With Telltale’s grab bag approach to popular franchises it was only a matter of time until it got its hands on one of the world’s most popular superheroes. No, not Aquaman, I’m talking about the legendary Bats. Telltale’s Batman series kicked off this week with Realm of Shadows, a rare opportunity to not just be the Batman, but also to experience life as billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne.
Batman is set fairly early in Bruce’s career as the Dark Knight, as becomes readily apparent when he meets the Catwoman for the first time. He’s still a little green under the gills in terms of handling his notoriety and it shows. Yet to befriend Commissioner Gordon and still an unknown quantity to Gotham's villains, the stage is set for an intriguing dive into an under-explored era of Batman.
A number of familiar faces crop up in this 90-minute jaunt, including Gotham mob boss Falcone, nosey reporter Vicki Vale, soon-to-be-mayor Harvey Dent, Bruce’s butler Alfred, Oswald Cobblepot, and the aforementioned Selina Kyle (Catwoman). The brief running time means Realm of Shadows barely has time to establish itself before the credits roll though. In fact, I’d be hard pushed to describe the events on offer here as anything other than the breeziest of introductions. As with any Telltale game though, it’ll no doubt take a few episodes for it to really get going.
What is on offer here is intriguing enough, but there is the lingering feeling that Telltale is perhaps leaning too heavily towards targeting fans with zero knowledge of Batman. We don’t need to hear his origin story again. Or how his parents were brutally murdered. Multiple times throughout this episode's brief running time in fact. One moment in particular during a fundraising event is some of the worst crowbarring in of exposition I’ve ever witnessed. A little drinks soiree turns into a bizarre discussion of the dead Wayne family and how they were killed for a few dollars. It's not the sort of patter you expect over some canapes.
Despite some wonky scriptwriting though, there’s enough of thread here to get me wondering what happens next. It’s very refreshing to play a Batman game without the Joker at the very least, and on the basis of early proceedings there's more a political bent than we're perhaps used to from a Batman title.
For long-time Telltale fans however, the formula is identical. Batman might have a revamped engine but this is business as usual. Telltale’s puzzle-based lineage is largely left behind once again, dropped in favour of a choose-your-own-adventure style with very light exploration. As for that revamped engine, well, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference in truth. Batman doesn’t look bad, but it’s most definitely Telltale. Hilarious lip-synching and the occasional janky animation galore
Aside from the usual multiple-choiced based conversations, there’s a couple of token action scenes and Batman also gets a brief chance to become the detective he’s supposed to be. The former are quick time events. Just hit the corresponding buttons correctly and quick enough and you pass the action on-screen. There’s a new Bat meter to fill up as well, but I never really managed to ascertain what this did as it was always full by the end of an encounter. Like the majority of QTE usage, I can’t help but feel these moments would have been better served as cut-scenes rather than the divorced tapping of a button to on-screen prompts, but alas it’s the Telltale way.
As for the investigation, at one point Batman turns up to a crime scene and has to piece together clues. This is the nearest that Episode 1: Realm of Shadows ever gets to puzzle solving, and it’s certainly the strongest part while playing as Batman. It reminded me of Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments in lite form, examing clues in the environment and connecting them together in pairs.
That said, it’s playing as Bruce where this game really shines. It’s not often we get to play as the man behind the mask, and the choices available mean you can be the Bruce you want to be, whether that’s smooth one-liners, an unflinching thirst for justice, or a standoffish billionaire loner. There's room here for Bruce to really grow in this role over the coming months, but it's still very unclear just how the player's decisions are going to affect the plot in the long run. Throughout this episode I never really got the impression I was putting a major stamp on proceedings. There's one scene in particular where you can choose whether to break a soldier's arm. I opted not to, but Alfred still lambasted me for being overly rough. It felt as if my choice didn't alter the consequence in any perceivable way.
As for whether this Telltale game in particular is worth your time; considering the glut of Telltale games now, it’s really only worthwhile playing the ones based on IPs you’re most fond of. If you’re a fan of a the Caped Crusader then step right up. If you're not, there's not much here to raise Batman above some of Telltale's other, stronger, efforts.