When you play a game with the Batman moniker, there are certain expectations that come along with it. Batman: The Telltale Series – Episode 1: Realm of Shadows meets all of these, adding a few welcome surprises to boot. It really is the best of both worlds, however tired that phrase may be: while it isn’t afraid to shake up the Batman universe a bit, it also preserves the time-tested elements that make the franchise so adored by so many people. I’ll try to keep this review as spoiler-free as humanly possible, but even analyzing certain elements of the story on a surface level is bound to reveal some key information — so take that for what it is. You have been warned.
It’s hard to tell exactly where this Batman’s plot will take us from just a single episode, but Telltale has filled this one with plenty of juicy possibilities. And just like you’d expect, this isn’t a simple story — there are several balls in the air here that could come crashing down at any time. Look at how much is introduced in just this short first chapter: Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot has returned to Gotham after a long hiatus with a dangerous-sounding plan; Harvey Dent’s run for office is complicated by a number of unexpected controversies; Catwoman arrives in the city and seems to be working a dangerous job; Carmine Falcone is dealing in some extremely shady business; and last but certainly not least, the Wayne family legacy is threatened by a secret that I dare not spoil.
That might seem like quite a lot to introduce in four or five hours (and I didn’t even mention that longstanding Batman alums Jim Gordon and Vicki Vale also play a part in all of this!), but Telltale seamlessly jumps from one subplot to another, tantalizing us with the start of multiple threads that will surely lead to a complicated web of twists, knots and frayed ends. It was nice to see these characters again, but every story in this universe risks playing it a bit too safe — something that is mercifully avoided here. I was particularly shocked by this new, young Oswald Cobblepot and his friendship with Bruce; to my knowledge, that’s something that hasn’t been covered before, and the way it’s pieced together a) makes a lot of sense and b) offers intriguing possibilities for the future.
Since there is quite a bit that’s new here, it is a little odd that some of the exposition is so ham-fisted near the beginning of the story. During one particular conversation during a fundraiser for Harvey Dent’s campaign, one of the rich donors begins a sentence with something to the effect of “For your parents to have been killed in a botched robbery…” A later scene shows the all-too-familiar post-movie murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne (albeit in a way that’s at least a little different from previous versions). I’m sure there are a few stragglers out there who haven’t heard the tragic tale of Batman’s origins, but they could easily be informed in a more subtle way. We see the bloodstained tickets from that fateful night in the Batcave, so why jam the explanations so unceremoniously into dialogue and give us yet another iteration of the “Bruce becomes an orphan” scene?
That’s just a minor nitpick, though, all told. Beyond successfully bouncing between plot points, the story offered just enough of everything to make me satisfied. I really liked that the game has the player spend about equal time as Bruce and Batman, and that Bruce’s sections stand toe-to-toe with those of his masked counterpart in terms of interest. Plus, there’s a brief but exciting look at both allies and foes alike, and how they’ll play a part in the overall plot; it’s especially nice to see Vicki taking a leading role in this episode after being sentenced to a relatively small part in Arkham City.
As far as actual gameplay is concerned, there’s a really nice blend of different elements — like I said before, this will basically scratch each and every one of the itches you have when it comes to Batman. As always, the QTE-based action scenes are more fun to look at than they are to play, but they’re certainly not bad.
The investigative mode is really interesting here, too — you link bits of evidence together to form theories about how the scenario played out — even if its application in this particular episode seems overly simple. And of course, you’ve got plenty of chatting and decision-making to do, whether that’s schmoozing socialites as Bruce Wayne or interrogating suspects as Batman. On that latter bit, a scene late in the game suggests that we’ll get to see him struggle between the temptation to commit real violence and the difficulty that comes with remaining a mere symbol of fear; while it’s impossible to know what the implications of the choices in this episode are just yet, the possibilities are thrilling.
This Batman looks and sounds excellent for the most part. The comic book style is clean and pleasing to look at, even if the animations aren’t always that smooth. A number of variations on Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight score keeps the anxiety pumping through the soundtrack, and the goosebumps popping up on your arm. The voice cast, too, is uniformly excellent — Troy Baker gives a phenomenal performance as both Bruce Wayne and Batman, Laura Bailey is an alluring and mysterious Catwoman and Travis Willingham lends his Harvey Dent a warmth that actually makes the politician likable and sympathetic. It’s going to be a fun ride with these folks at the microphone.
Batman: The Telltale Series – Episode 1: Realm of Shadows is an exciting start to what will surely be one of Telltale’s most popular and ambitious projects yet. Offering a little bit of everything you’d expect from Batman in both the game and narrative departments, there’s just enough to keep you interested while you’re playing and just enough to get you clamoring for the next installment as the credits roll. I can’t wait to see where Telltale takes the Caped Crusader after this.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us.
Batman: The Telltale Series – Episode 1: Realm of Shadows offers a tantalizing taste of the new paths this series might forge for its legendary comic book hero. It's got everything you'd expect from a game about the Caped Crusader... plus plenty of things you wouldn't.