Batman and Bruce Wayne have graced the silver screen for many occasions.
They‘ve had their own TV shows, and have, of course, been fighting goons in comics for over 70 years. On top of this, their story has been told across countless video games, including the Rocksteady series. Saturated with Batman stories, I hoped Telltale’s contribution to the mix would be a breath of fresh air. After all, this is the studio that gave us the expertly crafted The Wolf Among Us, The Walking Dead, and Games of Thrones.
‘A Realm of Shadows,’ the first episode of this 5-part series, does a great job depicting the struggle in balancing the double life of Batman and Bruce Wayne, while letting the player kick butt as the Dark Knight. On the other hand, a by-the-numbers approach to another origin story, coupled with a variety of bugs and glitches, make it less than a stellar opening.
Let’s face it: Telltale games are all about scripted stories, wherein the player is forced into making decisions during Quick Time Events (or QTEs), and ‘A Realm of Shadows’ is no exception. Its QTEs are multiple-choice and timed, ranging from staying silent and finishing your drink, to deciding whether or not to shake someone’s hand, and your decisions will affect your relationships and influence the universe as a whole.
Combat, wherein you don the cowl of Batman, have you making decisions using clicks and combinations between half a dozen keys and the left mouse button. Dodge a bullet, punch a goon in the face, use a Batarang to incapacitate an enemy: in a game where the player expects the bulk of his time reasoning, it’s nice to see Telltale break away from tradition and deliver action-driven gameplay, with a play-style that’s a bit more fast-paced, even stress-inducing.
Yep. Telltale’s Batman is brutally fun at times, just like the next action game.
Here’s the downside: missing action-triggered queues doesn’t matter much. I for one never died, I was never seriously injured. And that’s unfortunate.
So what’s your role?
Well, as Batman, you’ll deal with violent crime while rooting out corruption in Gotham City. The game opens with Bruce doing a fundraiser for Harvey Dent’s campaign as Mayor. You’ll give a speech, hobnob with guests, and deal with the notorious Carmine Falcone. Moving along, you’ll start nurturing relationships with characters. And there are many. Alfred, Harvey Dent, Selina Kyle, Jim Gorden, Vicki Vale, Osbourne Cobblepot, to name a few…
Episode 1 allows you to explore a few areas of Gotham City, including the Batcave, Cobblepot Park, and a warehouse. In the Batcave, you get the News, check out your Bat-gadgets, and get from your codex up-to-date information about people and places. In the warehouse, you get to be the great detective you aspire to be, and link together various bits of evidence to solve crimes.
These point-and-click areas for exploration are tightly controlled, and they do a good job at letting you experience the double-life of Mr. Wayne.
Onto the flaws.
‘A Realm of Shadows’ beats you over the head with the fact that Bruce is haunted by his parents’ deaths. It’s emotionally poignant at first, but redundant at last.
Telltale’s Batman also drops the ball on important aspects that made other titles in the genre great. For one, the game lacks a tutorial that, in light of its advanced scheme for controls, would have come in handy. Then are the bugs. Your mouse cursor disappears at times, and during a QTE that means missing out on an important decision.
Several areas, like Cobblepot Park, the fundraising party, and the press event, feel exceptionally barren of people. Is there only a handful of people living in Gotham City?
Lastly, some of the QTE choices just don’t add up. For example, I gave Vicki Vale, the reporter, a quote for her article on the Wayne family, but when I checked the updated codex in the Batcave, it said that I had not given her the quote. When the main crutch of a game is that choices matter, it’s disappointing to have those decisions disappear into thin air.
Despite the issues, a Realm of Shadows is a great marriage between Telltale Games and the Batman Universe. Each scene makes you feel like you’re playing in a comic book, art direction is strong, music adds the appropriate touch, whether you’re having a dramatic dialogue with Alfred or fighting bad guys, and voice acting is especially good, with a huge tip of the hat to Laura Bailey (Selina Kyle/Catwoman) and Murphy Guyer (James Gorden) for perfectly inhabiting their roles. I am immensely excited to don the suits for further exploration of the Batman universe, but I also hope Telltale shakes up the formula and works out the bugs for the next episode.