“Telltale’s Batman Episode 1 opens the series with a modest storyline…”
A heist is in progress in Gotham City. Several armed hostiles are on-site. The police are en-route. Someone else is already here. The Batman. Telltale Games’ newest story driven series has now been unleashed. Episode 1, “Realm of Shadows”, starts with an epic action sequence that sees the Caped Crusader showing off his unique set of talents from the offset.
Fast reactions and pinpoint timing are your responsibility as the interactive scene plays out. You start off by stealthily despatching one or two of your foes before their comrades attempt to take you head on. Counter attacking is central to Batman’s fighting style, and this comes across heavily in this opening sequence. Later in the fight, an easily recognisable and equally talented adversary appears for the first time, providing you with your first real test before the action comes to a dramatic close. If the aim of this scene is to prove that Telltale can handle the action that a Batman game would require and get the blood pumping, it does so with flying colours.
Telltale naturally goes on to do things in their more traditional style for what remains of Episode 1. There are a number of distinct play styles which are presented over the scenes that follow, but each is easily applicable to the character at the game’s core. The first and arguably most engaging of these is playing as Bruce Wayne. The character is well known and easily recognisable, but often ignored as an individual being with a deep history of emotional distress. Rather than giving this side of the main character a back seat in their game, Telltale have chosen to instead place it very much at the forefront. What’s more, they have done so perfectly.
Realm of Shadows reminds you that behind the confident façade that Mr Wayne is forced to keep up in the public eye, he is also a very distressed and socially disconnected character. You are tasked with keeping up appearances in front of the wealthy folk of Gotham City as you promote your friend Harvey Dent’s campaign to become Mayor. Many twists and turns can make or break your act however; including mentions of Bruce’s sadly lost parents and an appearance by known crime boss Don Falcone. As with Telltale’s other games, the way you approach these situations is critical to the way the game continues, having a genuine impact on the events that follow.
Whilst they may not be quite as enticing as the Bruce Wayne segments of the game, some of the other new play styles introduced are equally well thought out by the developers. The player’s detective skills are put to the test, as one might expect when playing a game as “the world’s greatest detective”. Whereas in previous Telltale adventures this has entailed simply looking at objects and thusly gaining the knowledge therein, Batman requires you to manually work out the links between given clues on a crime scene before progressing the story. This is not too daunting a task, and adds an interesting element to the game. If you cannot figure out these links or you miss a clue at first then it can become frustrating, but generally speaking if you have no problems the puzzle fits well into the pace and tone of the game.
Having nailed down your performances as Bruce Wayne the billionaire and Batman the martial artists and detective, you have one more role to play as the episode comes to a close; the master tactician. Alfred becomes more closely involved in events as a side character as you plan out your final attack on the episode’s antagonist, judging every move you will make before you proceed to execute it. This section of the episode takes on board the traditional Telltale style of choices, allowing you to make your way through the obstacles which mark the path between you and your goal in a variety of cool-looking, often brutal ways. Telltale emulates their conversational choice system into an action-filled scene with perfect finesse, and when the motions play out it looks fabulous.
Each individual element of what makes up the character of the Batman is referenced in Realm of Shadows, and Telltale’s unique approach to gameplay elements compliments these aspects to make a well-structured set of play styles throughout. The story in this episode doesn’t quite keep up its pace from beginning to end though, with the aim of this early part of the story being more a case of introducing you to the way you will experience the things that are yet to come. That being said, the story elements which are presented do hold up well and make for an interesting taste of the tone and the characters that we can expect to follow on our adventures. In its own right, it is not the most engaging, but in the grand scheme of things it makes for a healthy and worthy introduction.
To end on a technical note, it is worth mentioning the fact that game’s inception, particularly on PC, has not be without some issues. Personally I found graphical errors which meant that no character models would appear in the game, and numerous placeholders were present instead. This was easily solved with a bit of playing around, but other issues such as poor frame rates and significant break ups in the graphics between scenes made the game pretty hard to play. Whilst Telltale have been working on such issues, some are still present in the game, so it is worthwhile knowing before you pay for the game that at present it is not in its most polished form.
Telltale’s Batman Episode 1 opens the series with a modest storyline and a wide display of different gameplay examples to introduce you to the style going forwards. It is not the strongest standalone episode from the developers, but it does capture your interest enough to engage you in time for the next episodes to follow. Technical issues to cause the game to be somewhat frustrating as you play, but if you can see through these to the interactive, story-driven experience itself there is plenty to be appreciated in this opening episode. Despite that, there is also some room for improvement in the game as the series goes on.