By Adnan Riaz
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac and Android and iOS
Release: August 2, 2016
Synonymous with the point-and-click episodic formula, developer Telltale Games has built a powerhouse reputation for its ability to adapt established fan-favourite franchises, such as The Walking Dead and Borderlands, into choice-driven narratives. It only seems fitting that Telltale’s latest outing, Batman: The Telltale Series, would have the developer stepping into familiar territory, tackling a franchise known for its countless, if often revered or somewhat forgettable, adaptations.
Told across five individual episodes, each one to be released at different points in 2016/2017, Batman: The Telltale Series has a stellar opening with Episode 1: Realm of Shadows. Telltale Games is simply in its element with the Batman lore, envisioning a narrative strengthened by its choice of villains, heroes and supporting characters from the universe. Apart from a few segments that disrupt the pacing of the story, Telltale has conceived a well-thought-out opening for Episode 1: Realm of Shadows and executes it with near precision. It’s a promising, memorable Batman story in the making.
Drawing inspiration from Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s Batman comic book series, Telltale Games’ take on Gotham City has the player stepping into the shoes of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and the vigilante Batman, both voiced by the talented Troy Baker. Similar to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Bruce is endorsing the mayoral campaign of DA Harvey Dent and fighting the war on crime through the power of his wealth and the legacy of his family name. On the flip side of things, Bruce steps up as Batman to strike fear into the heart of his enemies. There’s a perfect balance put into place: not too much Batman and not too much Bruce. It’s almost a fifty-fifty divide in the episode, and that is one of the best aspects of it. Playing as Bruce is more interesting than Batman. Bold statement to make, I know, but Bruce’s story arc features moments where the player watches the character have the weight of the world on his shoulders whilst simultaneously denying any wrongdoings his beloved parents allegedly had with Gotham’s criminal underworld. Simply put, Telltale makes it cool to be Bruce over Batman – and that’s perfectly fine!
Episode 1: Realm of Shadows’ story, lasting anywhere from two to three hours, benefits from Telltale Games’ writers delivering a script that flourishes due to the ensemble voice actors assembled for the title. Baker, who has shown his worth time and time again, instantly connects with co-star Laura Bailey (the voice of Catwoman and Selina Kyle). Whether it’s a scene between Batman and Catwoman or Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, Baker and Bailey’s chemistry is explosive – like it was in Tales from the Borderlands, if not better – and can easily lift the whole series to new heights through their on-screen presence alone.
While criticism has come Telltale Games’ way in the past for choices not amounting to anything significant in the overall story, the developer has improved its on-the-spot decisions through its camerawork. There’s one segment, for example, that has crime boss Carmine Falcone arriving at Bruce’s fundraiser for Dent and the player being presented with the choice of shaking his hand. Telltale cuts to show a series of faces, including reporter Vicki Vale, reacting to Falcone putting his hand out, leaving the player to make a rash decision or face the repercussions later on. It’s better to see that if Telltale wants to shatter the wall of illusion behind choices, this is one effective way of doing it. If not that, it certainly helped with upping the ante.
Batman is Telltale Games’ first title to introduce Crowd Play, a feature that brings a multiplayer experience to the episodic series. Crowd Play enables a player’s friends to be part of the experience, casting their votes for a choice and having a say in what they think is the ‘right’ path to take. It’s easily one of the best additions seen to a Telltale title in a long time, opening up a realm of opportunities when playing with others in the same room. Gameplay is also shaken up a little bit in Episode 1: Realm of Shadows, with the construction of crime scenes during the Batman segments. It’s a more simplistic version of the Detective Vision used in developer Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham series, though it adds more of an emphasis on interacting with objects in the environment. All of the new features in Batman are a welcomed addition to Telltale’s tried-and-tested formula, though the developer’s engine, Telltale Tool, is still an ever-present limitation for its titles. Episode 1: Realm of Shadows stutters on a number of occasions, failing to keep the more action-oriented scenes from running fluidly.
Reaching the end of Episode 1: Realm of Shadows will leave the player with a very satisfying conclusion, topping it off with an enticing preview for the second episode, Children of Arkham. Telltale Games has truly brought its own take on Batman, putting itself in a position, depending on how the series ends, to have a story that could rival some of the best adaptations of the Caped Crusader. Should Telltale capitalise on its momentum from Episode 1: Realm of Shadows, there is limitless potential for bringing the best out of the characters in the universe and an episodic series that could become an instant classic. There’s a realm of opportunity to expand the story in so many different ways from this point onwards, and while it’s early days (very early), the prospects of a Season Two are already mouthwatering to think about.
Adnan Riaz is a University of York alumni and soon-to-be M.A. Journalism student at Manchester Metropolitan University. When he’s not gaming or writing, Adnan’s normally found on Twitter complaining about writer’s block, sharing his thoughts on Manchester United and showing his support for the King in the North. Follow him: @AdnanRiaz9