The tale of Bruce Wayne and his parents’ death has been told many times across many formats. It should be, it’s pivotal to anything he is featured in. So too is his famous alter ego, Batman. The Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader, Bats, call him what you like, but one thing is for certain, he is awesome. He steals the show in anything he is in, which is quite the achievement considering he is just a man in a very expensive suit.
It surprised me when Telltale Games, known for their Walking Dead games, revealed that they would be giving us their version of Bruce Wayne’s story. You’d be forgiven to compare Batman: The Telltale Series to the Arkham games in terms of characters but don’t. This is a totally different fish. A fish that swims in a familiar ocean.
Batman: The Telltale Series continues Telltale Games’ trend of episodic content. In the first episode titled “Realm of Shadows”, we are quickly introduced to Harvey Dent who is running for mayor of Gotham City endorsed and supported by his good friend, Bruce Wayne. Bruce, however, has other things on his mind such as the unwanted appearance and threat of Carmine Falcone, a notorious boss of a dangerous criminal organization, and a female cat burglar who rudely butted in on his thwarting of a City Hall break-in stealing something clearly of value. The main undertone that Bruce is frequently reminded of is the death of his parents and the legacy they left behind. Although Batman fans will be right at home here in terms of characters’ familiarity, there is very little of them. It is only the first episode, don’t forget, and in most first episodes of series, we are just getting introduced and acquainted.
It’s clear early on that this rendition of Batman is set in a timeline where Batman’s infamous bad guys are only just finding their feet. A brief but significant encounter with Oswald Cobblepot gave me that impression. He is young, tall, and full of fight, unlike the old decrepit monocle wearing hunchback that we all know him better as. The first episode is all about kicking off character development, and this is something I think Telltale has done well by handing you, the player, the reigns to how your fellow cast perceive you. Of course, this is achieved by Telltale’s well-known dialogue choice system. Do you shake Falcone’s hand with a firm grip which risks the squeaky clean Wayne reputation, or not, risking being in his bad books and painting a huge bullseye on your back? Choices like these are the pinnacle of Telltale’s games, and Batman is no exception, and it helps that the voice acting is quite decent too. No Kevin Conroy here but that’s okay.
The Batman parts of “Realm of Shadows” are much more fast paced. The majority of Batman’s screen time has you watching out for sudden quick time events that happen without warning. Although there is no brutal penalty for failure, success keeps the action going and watching Bats kick some serious ass never gets old. It’s not all button pressing and stick wiggling though, we see Batman’s detective expertise during one scene. Here, you are tasked with piecing together a morbid puzzle akin to the Arkham games only not as complex. It’s a welcome change to dialogue selecting and keeps that brain ticking.
Your actions and responses carry weight later on as every decision you make leads the rest of the game in a different path, and you are notified of this constantly. Another Telltale trend that translates well here, but as first episodes go, “Realm of Shadows” is a fairly strong one. Although character performances are good and introductions do their job, we are still left wondering. Skipping over the relevance of Wayne reuniting with Cobblepot, only for him to moan at Bruce about his shortcomings. The importance of Falcone and his goons being intertwined in a conspiracy surrounding a deadly nerve gas, it all leaves you wanting more.
Batman: The Telltale Series keeps the same artistic flair we have seen in past games. It fits nicely bringing us back to Batman’s comic book days. The overall visuals impress, especially during the Batman parts as he takes more shape as Ben Affleck’s Batman than Christian Bale’s or Michael Keaton’s, keeping things up to date. Noticeable framerate stutters prevent it from being a silky smooth experience, but it didn’t bother me. It was still a visual treat.
Developers: Telltale Games
Publishers: Telltale Games
Platforms: PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 2nd August 2016