Theatricality and deception are powerful agents.
Telltale Games’ first episode of their new Batman series gets off to a great start, with plenty of tense action sequences, fun detective work, and a unique story that focuses more on the Wayne family rather than the Batman.
The game starts off with Batman foiling a robbery by a group of mercenaries, only to cross paths with Catwoman for the first time. The introduction does a good job at giving us a time frame for where we are in Batman’s career; it looks like he’s been active long enough to become an urban myth (among criminals, at least), but not long enough to have established himself as Gotham’s Dark Knight. How the city will respond to the Bat looks to be up in the air at this point. If Episode One: Realm of Shadows gives any indication, your interaction with criminals is definitely going to impact Batman’s reputation with both the city and the GCPD.
While you start off as Batman, you actually end up playing mostly as Bruce Wayne. These moments are surprisingly effective, as the nuances of conversing your way through political fundraisers and press conferences can be challenging and unexpectedly consequential. Something as simple as a handshake can come back to haunt you.
The pacing and story is fantastic, as well, as Telltale has crafted a great opening act in what’s bound to be a compelling and fresh take on Batman. The emphasis on the Wayne family and their history with Gotham is very interesting, and it’s great seeing the impact all of this has on Bruce Wayne’s psyche. Mix that with the various iconic villains that have already been introduced, and you have a story that looks to get very bad for Bruce before it gets any better.
The quick-time event action sequences are also far easier to manage this time around, thanks to Telltale’s updated engine. Not once did Episode 1 freeze or hiccup its way through a tense brawl, and while the frame rate was pretty choppy here and there, never once did it come to a full stop. Most of the dips in frame rate occurred during normal dialogue, as well, which is great since the action sequences are easily the best Telltale has delivered so far. You actually feel afraid for the criminals at some points, with Batman employing plenty of scare tactics as he picks off enemies one at a time.
The best aspect of this series so far, however, is how much you actually feel like Batman. Telltale has done an admirable job at capturing not just the fighting spirit of Batman but also the spirit of the world’s greatest detective. Investigating crime scenes and linking together clues is surprisingly fun. It feels like the investigative scenes of The Wolf Among Us, but rather than just picking up objects in an area, you get to actively piece together the crime scene using your surroundings. You only get to do this once in Episode One, but I have a feeling that detective work is going to be a recurring theme of the series.
Realm of Shadows is a great first episode in what is sure to be some of Telltale’s finest work. The presentation is both familiar and unique, with a strong comic book vibe that takes clear inspiration from Nolan’s trilogy (particularly in the music department). If you’re a fan of Telltale’s previous work, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in their latest offering. If you’re a fan of Batman, you’ll most likely enjoy the fresh take on the character. And if you’re a fan of both… Well, then you probably don’t need convincing.
I found the story in Episode One to be a surprising experience. Typically in a Telltale game, it’s pretty clear which option leads to what outcome, be it a morally righteous, corrupt, or neutral action or decision. I found that with Batman it was much harder to discern the outcome of the dialogue options, making for some far more intense conversations. Also, keeping silent seems to have a rather negative effect towards other people (turns out people don’t really like being ignored), which is bad news for me as I used silence a lot in previous Telltale games.
I have some high hopes that the decision-making will have a real effect on the story’s outcome this time around. The handshake with Falcone has already reverberated through the public’s perception of Bruce Wayne, and Gordon is already taking note of Batman’s non-violent actions with criminals. With his family’s integrity being called into question at the episode’s conclusion, only time will tell to see how difficult it will be to regain public trust.
I also hope the focus on the Wayne family name will be a staple of this series. With Falcone hopefully going away for good at the end of Episode One, there’s plenty of room for other villains to take the stage and challenge both Batman and Bruce Wayne. Balancing public opinion in the face of corruption and scandal, while also striving to defend Gotham from maniacs and crime, could make for the best Telltale experience so far.
As for those maniacs, the Penguin storyline starts off intriguing enough, with Bruce Wayne being reacquainted with his old school friend Oswald Cobblepot. It seems as if Cobblepot is graduating from petty thief to revolutionary leader, as he warns Bruce of an impending power shift in Gotham. I rather enjoyed this take on Penguin, as Penguin always came across to me as more of a nuisance than a real threat. It’ll be interesting to see how we’re forced to handle the situation the more it develops, as the personal connection Bruce has to Oswald is bound to make this scenario more complicated than maybe just Batman can handle.
The interaction with Catwoman was also really fun. Introducing her with a rooftop showdown was a great way to establish these two characters’ chemistry. Making her Dent’s new girlfriend is even better, as I’m sure their relationship is going to take a turn for the worse at some point, and my money is on it being over Batman. Having Ms. Kyle manage to figure out Batman’s identity so soon is also really unexpected, and I’m sure she’ll play that card right when it’s most inconvenient.
The Dent storyline is also primed to put players in some tricky political situations, as the campaign fundraiser and Arkham Asylum press conference showed. It’s really hard for me to back a mayoral campaign for a man who’s probably not going to keep Gotham’s best interests at heart, but that still didn’t stop me from supporting “the new face of Gotham” (I just couldn’t resist picking that slogan). Still, given Dent’s assumed fate, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a way to keep him from falling into Two-Face. It’d be a great way for Telltale to reinforce the idea that Bruce Wayne, not just Batman, can make a difference.
Personally, I’m really into the idea of exploring the history of the Wayne family. It’s a great twist calling into question Thomas and Martha Wayne’s interaction with organized crime in Gotham, not to mention the picture Batman found of them with Falcone towards the end of Episode One. Could Bruce’s parents really be the “biggest gangsters in Gotham?” If so, how can Bruce go about repairing the damage they’ve caused? How does he restore his family name? With Alfred seemingly hiding something at the episode’s close, there could be some very damaging truths hidden from Bruce, and I’m very excited to see how far down the Batcave goes.