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Batman: The Telltale Series: Episode 1 - Realm of Shadows

Score: 85%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

Comic books seem like decent materials for Telltale adaptations; after all, the medium is notorious for its laissez-faire approach to canon. So much that in this Golden Age of superhero movies, almost nobody complains about unfaithfulness. This phenomenon gives Telltale a special kind of freedom, which is aptly and ably exercised in Batman: The Telltale Series: Episode 1 - Realm of Shadows. Itís a strong start to yet another mature, thought-provoking take on the Dark Knight.

Artistically, Batman doesnít feature much in the way of surprises for the Telltale faithful. Itís attractive enough, and seems to seek a middle ground between the realism of Rocksteadyís Arkham series and Batman: The Animated Series. Its interface is as clean as Telltaleís best, and thereís even a bit of color customization for your Bat-Tech if youíre into that. Technically, things donít fare so well. Iíve never understood why Telltale releases have performance issues, and given the nature of these experiences, I donít think they should be forgiven. Inexplicable visual hiccups run rampant throughout the recent history of the companyís backlog. Batman is no different. What should be presented as a series of quick cuts to highlight the speed and brutality of the action is frequently broken up by inexplicable pauses that last several seconds at a time. Given the limited (at best) interactivity, this remains an unacceptable problem.

Batmanís voice cast is mostly on-point, if not a bit predictable. Granted, Telltale is working on well-tread ground, so there probably isnít much room for surprises on this end. Troy Bakerís performance as Bruce Wayne / Batman is a bit of a question mark at this point; while his altruistic vulnerability as the former juxtaposes nicely with the technology-assisted menace of the latter, we wonít be able to see him really flex his chops until the story gives him a reason to. The supporting cast is solid. Laura Baileyís Selina Kyle has the right amount of wild seductiveness, and Richard McGonagleís Carmine Falcone is perhaps my favorite Carmine Falcone. Who would have thought that taking his Uncharted role and adding just the slightest amount of slime would do so much? On the effects side, things are fine, except when those annoying technical problems rear their ugly heads. Far too many impact moments are accompanied by total silence, and thatís just not okay.


Gameplay:

Batman: The Telltale Series: Episode 1 - Realm of Shadows doesnít really muck about with origin stories, though it is very much structured and presented as a new beginning. While heís got all the fancy gear, Batman is still kind of a new invention. While the episode is bookended with brutal action sequences, the majority of Realm of Shadows focuses on Bruce Wayne. With Gotham City wracked by violent crime, and all kinds of moral rot, its wealthiest son does all he can to restore it to its former glory. In this episode, that primarily involves assisting his good friend Harvey Dent in his noble crusade to oust the corrupt Mayor Hamilton Hill and install himself as an agent of positive change. But it isnít long before the duo learns that the damage caused by Hill is, shall we say, long-term. An unwelcome appearance by Gotham mob boss Carmine Falcone casts a heavy shadow on not only Dentís prospects, but the reputation of the Wayne family. And childhood friend Oswald Cobblepot (in a shockingly lanky manifestation of the classic character) also has something in the works, but still finds the time to warn his old friend to stay out of itÖ

Of course, not all of Gothamís problems can be solved by playing politics. Once the cowl comes down, Batman finds himself coming face to face with the seeds of a mysterious but undoubtedly nefarious plot, the details of which are left unresolved. A brutal City Hall invasion by an unscrupulous mercenary force leads to a chance encounter with a certain cat burglar. In the end, Batman ends up in the possession of some very sensitive and dangerous information. Most of the moments involving the Caped Crusader involve his trademark blend of intimidation and brutality, but one mid-episode sequence has him working towards the moniker of "Worldís Greatest Detective." More details on that later.


Difficulty:

While some Telltale games feature fail states, I canít tell if this one does. While I failed a few quick time events, none of them led to a Game Over screen. These games are meant to be finished instead of conquered; there is no skill involved. You progress the story through dialogue and quick time events, and thatís it. You wonít get lost or find yourself unclear on what you need to be doing, as the game always puts you on a guided path that inevitably leads you to the end.

That being said, if you want to nail all of the quick time events, you might have a bit of trouble with some moments. During action sequences, they come quickly and in short order. While none of them are particularly difficult to execute, the time frame isnít always forgiving. But again, there doesnít seem to be any tangible reason to impose any such goals on yourself.


Game Mechanics:

Iíve played almost every Telltale series from The Walking Dead on, and in terms of gameplay (and I use that term incredibly loosely), there isnít a whit of difference between any of them. Batman: The Telltale Series is no different. Most of the experience is a passive one; you simply sit back, relax, and watch the drama unfold, pausing time and again to respond with one of four dialogue/action choices. Every now and then, youíll get a chance to walk around in a limited area, interacting with people and objects therein.

As is the case with most other Telltale games, Batman is not a very personal experience; after all, while Telltale prides itself on player choice, it has to remain true to its characters, particularly if theyíre as well-established as Bruce Wayne / Batman. And while there are a handful of key junction points peppered throughout the episode, youíll still end up exactly where everyone else will.

By far the most unique aspect of Batman is its investigation gameplay. While again, thereís no skill involved, it represents a welcome change of pace from all the punching and talking. At one point in Realm of Shadows, Batman stumbles into a grisly crime scene, the details of which make Arkham Knightís M rating seem undeserved. Evidence is everywhere, and itís up to Batman to literally connect the dots. It isnít as deep as the detective work in the Arkham games, much less something as involved as L.A. Noire, but itís necessary in this series, and itís handled well enough.

If youíre not a fan of Telltale, you probably wonít ever be a fan of Telltale. Theirs is a decidedly niche market, one that seems expertly crafted to give gamers a bit of a break from all the effort while still retaining a bit of interactivity. If youíre a Batman fan whoís always wanted to see your hero in a choose-your-own-adventure book, this is the game for you. All in all, Batman: The Telltale Series: Episode 1 - Realm of Shadows is a solid starting point, and I canít wait to see what happens next.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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