Usually the first episode of a Telltale Games title tends to be one of my least favorite in any given series, because the need to set up the world drags down the pace before the subsequent chapters can really get into the meat of things. Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode 1: Realm of Shadows breaks that trend to deliver an excellent first chapter in that I believe has the potential to be their best series since Tales From the Borderlands.
Right out of the games, Telltale Games comes out swinging - literally. The series kicks off with a flashback to a recent fight that has a somewhat raw Batman taking on a bunch of armed thieves. I saw raw, because this is clearly a young Bruce Wayne. He is headstrong in his conversations with Alfred and pretty well dinged up from a fight against regular baddies. Batman is still earning a reputation, and you have a significant hand in just what that reputation will be. How far do you want to take Batman when he is interrogating a criminal? Do you simply apply pressure to the arm so that it hurts, or do you break it to help make your point? Do you swing the pipe and hit the barrel next to the hanging criminal to frighten him, or do you hit him in the head or perhaps the more protected stomach region? These are tense moments that work well as you work to establish just what Batman's reputation with not only the criminals, but also the police force will become.
This is also the most action-packed Telltale series to date. Telltale titles have always relied on directional swipes and button presses to help test the player and make the game more challenging and interactive. Well, they ratcheted the intensity up quite a bit for Batman, working in more swipes, button presses and even combinations (like pressing A and pulling down on the left stick at the same time) than Telltale has used in previous games. It works, because part of what I was worried about with this title was how they would go about portraying the action segments since traditionally the Batman games have been very action-heavy affairs.
However, Episode 1 here works so well because it allows us to explore the Caped Crusader in a way that is relatively unique as well. We spend as much (if not more) time in the game as Bruce Wayne. Because this is a narrative focused game series (despite the uptick in action), we get to see Bruce navigating social situations that have their own potential pitfalls and ramifications. In fact, I would argue that these are more interesting than the combat segments, because when you are fighting as Batman, you get to beat the bad guys and come out with that feeling that you just won. Bruce's scenarios tend to feel a bit more like a damned if you do/damned if you don't scenario that has this powerful, wealthy man still treading carefully.
I have seen, read and played lots of different iterations of Batman over the years, so while some of the names and situations have familiarity to them, the story being told is not one I have heard before, which should allow the series to remain interesting as it continues forward. It was also great to see the development team adding some new wrinkles to the familiar Telltale Games formula. One was a crime reconstruction that did a solid job of reminding us that Batman is also a detective. The other was in using a gadget to help stage a combat scene by scoping out the area in advance. Both had some minor issues in terms of ease of use and flow, but they were both entertaining changes of pace.
Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode 1: Realm of Shadows allayed any concerns I had about how a character usually shown in video games as an action-packed superhero would be handled in a more story-driven format. I am happy to report that it was handled quite well overall, due in large part to a solid presentation (the visuals fit the comic book source material far better than they do The Walking Dead) and excellent voice acting (led by veterans Troy Baker and Laura Bailey), some new gameplay mechanics and a story that I am invested in.
Article by Nick