Batman: Episode One – Realm of Shadows
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Platforms: Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, iOS and Android
For years DC has given us the story of The Batman, a hero pushing himself to his physical and mental limit to protect the innocent from the injustice and corruption that created him. The story of The Batman is an old one that has been told over and over again, revamping and renewing itself in different ways to keep readers interested. However, where DC has mostly chosen to tell the tale of the Batman himself, Telltale Games wants to focus the story on Bruce Wayne as he uncovers a hidden secret behind the Wayne name.
Over the two hour episode, Telltale weaves a new story that has the player as Batman question the legacy of his family name. You spend the bulk of time with Bruce Wayne, interacting with familiar characters (some of which have new looks) and plotting out the story. Bruce juggles politics, personal relationships and tries to stop the destruction of the Wayne legacy.
Telltale is incredibly comfortable in its formula by now. You’ll talk to characters, make dialogue choices within the time limit, walk around in specific areas and inspect things to learn about more about the world of Batman and info that could potentially help you when making decisions. As Batman is a detective, you’ll have to help Batman reconstruct crime scenes to uncover secrets that will help him move forward in the story. Telltale manages to separate this version of investigation from its previous police story style title “A Wolf Among Us” by incorporating a bit of the Detective Mode from “Batman Origins”. Fans of that series of Batman titles will recognize it immediately and it was a nice touch.
One of the newest features to the Telltale formula and probably my favorite is your ability, while playing as Batman, to plan your infiltration and attack. I really enjoyed this mechanic, restarting it and making different choices just to see the outcome. I hope that there are more opportunities to play with it in the future episodes. It’s easily the best part of Episode One and after playing through it I was salivating for another sequence to play though.
Batman: Episode One continues the Telltale tradition of quality storytelling, however, it takes a few steps backward in terms of player choice. One of the biggest issues that I found is the lack of weight behind the various decisions and conversational choices. In previous Telltale games, the branching paths that occurred when you took an aggressive position or a more passive position aren’t apparent in Batman. When a decision was made in Tales From The Borderlands, Walking Dead or Game of Thrones it actually felt that as if you were affecting the outcome of the story. Batman, however, feels as if the only story you’re allowed to see is the one Telltale wants you to. After a few playthroughs I noticed that choosing different dialogue choices only seemed to change a facial expression or elicit a threat that leads to the same outcome. I’m assuming that those choices will have ramifications later on down the road but it detracted a bit from the experience to not get a glimpse of what could be.
Ultimately, Batman: Episode One – Realm of Shadows felt a bit sparse as an experience. I felt that after playing A Wolf Among Us, Borderlands and even Jurassic Park that those Episode One experiences were a lot more exciting and fleshed out. I actively wanted to continue and find out more, not just about my protagonist but the world that they were inhabiting. A lot of the humor and personality from previous Telltale titles is also absent. You spend most of your time with Bruce Wayne and he’s incredibly wooden and lacking in personality. Any Batman fan knows that Bruce is the opposite of these things and it makes his sequences slog along at a snail’s pace. I couldn’t wait to get back in costume. However, I am looking forward to Episode Two. Telltale seems to have used Episode One to completely set up Bruce Wayne’s plight and I’m confident that going forward Batman will rise to the level of enjoyment that Telltale is known for!