Oh Telltale. Just when I think I’m out after their last efforts, they swoop back in with something really good to change my mind. While I’ll be reviewing the first episode of their new Batman game I won’t be writing about any other episodes- when the whole season is out Reuben and I will do a video review of it. For now though, let’s get into the first episode: Realm of Shadows.
Batman is a license you’d be forgiven for thinking Telltale couldn’t do much with. Detective work and beating the shit out of people? Wolf Among Us did that already. Batman has an unbreakable no-kill policy and always comes out on top, not to mention Rocksteady already made two great and one decent games dedicated to putting you in the cowl, so how can Telltale make something that’s both different and interesting? Two words: Bruce Wayne.
It’s early in Batman’s career; Jim Gordon is a lieutenant, Harvey Dent has an intact face and is running for Mayor, and Batman himself is dealing with the Italian mob led by Don Carmine Falcone. Batman takes a backseat though- you spend far more time playing as Bruce Wayne, which is a genuine master stroke; this is where Telltale’s conversation system and choices come into play. The bulk of the story in the episode deals with a scandal involving Bruce’s parents, his part in Harvey’s campaign and his relationship with Falcone, Gordon and Vicki Vale; constantly walking a tightrope and trying to say the right thing. The politics of Gotham and keeping Bruce’s head above water is so brilliantly pulled off that the Batman scenes seem bland and underwhelming by comparison, which is the episode’s biggest flaw. Bruce’s caped alter-ego gets one reasonable crime scene investigation, two solid choices and two weak fight scenes done in the familiar QTE-heavy Telltale style. His sections feel like they’re only there to give Batman something to do, which really needs to change for future episodes.
The other big problem is a re-working of The Penguin into a skinny, greatcoat wearing, military trained, possibly handsome (depending on what you’re into) cockney gangster who knew Bruce when they were both children and is now suddenly going to be really important to both his life and the story. It just seems like an odd change and his connection to Bruce seems forced and convenient, like they need someone who can mess with his head and also Batman can punch him, but without using The Joker. He may well get better in later episodes but he’s made a bad first impression. Also his accent is bad and I don’t know why they felt the need to make him cockney.
Overall Telltale’s Batman game is off to a strong start, mostly. The Batman sections are mediocre but it does some fantastic things with Bruce Wayne- the story, choices and situations they generate around and involving him are where the game shines. Going forward I hope they continue to make him the focus while improving the Batman sections; focusing on detective work and choices. Look out for video review later in the year when all the episodes are out.
By James Lambert