Batman - The Telltale Series: Episode 1 Realm of Shadows review impressions
I've never been big into superhero movies, as they mostly focus on action and special effects, forgetting that the characters in tight suits should have, you know, emotions. The character building segments are always better than the fights in between, just like professional wrestling.
If you're a Bruce Wayne fan, you're in luck, as it seems like the developers at Telltale know this. All the best parts of this first episode happen outside of the suit.
Starting out, Batman slowly enters the scene as fitting music plays (though it is no Danny Elfman composition) and then there is a series of what appear to be quick time events, which have been welcome additions to video games exactly zero times.
Calling them QTEs almost seems incorrect here though as you'd be hard pressed to fail any of them. I managed to complete the entire episode without missing a single one. I couldn't help but feel all the action sequences would be better enjoyed without interaction instead of having large buttons appear on the screen telling me what to press, distracting me from everything else going on on screen.
The very first scene ends with Batman getting a small injury on his face, which Bruce Wayne is then shown treating in his mansion as he preps for a fundraiser for his friend and current district attorney, Harvey Dent, who is running for mayor.
Interacting with various characters at the fundraiser and encouraging them to vote for Dent was unlike anything else I'd experienced in any superhero game, as I got to actually feel like part of a complex world and not just be some killing machine. I schmoozed with people that knew my parents, I sassed a reporter for being at a non-press event, and I refused to bend to an uninvited guest.
Wayne's personality and emotions pour out in every interaction; you can feel his hurt about the loss of his parents, his love of Gotham City, his hatred of crime and desire to treat criminals like people. Rarely has a game ever said 'Criminals are human too' instead treating them like obstacles and nothing else, which I appreciate. People make mistakes, it doesn't mean we should just give up on them, and Bruce Wayne understands that. Batman’s methodology notwithstanding.
If you’ve played a Telltale game, then you’ll be familiar with the cel-shaded comic book style found here, which meshes nicely with the IP at hand. However, there were a few rough edges, as at times the character’s animations are really stiff and dialogue doesn’t always sync up perfectly with mouth movements. I had some stuttering when switching between scenes, at least on the PC version. These issues were minor but frequent enough to be noticed.
“Detective mode” is new to the formula, though I'd call it glorified connect-the-dots or even go a step further and just call it filler, as that is seemingly the only reason it exists. A couple of times during my hour and 45-minute playthrough I found myself walking around a crime scene as The Dark Knight looking for evidence and linking all the pieces together, constructing a holographic replay of the events that had transpired there.
The second time I was forced to 'be a detective,' I flew a drone around and again 'connected the dots' only, this time, it was a plan of attack for another easy-to-win quick time event. I couldn't help but feel both of these scenes only existed to try to hit the 2-hour mark, an attempt to keep players from abusing Steam's refund policy.
Thankfully, those scenes are brief enough. I was soon back to billionaire playboy goodness with Bruce Wayne. In my favorite scene, Bruce meets up with Harvey and a character shows up that realizes you're Batman and threatens to reveal your secret. While I knew that, narratively, it wouldn't make sense to have that revealed in the first episode of the series, I still could feel Bruce's tension in my own chest.
I know I’m being vague about the story, but it’s worth going in without any spoilers. Fandom or not, I could relate to the characters here, and I was fully invested in the story by the time the credits rolled.
This first episode left me thirsty for more. It had the requisite explosive ending and planted all the right narrative seeds for the series. It’s another TellTale interpretation of a beloved series, played with the same wit and attention to detail. They just need to lay off the filler.