Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Format: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, Android, Microsoft Windows, iOS, Mac OS
Released: August 2, 2016
Cards on the table here, I was really going into this one with some fairly low expectations. And yet for the life of me I can’t figure out why that is. Ever since they brought the Sam and Max series back into the modern point and click consciousness, I’ve been in love with just about every Telltale game I’ve ever played. The Walking Dead gave us incredibly tough moral choices and a heart-string tugger of a story. The Wolf Among Us was an interesting take on the Noir detective genre, as well as my introduction to the Fables comic series. Even Tales from the Borderlands managed to keep its comedic wit and charm while blending it in with Telltale’s take on interactive storytelling, knowing when to be a comedic thrill ride and when to tone it back for some rather gripping and dramatic moments without making them feel unnatural. Something genuinely surprising from a game where this actually happens:
Really the best reason I can come up with is that Batman has already been given an excellent videogame series in Rocksteady’s Arkham franchise. It was a series that was superbly designed for the most part and offered fans of the comics and 90s animated series a rather dark but awesome take on Batman’s smorgasbord of a rouges gallery. But I think that’s what was so surprising to me about Telltale’s adaption of the Batman universe in comparison to Rocksteady’s. Where the Arkham games are about Batman, Batman: The Telltale Series is a game about Bruce Wayne first and foremost.
That’s not to say that the game doesn’t let you play as Batman or give him any less importance in the story, mind you. Rather Batman: The Telltale Series seems to focus on the challenges that Bruce Wayne faces outside of his scowl and cowl as much as the ones he faces in them. It’s easy to forget while we play a Rocksteady Batman game that there’s an alter ego that has his own trials and tribulations to overcome when he’s not matching wits with supervillains and fists with common criminals. And it’s this concept which allows us to play through these day-to-day challenges of Bruce Wayne’s that offers a refreshing take on the Batman universe, as well as potential for a different storytelling experience that we’ve seen from the Rocksteady games.
Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I’m in the right place to talk about the game’s story, as much as I’m sure you’d like me to, for two reasons. The first being that if I did, it would be incredibly hard to do so without going into some heavy spoiler territory for a game that has barely been out for a week at the time of writing this. Second, being only the first episode in the season, the story isn’t even at the halfway point yet, which makes it a little pointless to comment on at this point in my mind. But that doesn’t mean I can’t gush about how much I enjoyed the game as a whole.
For starters, I love how Telltale have taken their approach of telling personal stories based on your actions and applied it to a loved and well-known character. Every piece of media has their own interpretations of the Caped Crusader, but this is the first time in a Batman game that you’re able to play as the version of Batman and Bruce Wayne that you personally enjoy. In my case, I took the route of the animated series, making Bruce Wayne a charming playboy and Batman a cool-headed compassionate hero towards even the criminals who deserve worse. A friend of mine, however, took the route of the Nolan movies and made Bruce Wayne a rich asshole and Batman the no-nonsense brutal crime fighter. It’s the small levels of personalisation that really make you feel like you’re helping shape this new Batman universe that Telltale is setting up, all the way down to the colour of Batman’s gadgets and the game’s UI.
Telltale’s version of a detective mode is also noteworthy, primarily because it actually involves doing some detective work. While you still are scoping out a small area in search of clues to determine what happened like you do in Rocksteady’s Batman games, here you also need to make deductions about the scene by linking together two different pieces of evidence. While there was only one moment in the game where you’re able to experience this, it was enjoyable to put all the pieces of the crime scene together on my own. It’s a much more involved approach to showing off this side of being Batman as opposed to simply looking at a point of interest, holding a button down and having the game solve the puzzle for you.
And finally, Telltale has found a way to make their inclusion of quick-time events actually enjoyable for once. One thing I’ve always disliked about Telltale games since the first season of The Walking Dead is how they shoe-horn in quick-time events that usually would come out of nowhere. But here, Telltale has sectioned these off to only be included in the Batman sections of the game, meaning that you are actually expecting them to show up.
The QTEs also feel a lot less cheap than they have in previous Telltale series thanks to an intelligent inclusion of a “finishing move” meter. Located in the lower-left corner of the screen, this meter will slowly fill up during combat-heavy QTEs with every successful execution, ultimately allowing you to perform a finishing move once it’s filled up which completes that QTE section. This means that, unlike previous Telltale entries, screwing up a QTE because of a missed button push won’t result in an instant game-over, but instead just won’t fill up the meter as quickly as it could have been.
It seems that Telltale has understood that Batman isn’t a character that makes mistakes very easily. He doesn’t fumble trying to pull out a gadget or get knocked out by some street thug punching him, so if you fail a QTE, that isn’t what will happen. Because of this, the QTE sections are a lot more fun to play because, not only do you have an idea of when they’ll be coming, but you also feel like you have a lot more breathing room with them. As a result, I feel like this takes away the sudden stress that QTE sections usually force on the player and instead turns them into a surprisingly enjoyable game mechanic that assists Telltale’s intentions to make you feel like you’re playing as Batman.
That being said, the game is nowhere near a perfect start to this new Telltale series. For starters, at the time of writing this anyway, there are some serious technical issues that need to be addressed. Sound effects were noticeably cutting out quite a lot for a significant length of time in my playthrough of the game, taking the impact of the game’s action scenes or just making cutscenes awkwardly silent. The game’s framerate also constantly dipped and rose throughout the whole game, trying to reach 60fps at best and falling to around 20-25fps at worst. Even button prompts had a noticeable delay to them, making a few of the out of dialogue time-sensitive choices incredibly stressful when it takes longer than a turn in Fire Emblem to understand what each choice would do.
Overall, despite its minor but glaring issues, Realm of Shadows is a strong and incredibly promising start to Telltale’s newest series. Of course, whether the coming episodes continue to uphold the quality and pace shown in this first episode is yet to be seen, but I’m hopeful for what Telltale has coming up. I don’t know about you, but I’d be totally down for thwarting the schemes of Kite Man or Crazy Quilt in a later episode.
Final Score: 4/5