Batman: Episode 1 “Realm of Shadows” Review

Batman, long an iconic character in DC Comics stable, has been well represented across various media over his 76 year history. He’s appeared in television series, films, and video games. Rocksteady holds the crown for presenting the Dark Knight to gamers with its Arkham trilogy, giving us a dark, gritty Batman with his great rogues gallery and free flow combat. Now, Telltale Games, who have made their own mark with comic book inspired series like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, gives us a more personal Batman game. This time the focus is a bit more on Bruce Wayne, the man behind the mask. Don’t worry. The Caped Crusader get plenty of screen time, showing off his martial skills and his prowess as the world’s greatest detective. But the Telltale Game series gives us a more personal tale. It’s an original story that takes the Wayne family name to an unexpected place, with mostly great results in this opening episode.

Episode 1, titled “Realm of Shadows”, opens with bang, with a group of armed mercenaries storming City Hall. The graphic dispatching of a guard lets us know immediately that this is a Batman for mature audiences and not for young ones. The opening sequence gives us a taste of the game’s combat, as usual dictated by timed button presses. Don’t worry if you’re not one hundred per cent precise- as long as you’re reasonably close, Batman will still successfully pull off his moves. It is possible to fail if you hesitate too long, but for most gamers familiar with past Telltale games this won’t be an issue. We get an encounter with Catwoman early on, which makes for a nice combat sequence on a rooftop. This story takes place early on in Bruce’s career, and this marks the first encounter with Selina Kyle. A hard drive sits a the heart of the plot, and plays an important role in this opening episode.

Once we get back to being Bruce, we see how he’s backing Harvey Dent in his run to be mayor of Gotham. A party at Wayne Manor leads to two unexpected meetings, one with reporter Vicki Vale, and the other with mob boss Carmine Falcone. Falcone plays the main villain in this opening episode, though he’s only part of a wider arcing story with great ramifications for Bruce going forward. A nice twist towards the end opens up an interesting take on the Wayne family legacy, though we only get tantalized by this revelation before the credits roll. It definitely has my interest going forward, and eager to see where the writers are taking this story. We also get an appearance by a major figure from Batman’s rogue gallery (I won’t spoil who here), and he’s shown in a way we haven’t seen him before.

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In addition to combat, the gameplay in Batman is split up between conversation choices (many that Bruce makes will impact Batman and vice versa) and detective work. Batman uses a scanner to examine crime scenes, much like he does in the Arkham games, and you’ll need to link clues together to form the big picture of what happened. These puzzle bits aren’t too taxing, though they can rely on sort of trial and error simply because the camera hems you in to a certain area. Later you can use these scanning and linking skills to plot out a plan of attack, giving a nice little layer of strategy to your approach to taking out the bad guys. You’ll still need to hit your timed button presses, but it adds a nice flow to things.

The voice acting, while fairly good for the most part, isn’t as strong as in some other Telltale titles. Troy Baker (Uncharted 4, Bioshock Infinite) plays Batman/Bruce Wayne, and does so pretty well, though he won’t make you forget Kevin Conroy anytime soon in the role. Laura Bailey (Nadine Ross in Uncharted 4) does a fine job as Selina/Catwoman, and rings true to the character we’ve come to know over the years. Travis Willingham works nicely as Harvey Dent, portraying him as an eager politician who wants to make a name for himself in Gotham. Another Uncharted alumnus, Richard McGonagle, gives a suitable menace to Falcone without overplaying the part. Only Jim Gordon comes across a bit weakly, though he’s serviceable as Batman’s contact in the GCPD. The music reminds you easily of the animated series, and visually Batman comes across as dark and gritty, as Gotham should be, though not as noirish as The Wolf Among Us. I played the episode on the PS4 and it ran fairly smooth, and load times weren’t nearly as bad as previous Telltale games.

In all, “Realm of Shadows” is a solid start to Batman: A Telltale Series. It tells an original story without being beholden to any other continuity, and thus can stand on its own merits. Combat can be a little off, but generous controls help things run smoothly. Linking clues can rely a little too much on trial and error until you hit on the right solution to progress things, but it still works well enough to show off the Caped Crusader’s detective skills. Having the story center more on Bruce Wayne make things feel a bit more personal, though it doesn’t overly reinvent the Batman mythos. There is a nice revelation that provides a neat little twist that should grab your interest and have you eagerly awaiting the next episode “Children of Arkham”. This is a good beginning, and if things keep up, Telltale may have yet another stellar franchise on its hands.

 

8.5/10

Thomas Juretus

Born in 1963. Enjoy videogames, movies, comics- anything that tells a story. Have written three novels (The Zarchler Chronicles Book One: The Cassandra Crisis, Shalgroth The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Two, Madman's War The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Three) all published and available through PublishAmerica. Currently working on my fourth book, a sci-fi/murder mystery.

Thomas Juretus

Born in 1963. Enjoy videogames, movies, comics- anything that tells a story. Have written three novels (The Zarchler Chronicles Book One: The Cassandra Crisis, Shalgroth The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Two, Madman's War The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Three) all published and available through PublishAmerica. Currently working on my fourth book, a sci-fi/murder mystery.

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