Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode One: Realm of Shadows review
Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode One: Realm of Shadows review

Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode One: Realm of Shadows archived preview

Batman is perhaps the biggest franchise that Telltale has tackled yet – or at least the most enduring. The caped crusader spans generations and has appeared in every medium imaginable, undergoing multiple iterations over the years while retaining the same core characteristics. The developer, meanwhile, has become synonymous with a particular type of episodic interactive storytelling that is heavy on conversation, player choice, and simplified action gameplay. A few new mechanics are introduced here, but Telltale’s Batman doesn’t stray far from the tried and tested formula. For the source material, though, it works quite well, allowing us to explore both Bruce Wayne and Batman while making use of different techniques.

In the first episode, Realm of Shadows, the focus is more on Bruce Wayne, the millionaire man behind the mask. It’s as Bruce that you get to converse with people the most, mingling with the rich, the mob and the press in your high-profile role as supporter and financial backer of mayoral candidate Harvey Dent. Anyone familiar with Batman stories will know the traditional future for Harvey, but there’s no sign of that here just yet; while he’s an imposing and bulky presence, towering over Bruce, he’s a man who genuinely seems to want to do better for the city of Gotham.

Our first interactions with Bruce take place at Wayne Manor, hosting an event for Harvey and hobnobbing with the affluent folks in attendance. One of Harvey’s main platforms is that he’ll be replacing Arkham Asylum, home to the mentally unstable, with a brand new psychiatric health facility. Bruce is clearly a trusted figure and politically influential, though public perception towards his secret alter ego is mixed. Nevertheless, it’s here that you can begin shaping the character. During conversation you’ll get a choice of four dialogue options to use at particular points; whether you choose to be flirtatious, sarcastic or direct is up to you. Some of these choices are given more weight than others, but each will make you ponder and there’s a good number of them spread throughout the dialogue.

It isn’t long into the campaign party that Carmine Falcone and his cronies enter uninvited. A businessman with a suspect reputation, Falcone is old and short-tempered, eager to flex his power and further exert his control. Whether you choose to shake his hand in front of your guests, for example, is something that will have a ripple effect. A timer quickly runs down, forcing you to be snappy with your decision. There’s never a "right" choice with such dilemmas, and you never really know what the repercussions are going to be. Though some might only alter the next line of dialogue rather than anything more meaningful, it’s always fun every time you get to provide input.

As you can probably tell, there’s no messing around when it comes to introducing the typical cast of characters, including Catwoman and James Gordon (still a Lieutenant here, not yet in his more familiar role as Commissioner). But that’s a good thing because it establishes them quickly and hopefully gives them enough room to be developed in future episodes. The only problem here isn’t necessarily related to the characters themselves, but rather that there are lots of story beats that have been endlessly covered elsewhere. Alfred the butler berates Bruce for pushing himself too hard; we learn Bruce’s parents were killed when he was younger; Gotham’s dirty streets are fuelled by government ties to crime, etc. None of this is new territory. Okay, for someone who has had literally no exposure to Batman this won’t be a problem, but for all others the ground being tread is repeated here and it’s a bit tiresome.

Nevertheless, there are some elements that move away from the ordinary. For example, Oz Cobblepot is reimagined as Bruce’s childhood friend who returns to Gotham with a string of crimes under his belt, frustrated to see how the park his parents built has turned desolate while his old pal is living the high life. He’s a threatening and unpredictable presence, saying he plans to dismantle the hierarchy, though his dodgy and fake-sounding British accent is off-putting. Moving forward, I’m hoping that Telltale continue to change our expectations of pre-existing characters and turn some of the series tropes on their heads.

Life as Batman, costume and all, is focussed mainly around brawling and detective work. The former is where the action takes place, in a series of button prompts guiding you through every punch, kick and jump. The fights are extremely cinematic, making great use of a quick cutting camera, slow motion and brash sound effects. I really enjoyed watching these, especially because it never gets old having Batman creep up on his enemies and take them out in inventive ways with his gadgets. The moment we first catch sight of Batman, swinging across from another building and smashing through a window, is excellent and very reminiscent of a scene in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight film.

It’s very rare that you can actually fail during these action scenes, but there’s a reward for doing well. If you time your button responses properly then you’ll fill up a meter which allows you to deliver a powerful finishing move. Mess up badly and you might get a game-over screen, but you can instantly hop back in and won’t be penalised otherwise. It’s very forgiving, and perhaps too much so – on the one hand it maintains momentum no matter how you perform, but on the other it removes any real challenge and makes you question why you’re actually attempting to press anything in the first place.

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Batman: The Telltale Series

Platform(s): Android, iPad, iPhone, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

A new episodic Telltale game series based on the popular DC Comics franchise.

Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode One: Realm of Shadows

Platform(s): Android, iPad, iPhone, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox 360, Xbox One

About the Author
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Joe Keeley
Staff Writer

Adventures in Storytelling

Our coverage of interactive experiences that heavily prioritize narrative over gameplay.

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