You get choices to make as Batman too. Those you make as Bruce will often affect people’s opinion of you; those you make as Batman will do the same, just with more violence involved. On two occasions, you can choose to show someone mercy or hand them over to the police. I chose to play as mercifully as possible, so I was frustrated when Alfred berated me for beating a man “half to death” when I purposely chose to do otherwise. I’m hoping this was just a bug and that my pacifist approach (well, as much as is allowed!) will pay off down the line.
The quieter side to Batman comes with investigation. After being tipped off to check out a warehouse by the docks, the sight that greets you inside is a gruesome one: dead bodies and entrails are littered around, with scorch marks from an explosion on the floor. There are a few instances where the game isn’t on rails and this is one of those times. You can walk around these few areas at your leisure, though they're always very self-contained with minimal hotspot interaction outside those that advance the story, which can be limiting. In the park you can look at the graffiti on the wall, but it isn’t very interesting at face value and Bruce doesn’t even comment on it.
Once you’ve checked out the crime scene, you can then begin to piece together the evidence to work out what went down. What caused the explosion? Where did the bullets come from? The answers to these questions can be found by linking hotspots – clicking one and then another to establish a correlation. You’ll know by Batman’s response whether you got it right or not. When complete, the scene will be neatly re-enacted in front of you thanks to our lead’s advanced science tech. The mechanic is simple, but offers a welcome change of pace and it’s good to see Telltale trying new things.
There’s an impressive list of names voicing the characters, many of which will be familiar if you’ve played any of Telltale’s recent games. For the most part they do well, like Laura Bailey bringing a spark to Catwoman and Travis Willingham a certain gravitas to Harvey Dent. Troy Baker does a top job in the lead too, giving Bruce the necessary suavity and Batman the aggression. But despite the presence of so many industry veterans, there’s a stiltedness that often occurs in the line delivery across much of the cast, either from wrong intonation or lack of emotion. It doesn’t detract significantly from the overall quality of voice acting, but it is noticeable.
Realm of Shadows has a semi-realistic appearance, with thick outlines and inky, comic book-style textures and exaggerated facial expressions. It looks its best during the night and wisely the majority of scenes are set when the sun is down. The entire opening sequence is testament to this. Within the confines of the Mayor’s office, long shadows are cast and gunfire sparks up the room. Up on the rooftops, the glowing metropolis surrounds you in a sea of skyscrapers and smoke. When a news helicopter joins the fray, casting its bright spotlight on proceedings, everything feels even more pronounced. When I think of Batman, this is the type of imagery that comes to mind and it’s realised nicely here: dark and industrial, exactly the sort of setting where it makes sense for a menacing man wearing a caped black costume to perform stealthy takedowns.
Telltale’s regular composer Jared Emerson-Johnson never disappoints with his music and it’s no different here; the soundtrack throughout is excellent. There are the obvious upbeat tunes accompanying the action, with their rumbling drums and reverberations provides a heightened sense of pace and thrill, but the quieter tunes shouldn’t be discounted either. When Bruce is sitting across the table from someone, both parties more exposed than they would like, the slow piano background lends the scene a hint of melancholy and intrigue.
Disappointingly, technical issues interfered with my overall PC experience, despite my system more than meeting the requirements and downloading the update released soon after launch. I observed screen tearing and out-of-sync voices, but most frustrating was the slight pause every time there was a hard cut between scenes. This was especially unforgivable in the opening act, which switches periodically between Batman and Bruce in past and present, something that would have been very stylish had there not been a clear chug each time it changed. Telltale has long suffered from poor optimization in their games and there’s really no excuse for it.
Clocking in at around two hours, I was satisfied with Realms of Shadows when it came to a close. It’s an entertaining first episode in the season, technical problems aside. The balance between Bruce and Batman is well distributed, emphasising the political with the former and the punchy thrills with the latter. There’s a full cast of characters already established, so hopefully that means there’s ample room to explore their individual stories and twist fan perceptions to offer a fresh take. I’m looking forward to seeing how the tale develops and the impact some of my choices had – many were tough picks, even the simpler ones during conversation. My Bat-watch is counting down until the next episode.