Sometimes, it’s a boring night at the opera, but most often, the story begins with a small boy asking his parents to make an early exit from a screening of The Mark of Zorro. And like every other second from that night, the masked vigilante on the silver screen makes an impression on young Bruce Wayne. It’s this story that Telltale Games has decided to retell with Batman: The Telltale Series.
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One (Version Played)
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: I Am Vengeance! I Am the Night! I Am Batman!
Release Date: August 2, 2016
ESRB Rating: Mature
Reminiscent of both Batman Begins and Year One, Realm of Shadows, the first episode of Telltale’s latest episodic adventure, opens with the GCPD still wary of the vigilante known as “The Batman.” Meanwhile, most criminals think of him as an urban legend that may not even be true. But while the first episode spends most of its time pairing Batman with low-level thugs, we are also treated to the Caped Crusader’s first meeting with Catwoman and Carmine Falcone.
In a new twist for a Batman video game, The Telltale Series gives a secondary storyline to Bruce Wayne, who also meets Falcone for the first time, and later has a tense coffee date with Selina Kyle. Giving equal time to his civilian life is a great choice, and it really allows Telltale to make Batman and Bruce Wayne feel like separate characters. As Batman, the character is depicted as a hulking brawler who, in an amusing wink to fans, uses a speaker in his cowl to produce the “Batman Voice.” But as Bruce, the billionaire playboy shrinks into the background against the more imposing silhouettes of Gordon, Dent, and Falcone. This attempt at humanizing Bruce might also be why Telltale allowed him to have a sense of humor for once.
I was also surprised by the reveal of Bruce’s childhood best friend: Oswald Cobblepot (AKA The Penguin). While The Penguin is often shown as coming from old money, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him paired with Bruce like this before. It’s an interesting track to take, and Oswald’s vengeful demeanor certainly planted a Penguin-shaped seed for future episodes. The central mystery, an aggression-causing chemical, also points to the future appearance of a recognizable Bat-Villain… possibly Scarecrow and his Fear Toxin or Bane and his super-steroid, Venom.
I’ve never played a Telltale game before, but Batman: The Telltale Series felt like a good jumping off point for their patented combination of dialogue choices and Quick Time Events. Even with the inclusion of a “Finishing Move” meter, it felt like the Quick Time Events were a bit pointless. But I liked that the conversation choices let me mold my Batman into a noble hero, rather than the psychopath he’s sometimes depicted as (even if many of the choices do boil down to “Punch A Mobster” versus “Punch A Mobster Really Hard”).
However, Telltale also indulges Batman’s cerebral side, asking players to investigate multiple crime scenes and plan an attack on Falcone’s penthouse. The “World’s Greatest Detective” is already operating at the top of his game in Realm of Shadows, and I’m looking forward to more elaborate clue-gathering in future episodes.
With so much emphasis on story, Batman: The Telltale Series was carried by great vocal performances from the main characters and the comic art style. Troy Baker is excellent as both Batman and Bruce Wayne, and the actors behind Harvey Dent (Travis Willingham), Jim Gordon (Murphy Guyer), and Catwoman (Laura Bailey) don’t disappoint. And the comic-style artwork evokes the best of Batman’s print adventures, Batman: The Animated Series, and the Nolan films all rolled into one. If nothing else, Batman: The Telltale Series looks amazing.
Batman: The Telltale Series – Episode 1: Realm of Shadows is a good start to yet another take on the enduring comics character. Some of the scenes drag a bit (especially the lectures from Alfred), but I can’t wait to explore more of Gotham in Episode 2: Children of Arkham.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Batman: The Telltale Series was provided by Telltale Games for the purposes of this review.