Batman: The Telltale Series, Episode 1: “Realm of Shadows”
Batman: The Telltale Series is, as its name implies, a new episodic “adventure” from Telltale Games. I put “adventure” in quotes because Telltale hasn’t really produced an adventure in years, not since the days of Sam & Max and Back to the Future. No, Batman continues their trend of creating interactive movies, where you make decisions for the main character, and those decisions have an almost imperceptible influence on how the story plays out. This review is for Episode 1: “Realm of Shadows.”
Since “Realm of Shadows” is the first episode of a new franchise, Telltale spends most of their time introducing us to the characters and the world. And so we see cameos by Selina Kyle (Catwoman), Oswald Cobblepot (the Penguin), Detective James Gordon, DA Harvey Dent, ace reporter Vicki Vale, and crime boss Carmine Falcone. Not a whole lot happens during the episode — it’s almost all set-up for the rest of the season — .but at the end you discover that somebody is trying to blacken the Wayne name, and since you’re playing as Batman / Bruce Wayne, you of course decide to get to the bottom of it.
Nicely, since all of the damaging evidence involves Bruce’s dead parents — Were they involved with the Falcone family? Did they steal their money? — we don’t know how much if any of it is actually truthful. It’ll be interesting to see if the game can keep the question open for a while, or if the Waynes are quickly returned to sainthood.
Otherwise, “Realm of Shadows” is much like Telltale’s other recent releases. You split your time between talking to people, examining locations for clues, and participating in action sequences. There aren’t any puzzles at all — not even anything pretending to be a puzzle — and so “Realm of Shadows” is all interactive movie.
So is there anything new to see here? Yes and no. The best new part of the game is when you examine crime scenes. “Realm of Shadows” is played in modern times, so Batman has cell phones, drones, and even a portable CSI kit at his disposal, and you never have to wait for results. Plus, when you find clues, you can link some of them together to figure out what happened.
Less impressive is the change Telltale made to their action sequences. Now along with pressing the WASD and QE keys at the right time, you also have to press shift-Q and shift-E. Getting the shift key involved just makes the sequences more annoying — and for no particular purpose that I could tell. I don’t think anybody plays Telltale’s games for the action sequences, so making them more tedious is an odd choice.
Telltale is also slipping in the “your choices matter” department. This part of their games has gotten more and more cosmetic lately, and it’s even worse in “Realm of Shadows.” At one point you can torture a criminal to get information from him, but even if you don’t, Alfred still berates you for acting like an animal. And at another point, you can either shake Falcone’s hand or not, and later when you’re accused of working with him, the news station shows a replay of the scene as evidence, which doesn’t make any sense if you snubbed him.
“Realm of Shadows” also has some technical issues. Their Windows 7 launcher didn’t work at all for me, and it took me a few days to figure out a way to get around it (and worse, the solution came from some random person posting in a forum, rather than from anybody working for Telltale). And all sorts of people are having problems even getting the episode to run, with error windows, white screens, and massive slowdowns being common complaints. However, once I fixed my launcher issue, the game ran just fine for me.
And so Batman: The Telltale Series is looking like a mixed bag at the moment. The first episode is all set-up, so there isn’t any way to tell if the series is going to be interesting or not, or even what the series is going to be about. There are also technical issues galore, plus some comparison issues. Batman mines a lot of the same territory as the Gothan TV series, but the Gotham characters are way more interesting (especially Cobblepot and Falcone). It’s early yet, and the series could make a comeback, but there isn’t any reason to rush out and buy it at this point.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Telltale Games
This review is based on a digital copy of Batman: The Telltale Series, Episode 1: “Realm of Shadows” for the PC provided by Telltale Games.