Telltale’s Batman Episode 1: Realm of Shadows review

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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

@jameslambert18

Dark Souls 3 Review

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I don’t like Dark Souls. I love Bloodborne, but I’ve never got on with its spiritual predecessor. See unlike so many of its fans that like to go on about fair and balanced the combat is and how any and all deaths are your fault, I find the whole thing really cheap, and unlike Bloodborne’s gothic cosmic horror DS’ fantasy setting isn’t worth wading through all the bullshit. For me at least. However, I gave the series one last chance with its most recent and apparently last entry, hoping that Fromsoft might have carried over a few tricks from Bloodborne. So this is quite a late review, but I think it’s still worth talking about, and I have some things I want to say.

So the gist of the story is that the world is ending (it was also ending in the other two games, but apparently it was ending very slowly because they were set ages before this one) and the only way to stop it is for certain brave/crazy people to set themselves on fire, but using a certain specific fire otherwise it doesn’t work. You tried to do that but it didn’t work, but now you’ve got one last chance to save the world (or not, up to you) by tracking down people who “linked” the fire before and KILLING THEM IN COLD BLOOD, THAT’LL LEARN ‘EM. I’m not sure why you have to kill them but the story in these games is always kept in the background and is largely there to string together boss fights in loosely connected areas. For what it’s worth the lore is actually quite good when it isn’t being bogged down under fantasy stuff, and the game’s post-Bloodborne linearity works better than the first game’s scattershot areas with a handful of different themes, designs and times of day (a garden in the dead of night being seconds away from a trap-filled castle in broad daylight and a poison bog underground). The levels are largely well designed, enemies fit their designated areas well, and it all flows well. Like I said though the game is a lot more linear than previous instalments; there are a few times where the path branches, but for the most part you’re moving in a straight line from encounter to encounter. The story isn’t the game’s strong point by any means, but there’s enough to make it interesting at least; certain bosses and areas have decent backstories, but it often stumbles when mixed with more common fantasy tropes. For every weird, unique item, monster or character Miyazaki came up with there’s a castle, king, mage and the like to bring it down. That’s just a personal preference though, and Miyazaki’s take on fantasy is a lot more engrossing than most.

The gameplay is where the real meat (or your dietary equivalent) lies. For those who aren’t familiar with these games it’s an RPG with the focus placed squarely on combat; largely melee fights that are praised for their realism because swinging your weapon takes a second or two and it bounces off walls and such. That doesn’t apply to enemies though really, they don’t play by the same rules as you. There are large areas to explore, groups of enemies to blunder into and get murdered by or carefully approach with patience beyond that of a normal human being, and bosses that provide a focal point both in terms of gameplay and design. The bosses are where the game shines- when they aren’t being incredibly cheap (which thankfully isn’t too often) they can provide tense, well-crafted battles that require skill and good timing to win. Whereas previous games placed great importance on shields for defence, this one makes dodging more of a viable option, which again, is akin to Bloodborne, your character feels more robust in general and overall the game feels a lot more fair and welcoming than previous instalments. Whereas the original game felt like a cruel, uncaring experience that almost dared you to keep playing it, this one feels more like it actually wants you to play and enjoy it, and understands that treating players like shit doesn’t lead to an enjoyable or fun experience. This is something Bloodborne did very well, which leads me to following statement: taking cues from Bloodborne was the best thing Dark Souls ever did. Obviously this is all just personal opinion and experience, but I gave up on the original Dark Souls (guess where I got to- you’ll probably be right), but no matter what Dark Souls 3 threw at me I never gave up on it; I always found a work-around, and with the exception of one boss it never felt properly unfair. Now that they’ve finally got that part right it means the player can get more out of the world Fromsoft has created- the game throws me a bone, I’m more inclined to soak up its atmosphere and lore. The original game repeatedly hit me over the head with a brick, I decided that I don’t give a shit about the story it was trying to tell.

Overall, Dark Souls 3 is a success. Bloodborne did wonders for Fromsoft’s approach to this series- they took parts of it that would translate well and used them to make what I consider to be the only good Dark Souls game, one that provides solid challenge in an interesting world with good character and enemy design, doing all of these things without going overboard. If you’re new to Dark Souls and want a place to start, just buy this one. If you enjoyed Bloodborne but didn’t get on with the other a Dark Souls games, this is one to try. It took them three attempts but they finally pulled it off.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18