Review – Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 1, Realm of Shadows

New engine, new series, new way to experience Batman... Was it worth it? in 1 word: yes!

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For many years now, Telltale Games is a studio that has established itself as a maker of episodic games, from numerous existing IP’s like Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, CSI, Sam & Max, and more recently, those based on The Walking Dead, Borderlands, Minecraft and Game of Thrones. The excitement was high when at the Game Awards 2015, an announcement was made that Batman will also have its own 5 episodes series. After a couple of months an announcement was also made that the game engine used for the last couple of years would also be getting an upgrade. Do the improvements show and make justice to the series? Continue reading to find out…………

branches - 2For those that haven’t played a Telltale game before, they are adventure games, inspired by the classic “point-and-click” structure. They are heavily story-driven, and present branches in the story where decisions must be made that will influence how everything will unfold. Every time such a situation happenes, there will even be a little pop-up at the corner in the form of “Character X will remember this”, emphasizing even more the aspect of tailoring the story to your tastes.

batman - harvey - 2In the case of this series, we play as the duality Batman / Bruce Wayne.  The story is situated in Gotham City, and presents an election campaign where Harvey Dent is running to be the new Mayor, replacing the corrupted one in place, Mayor Hill. For this, he needs the help of the very popular, handsome and loved by all Bruce Wayne. Clashes start fast when the criminal gangs in place, especially the one lead by Carmine Falcone, arrive during a reception given at Wayne Manor and decisions have to made on how to deal with the situation.

The very interesting aspect of this game is that it deals with Bruce for the plot advancement and the politics side, and what you decide have a repercussion on how things happen during the night, which is where Batman comes into play. For now, Bruce’s parts are mainly story conversations with decisions and branching paths. When Batman comes into play, 2 types of gameplay are presented: action and investigation.

The action sequences are presented a bit like the ones in Tales from the Borderlands, there are quick-time events and you must press on the proper buttons to continue moving forward. The new engine allows for a much better presentation of what to press and instead of being in a static location (for example, on PlayStation, pressing the triangle button was presented at the top of the screen), it is now presented in the action scene, sometimes in the environment itself, sometimes right next to the character, which brings a more cinematic feel to what is presented on the screen. Also a new addition is there can be moments where 2 buttons must be pressed at the same time instead of always only one giving you more options. Again though, if the cue gets missed, you are just following what happens and the story unfolds differently. There seem to be no wrong way to do things, which makes the game very replayable.

investigations - 2Other sequences are based on detective works. As Batman, there are moments where you are in an environment where a crime occurs and you need to investigate what happens, how it happened and the reconstitution of events. On the surface, it is not unlike what Heavy Rain does. The addition in this game though is that you have to find evidences of the events and after finding them, you need to link the clues together in pairs to determine what caused what and then reconstitute the scene. Part C.S.I. – part Heavy Rain, this new type of gameplay surprised me a lot and I found it really enjoyable, making you feel even more immersed in the story that unfolds in front of your eyes.

manor - 2The games engine allows for environments that really look like they could be directly out of a comic book (like The Wolf Among Us), and this was the intention for this series. Each of the characters are very well rendered with a visual style similar to what we’ve seen from the developers in previous games, but with animations more fluid, character models more rounded and alive. Combining this with a stellar voice acting crew is quite a feast for the ears and eyes, especially from Troy Baker (his IMDB page is an encyclopedia) playing Batman/Bruce Wayne and Laura Bailey (Uncharted 4, Halo 5: Guardians), playing Selina Kyle/Catwoman.

In terms of story content, I’m not going to go in any specific details, because the joys of a game like this one is to know the least amount possible and experience it for yourself. What I can say though is that there are many subplots parallel to Harvey Dent’s electoral campaign and everything seems very tightly connected. It looks like those who know the Batman mythology will be pleased because there are a lot of characters in the story and allusions to others that will make fans smile. Of course, it is only the 1st episode out of 5, so we still don’t have the full scope of it, however it is a solid base to be working on. The story looks like it can be experienced by newcomers to the characters (so yes, there are moments where the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents are shown… again…), but people with knowledge about the IP won’t be bored.

I have almost nothing bad to say about this game, because it surpassed my expectations by a mile. Other than some moments where the animations were stiff (or missing, like a moment where if you happen to watch the TV news you hear the announcer talking but his mouth is shut) and some slight camera manipulations stiffness I got from the investigation sequence, I was very pleased with the first episode.  At $25 US or 30$ CAN for the season pass, it is another great addition to the Telltale Games library and I can’t wait to see what the second episode will bring.

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