Choices maketh the man-bat. The newest addition to the Dark Knight gaming canon, Batman: The Telltale Series, sees everyone’s favourite vigilante orphan face up to every decision he makes as it affects not only his own fate, but also the fate of Gotham. We’re not going to spoil the story here, but let’s get one easy choice out the way for you right now: If Joel Schumacher calls and offers you a new Bat-suit, just say no. Nobody wants to see the return of the Bat-nipples.
For for the uninitiated out there, let’s firstly cover why there’s been so much excitement over Telltale Games getting to make a Batman game. In the last few years, the studio has become the go-to team for episodic, choice-based gaming. They have mastered the art of making what is essentially a modern day version of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. With titles based on already popular franchises such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, as well as lesser known ones such as the Fables comic books with the excellent The Wolf Among Us, Telltale are in a league of their own at the moment.
After the success of The Wolf Among Us, DC Comics have wisely wanted Telltale to perform their magic with their most popular franchise (sorry, Supes) and so Batman: The Telltale Series is born with this, the first of five episodes, Realm of Shadows. In many ways the combination of a comic book hero and choice-based gaming is pretty much a no-brainer. Every single one of our costumed friends has to make epic choices in their lives, that could create entirely alternative paths for them (and on many occasions, entirely alternative universes). Just imagine a Spiderman Telltale Series where you made the decision that yes, it IS actually your job to stop criminals and you stop that burglar from running off. God damn it, Uncle Ben could still be alive today. With great power… well, you know the rest.
Telltale have clearly realised the fun that can be had in playing around with the well-known mythology of characters such as Batman. Realm of Shadows has the tricky job of re-introducing the Bat-verse to you and it does it pretty effectively. There are some neat twists and subversions of the already familiar stories, although we’re not yet convinced by the anarchist Dick van Dyke reinvention of the Penguin. Of particular note in this episode though, is a character that epitomises the consequences of making bad decisions, Harvey Dent. Is it possible that the choices you make as Bruce Wayne, will affect if he becomes the Two-Face or not? Could the same be said for other potential villainous characters? Could you even end up fighting on the same side as them at some point? It’s questions like this will no doubt shape this series and will keep all us Bat-nerds suitably interested.
Whilst the story offers some twists, the gameplay does not. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as you know what you’re getting from a Telltale release, timed dialogue choices and Quick Time Events (QTE) that help propel the action forwards. QTE is a standard staple of their games and whilst it might not to everyone’s tastes, it’s worked quite effectively in previous games. But there’s a slight problem. You see, unlike previous Telltale franchises, we’ve recently come off the back of an incredibly successful Batman series of video games from Rocksteady Games and it does cast a shadow (bat-shaped, of course) over Realm of Shadows. There’s nothing massively wrong with the QTE action on offer here, it’s just that when you’ve been able to have so much fun playing as a fighting Batman in the Arkham series of games, QTE just feels a bit of a step-down.
Another negative point is the detective elements in Realm of Shadows. Detective work is obviously a required feature of any Batman game and although it’s neatly done in Realm of Shadows, with a feature of linking clues at a crime scene to create a coherent story of what happened, it just isn’t challenging enough. To legitimately be called the “World’s Greatest Detective” you should have more to do than just linking a bullet to a body. It’s true that even the Arkham series didn’t manage to encapsulate this part of Batman either, but then those were always more action orientated games anyway. Telltale Batman should really do more to nail the cerebral elements of the character and Realm of Shadows hasn’t quite done enough here to satisfy.
Despite a few problems though, there is more than enough promise and potential in Realm of Shadows to make it a worthy enough purchase (especially considering the low price). One of the best things about any Telltale series of games, is that the first episode can almost be considered a beta release. With their previous games, the studio takes the feedback from players and uses it to then tweak subsequent episodes. The hope is that the same will happen with Batman: The Telltale Series and these flaws are ironed out to create a much better experience. Then we can have a Telltale Batman game that we deserve and not just the one that we need right now.