Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 1: Realm of Shadows Review (Spoiler-Free)

Originally published on Trevor Trove on August 11, 2016

TL; DR(eview) – Solid performances from the cast mark the highlight of this introductory episode, overshadowing the all-too-commonplace performance issues from the game and a story that sets the ball rolling but underwhelms as a standalone tale.

Telltale’s latest foray into their tried and true brand of storytelling is one of the most highly anticipated yet, taking on one of the most iconic characters in any medium: Batman. It’s always tough reviewing episodic content until all of the pieces are in place but for this series, I intend on reviewing each episode on its own: along with a full review once the series is complete. My Life is Strange reviews were handled the same way (even if I was playing them together instead of months apart) and that worked pretty well.

One of the exciting possibilities of a very narrative-driven Batman game is the idea that it can focus more on Bruce Wayne the Detective over Batman the Enforcer. Telltale isn’t exactly known for combat so it would follow that they would focus on their forte. But, sure enough, the game kicks off with a quick time event-riddled combat sequence between Batman and some faceless henchmen before going toe to toe with a new-in-town vigilante cat burglar (Catwoman).

So the first impression of this game features a lot of button prompts that appear a half-second before the canned animation. Fortunately, it didn’t seem to matter terribly is I missed the prompts or pressed the wrong buttons because the action continued anyway. And unfortunately, the graphical performance issues that offer plague Telltale’s engine in sequences like this have not been entirely eliminated. Better, but still noticeably present.

To it’s credit, the fight sequence is cleverly interwoven with short scenes of Bruce dealing with the immediate aftermath back at Wayne Manor and Alfred patches him up for the party he’s hosting for Mayoral candidate Harvey Dent. It is here that you really get to begin molding your version of Bruce Wayne as you mingle with invited and surprise guests, alike. Just as a news helicopter caught your rooftop fight with Catwoman, the people of Gotham are ever aware of how Bruce’s carries himself.

Without going into story spoilers, much of the remainder of the episode seems to be setting up a lot of story beats that will pay off down the line. It’s seems to be fairly early in Batman’s career as Catwoman is the only fully realized encounter from among Batman’s extensive rogue’s gallery. Other notable villains might make an appearance but their larger than life personas have not yet been thrust upon Gotham’s stage.

Outside of the opening fight, there are a couple notable sequences. One of these involves Batman playing the role of detective as he investigates the aftermath of a warehouse gunfight. You guide him around the scene and piece together what happened from the clues provided. And the other involves a late-in-the-episode approach for crashing a party. Whereas in the Arkham series, a sequence like this might have been handled with the game’s stealth mechanics; here Telltale’s Bruce reveals himself a master tactician; analyzing a step-by-step plan of attack prior to making his first move. Then, based on your selections up front, the scene plays out. This felt like a much better approach to the combat than the opening sequence and I hope Telltale continues to explore it.

The cast performances stood out as one of the best ensembles to date so far. Troy Baker plays Bruce with a health amount of bravado. And he has the lion’s share of the work of course because depending on your choices, he could be a lot of different interpretations all rolled into one. Travis Willingham plays a larger, somewhat more imposing version of Harvey Dent compared to other modern interpretations but their real life friendship comes across in the business partnership between Bruce and Harvey (much as it did when they play brothers in inFamous: Second Son). Laura Bailey is sinking her teeth into the role of Selina Kyle/Catwoman. As mentioned, her character is new to the Gotham scene but Bailey’s portrayal suggests anything but someone who is new to this lifestyle. Erin Yvette also shines as Vicki Vale in her scenes with Bruce, straddling a fine line that suggests she could be a sympathetic ear and ally for him or his worst journalistic nightmare.

Ultimately, Telltale’s first outing in Gotham feels a little too safe. There aren’t any incredibly memorable sequences that will stick with me between now and the next episode so I’ll certainly benefit from the recap when it comes but it was entertaining enough in the set up to keep me interested in seeing how the story plays out.

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