Plenty of video games have given us the chance to don the Dark Knight’s cowl before, most recently the excellent Arkham series. But with Batman: The Telltale series, we finally get to spend some time with the man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne.
Telltale’s story brings us in early in Bruce’s career as the Dark Knight; it is implied that he is the first costumed vigilante or villain that Gotham has seen. Thankfully, little time is spent on backstory, the game launches right into the action as Batman foils a heist and the game introduces a very familiar character. Interspersed with the fight, the game flashes to scenes of Alfred chiding a battle-bruised Wayne on the rashness of his actions as he dresses for a gala downstairs.
Moving gingerly thanks to his injuries, Bruce enters the grand foyer of his mansion, where richly dressed party goers are listening to a speech by mayoral candidate and Bruce’s friend, Harvey Dent.
From this point on, Telltale creates an experience that stands out from every other previous Batman game. As Wayne, the player must mingle with party guests, choosing whether to answer as a rude playboy, an engaged and invested Gotham citizen, or a strong friend of Harvey Dent. The game gives you several ways to play as Wayne, and in the highly charged political and scandalous situations to follow, there are often no easy choices.
As with all Telltale games, your actions and words will have consequences, and even very early in the game, one encounter in particular seems to have great weight. Characters will remember how you treated and talked to them, and the choices in future episodes may be limited by the player choices in the first episode.
Although narrative and conversation are emphasized, there are action sequences in this episode as well. This is a Batman game, after all. Combat is simple timed button presses or directional sweeps, but the actions mimic the direction of punches, kicks, or dives happening on the screen, so the player does feel like part of the action.
The Telltale Batman experience is very cinematic. The player is a critical part of the action, especially where choices shift the conversation. Playing through this episode feels like watching a good episode of television. The art direction abandons photo realism, but instead goes for a soft cel-shaded comic book look. Characters are animated well, the subtle nuances of facial expressions come through very well as they react to your choices. Voice acting is suberb, and along with the facial animation and writing shows each character’s motivations and reactions with a minimum of exposition.
Realm of Shadows is an exciting first episode for this series. It is the first game that allows the player to direct Bruce Wayne as an upright citizen living in a corrupt Gotham city. Not every conflict can be solved with a batarang, and Telltale finally lets us see Bruce Wayne’s struggle with not only his own demons but the external forces that want to tear him and the city he loves down.
Batman- The Telltale Series is currently available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. A review copy was provided on Steam.
You can watch an entire playthrough of episode 1 below, and hear more of my thoughts on this and other games on the Plug and Play podcast.