Over the last several years, the gaming community has been graced with a string of quality Batman games. Whether you were actually a Batman fan or not didn’t matter. There was no denying that the Batman Arkham series was chock full of fantastic games, with perhaps only Arkham Origins being the minimal exception (and even that was a solid game). Well, even though Telltale Games has been making some stellar games through The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, taking over the cowl of the Bat is a daunting task. So, how does episode one, Realm of Shadows, hold up for Batman: The Telltale Series? Well, get excited. They nailed it.
What’s It About?
The series sees Batman in the earlier stages of his career. As covered in our Comic-Con preview, he’s established a connection with Lieutenant Jim Gordon, but most cops are just as scared of him as the criminals are. Rumors about brutality swirl around, creating a heightened sense of fear. All of this seems to be exactly what Bruce Wayne wants to portray as Batman.
But while Batman is creating a frightening persona under the mask, Bruce Wayne is fighting his own battles. To the public, Bruce must decide just how much support he’ll throw behind Harvey Dent for mayor, as well as maintain a certain credibility of his family name. At home (or the cave, rather), philosophical debates rise between himself and Alfred, the latter of whom believes he should tone down his fear-based tactics and realize how much danger he’s putting himself in. The Telltale Decision Engine will let you dive into creating your own type of Batman, which I’ll dive into a little later. Ultimately, the story serves just as much of a great purpose as the connection to the character.
Batman and Bruce Wayne find themselves in contact with Catwoman for the first time, back in contact with Oswald Cobblebot after 20 years (they were childhood friends), into potential run-ins with Carmine Falcone, and starting to track down a big enough chemical mystery within Gotham. It’s all strong enough, but what really ends up selling the longer term story is the fantastic twist at the end of the episode. It’s a riskier story to tell, but touching on details runs the risk of too many early spoilers. What I can tell you on the whole, though, is that this first episode successfully includes Batman’s tragic backstory without outright forcing the player to witness the murder of his parents again. For anyone that’s enough of a Batman fan, you’ll likely appreciate not sitting through that for the millionth time. That serves the game very well as it sets up a great hook moving forward in the “give me Episode 2 NOW” type of way.
Why Should I Care?
The Telltale Decision Engine (I’m just coining that now) has always been entertaining in their games; if anything for some great memes. It’s always been a great way to help players shape characters like The Walking Dead’s Lee & Clementine, or Game of Thrones’ Forrester children, to what they wanted. But these characters had a clean enough slate to create a simple connection with the audience. What Batman can do so well with the Decision Engine is bank on decades of familiarity with the audience.
There are decades of insight into the character. As great as the Arkham games were, you were still only playing as that series’ Batman; a specific type of Batman. Telltale gives you more power over what type of Batman you can create here. Now, it’s not fully customizable. You aren’t giving Batman a complete makeover or different backstory. But are you going to be the beacon of hope, perhaps be the brutalizing monster that keeps peace through fear, or will you slip into dirty dealings as a far more morally ambiguous Dark Knight? The options are there just enough to connect with Batman in a far more personal way, which starts off wonderfully in Realm of Shadows. This is what makes the first episode of the game so great, especially when set up with the strong story it’s starting to tell.
Mechanically, perhaps the other challenge Telltale was facing was the fact that they don’t quite make action games. Arkham excelled at this wonderfully. Realm of Shadows starts off fairly strong, creating a very cinematic flow with minimal transitional issues. It often felt like you were just playing through the cutscenes. Sure, many games go after a cinematic sense, but there are definite cutoffs between cutscenes and gameplay. The line blurs a bit here, which only becomes problematic if you aren’t paying enough attention. It could have you miss some button actions.
The game will also introduce some slight improvements over previous fighting opportunities. Combos will involve simultaneous button presses or swipes; shooting controls include a much more specific target but are perhaps a little stiffer to control. The biggest change, though, is the inclusion of “multiplayer.” This is through Crowd Play, a completely optional feature that will allow you to have your friends to chime in on desktop or mobile devices. They can persuade your dialogue choices or up/down vote your other actions. It’s going to be a nice enough feature if you seek the attention of others, but I don’t see how this will be a truly effective element of the game.
What Makes It Worth My Time and Money?
To bring it back around, there was a very high bar for Telltale to reach with a Batman license. They had great jumps on Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and I haven’t even mentioned The Wolf Among Us, but they effectively did it right first. This time, they’re following up some other great Batman games. The only similar positions they’ve been in recently have been Minecraft: Story Mode and Tales from the Borderlands, the latter of which they absolutely rocked.
Even still, there was a different type of pressure with Batman. The developers stated as such during our Comic-Con preview. With that, the game had to start off strong; very strong, even. Realm of Shadows absolutely does. The story introduces such a great hook and the Decision Engine is such a perfect match for the character, it’s hard not to get excited for what’s to come in the series. With only one episode down, this one could easily turn into a no-doubter.