Login

Batman: The Telltale Series — Episode 1: Realm Of Shadows Review

Image for Batman: The Telltale Series — Episode 1: Realm Of Shadows
★★★★

After turning down an offer from crime boss Carmine Falcone, Bruce Wayne finds his manor ransacked and his family history under investigation by the Gotham police. Meanwhile, a violent altercation at a warehouse points to a larger conspiracy that only the World’s Greatest Detective can unravel.

With a foiled heist, plenty of beaten-up thugs, and a showdown between Batman and Catwoman, the opening of Telltale Games' latest series provides an appropriately spectacular introduction to this iteration of Gotham’s Dark Knight and one that wouldn't look at all out of place stretched across the big screen. But even with a liberal flinging of batarangs and some sharp-edged banter between Bat and Cat, the action-packed prologue is overshadowed by a low-key scene with Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle conversing at an outdoor café.

Following the previous night's fisticuffs, the pair unexpectedly find themselves forced to tolerate one another’s' company over coffee. The exchange is playful, as they suss out who the other actually is and begin lobbing barbs back and forth. Things go from spirited to serious quickly, however, when the business of the previous evening is broached and a potentially dangerous deal is struck.

It’s in the interplay between characters, rather than the big set-pieces, that Telltale has always shone.

It’s here, in the interplay between characters, rather than the big set-pieces, that Telltale has always shone. Whether it’s Loader Bot’s zingers in Tales From The Borderlands or quiet moments between Lee and Clementine in The Walking Dead, the developer has consistently shown their writing to be a cut above and Batman is no different. And, like its predecessors, the war of words is made all the more engaging as players can shape its direction and outcome, often with far-reaching consequences. Like Telltale's previous games, Batman's best moments unfold when the user is pressed to make morally-ambiguous decisions within a time limit. Their choices, often remembered—for better or worse—by the character they're directed at, can impact the narrative several episodes on.

The exchanges aren't limited to Wayne and Kyle, as Harvey Dent, Carmine Falcone, Vicki Vale, and even Alfred Pennyworth find themselves engaged in plot-steering conversations with Batman's more presentable alter-ego. Seeds for an especially promising subplot are planted in a Gotham park, where Wayne and Oswald Cobblepot politely catch up before parting ways when words grow tense. Having possibly offended the latter with our dialogue decisions, we left this particular scene wondering if our arrogance would eventually lead to a showdown with an emboldened Penguin.

Being inside Bruce's brain – rather than behind Batman's fists – offers a welcome fresh perspective.

Not all conversations carry such weight, of course, but being inside Bruce's brain – rather than behind Batman's fists – offers a welcome fresh perspective. Gotham's future doesn't hang in the balance based on your decision to tell Ms. Vale whether the red smudge on Bruce's collar is blood, lipstick, or wine, for example, but participating in the innocent flirtation is far more enjoyable than tossing a batarang by following an on-screen prompt.

In fact, while Batman works brilliantly when you're navigating Gotham's politics and Wayne's personal relationships without wearing a mask, tackling combat and detective work from under the cowl is rarely as thrilling. Not straying far from Telltale's signature gameplay foundation, interactions are limited to light exploration and mimicking moves that appear on screen. When not socialising as Bruce, you'll piece together clues and pound on baddies as the Bat. Serviceable and visually impressive, these moments support the story well, but wouldn’t be nearly compelling enough to carry the game on their own.

Of course, if you're craving twitchy action in a Telltale game, you're in the wrong Bat cave. For cracking heads – and cases – as the Caped Crusader, you're better off sticking with Rocksteady Studios' trio of Arkham titles. However, If you'd rather try donning Bruce Wayne's natty dinner suits than get your hands dirty as Gotham’s avenger then Telltale's five-episode series opens with a rare, often engrossing glimpse at what the billionaire gets up to when he's not responding to the bat-signal in the wee hours.

A rare opportunity to hang up the utility belt for a while and navigate an absorbing Gotham adventure with Bruce's Wayne's brain rather than Batman’s fists.