experience. All I’ll say is that just about every piece of the story works, and those that are not as strong will likely be resolved in future episodes, as those pieces did feel like foreshadowing of what may lie ahead.
If you’ve played past Telltale games, then you’ll be in familiar territory here. The majority of the gameplay exists as either scenes of dialogue which require you to choose from one of multiple responses, or action scenes composed of quick time events. During dialogue, your choices will often shape a character’s opinion toward you. For instance, shaking Falcone’s hand will result in judgmental gazes from the public, while giving the mob boss attitude will likely upset him. Prompts will indicate a character’s reaction to major choices as you go along. While the repercussions of these choices aren’t always immediate, they do add up over time and will likely impact future episodes (at least I imagine this is the case, as most recent Telltale games have implemented this system).
Quick time events are also similar to previous games, as most action sequences will require directions, buttons, or sometimes a combination of the two to be pressed at the same time to unleash devastating physical attacks or activate one of the many gadgets in Batman’s arsenal. In previous Telltale games, failed inputs could result in a back and forth until it led to your success or untimely death, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. There’s a bat symbol in the lower left of the screen that fills up based on your successful inputs in a particular scene, and if it completely fills, your final attack will be more devastating. Unfortunately, this also means that every attack leading up to the final input of a sequence could be deemed as meaningless, as you can only die if you miss that final input. So while you’re rewarded for success, the consequence of failure is pretty low.
There are also several points in the game which will require you to walk around and explore, such as a crime scene in which Batman must investigate and gather evidence. Connecting pieces of relevant evidence allows you to visually reform the events of the crime, which is shown to you by Batman using his cowl to generate a holographic recreation. I’ve heard others comment that the pacing of these crime-solving areas was too slow compared to the Arkham series, but this isn’t the Arkham series. The World’s Greatest Detective doesn’t just punch people in the face all the time. This is an aspect of Batman’s character that feels right at home in a storytelling game.
Another memorable sequence involves Batman perched outside a penthouse, where he uses a drone to plan out his method of entry, while disposing of any armed guards that stand in his way. I found this particularly intriguing as it showed how Batman’s success is often the result of meticulous planning and execution. It might take him mere moments to dispose of every guard inside, but those quick moments are the result of several minutes of planning before any action is taken. It’s just another way in which Telltale illustrates throughout this episode that they truly understand the characters they’re dealing with.
Visuals and Sounds
Early statements by Telltale said that the design of Batman’s costume would take from multiple inspirations and the end result certainly lines up with that idea. With Jim Lee-type short ears and a sleek yet armored look blending both the Arkham franchise and the New 52 costume, this is one of the better interpretations of Batman’s suit. While I still miss the signature trunks that most DC superheroes are being stripped of these days, I’m definitely on board with this design. The glowing white eyes on Batman’s cowl are a dramatic and powerful addition that help create some amazing visuals.
The game itself has a cell-shaded look that’s not far off from Telltale’s most recent catalog, and it’s a tone that works remarkably well here. Any frozen still of the game results in something you might see inside the pages of a comic book, making this truly feel like a comic come-to-life. Character designs remain faithful, even if exaggerated at times (I’m looking at you Harvey). The biggest departure is that of Oswald Cobblepot, who is nearly unrecognizable as the Penguin we know, but perhaps this is either an earlier stage in his life or the result of the popular version we’ve grown accustomed to on Gotham.
I should also mention that while I had heard reports of multiple game-breaking bugs and performance issues in the PC version of the game, aside from some minor framerate stutters I never encountered any of these.
As always, Troy Baker is wonderful as both Bruce Wayne and Batman, bringing a firm confidence to both, while also playing up Bruce’s public persona. While I love how Kevin Conroy plays both characters with slight changes to his vocal tone, I thought it was a smart decision to use the concept of the modulator in Batman’s cowl to alter his voice as the Dark Knight. From a real-world perspective, it seems to make the most sense for consistency. The rest of the supporting voice cast was great, including Laura Bailey as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. My one gripe, and it’s certainly a small one, is Bruce’s insistence of referring to Alfred as “Al.” It might be a stupid thing to complain about, but it just rubbed me the wrong way.
As a huge Batman fan, I was absolutely delighted to spend two hours in the world of Batman: The Telltale Series and I eagerly await the next chapter.
+ Troy Baker is fantastic as always
+ Extremely faithful to the core of its characters
+ Great Batman costume design
+ Wonderfully choreographed action sequences
– Bruce calls Alfred “Al”…. really?
– Some minor frame rate issues
– Failing QTEs has little consequence