Telltale’s Version of Batman

Batman. Telltale Games

There was a time when superheroes weren’t our greatest pop culture export to the world. Sure, those of us who loved Tim Burton’s Batman and bowed at the altar of Frank Miller knew the potential of the iconic character, but no one could have predicted the omnipresence of Batman this many decades after the hero was essentially redefined into what we know now in the 1980s. There’s the Arkham series of games from RockSteady and WBIE; there’s the FOX series Gotham; there are DC-Universe animated films like the recent adaptation of The Killing Joke; there are multiple comic books based on Batman or spin-off characters; and then there’s the WB series of films, including this year’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and the upcoming Justice League. Could Telltale Games possibly add anything to the conversation with their latest episodic series, entitled simply Batman? Of course, as should be expected by now from one of the most important video game developers of the current generation, the answer is yes.

More Like Bruce Wayne

By this point, gamers probably know what to expect from a Telltale Games experience—it’s more character-driven than action. While the developers of Batman try their best to insert a few melee sequences, you will spend a lot more time as The Dark Knight’s alter ego Bruce Wayne than you will as the man in the black cape. Episode 1: Realm of Shadows sets up a lot of characters, and most of them aren’t wearing costumes. After an action scene opening in which you get to fight Catwoman, the narrative transitions to a party for Harvey Dent, who is running for Mayor of Gotham, at Wayne Manor. Immediately, you’ll have to make decisions that could be called political, including how much information to give reporter Vicki Vale and whether or not to allow known crime lord Carmine Falcone into your house. In essence, Batman almost shares more creative DNA with Gotham than RockSteady’s Arkham games in that it focuses on the human side of iconic characters like Catwoman, Batman, and even those who will later become Two-Face and The Penguin.

Building the Batcave

As with most Telltale Games, Realm of Shadows is really about laying the groundwork for plot twists and thematic resonance that will pay off later. I’ve learned my lesson, writing reviews of the first episodes of Game of Thrones and Tales From the Borderlands that expressed relative disappointment, only to have both of those games on my top ten at the end of the year. In other words, one needs to be patient with a Telltale Games offering. Let the writers work their magic. Realm of Shadows introduces some new mechanics, including a detective mode in which you have to examine evidence to solve a crime and more action/fight gameplay that typical for the series, along with a “Crowd Play” option which allows people to vote on choices you can make online, but it still feels like a cousin of Telltale hits like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. Like those games, it takes what works about the source material and melds it with the Telltale brand of gameplay.

Where Do e Go From Here?

It’s almost impossible to judge a Telltale Games series from its first episode. The new mechanics work relatively well—although the Detective Mode is a bit lackluster—and the voice/character work is strong. What really separates this series from other games, however, is the storytelling, and we’ve only heard one chapter of this tale. I’ve also been a TV critic for almost two decades, and every Fall TV season I say the same thing about the pilots for new series: The only real test of success or failure is “Does it make me want to watch another one?” In the case of Batman: Realm of Shadows, the answer is a definite yes, whether I’m 15 or 40.

Disclaimer: The Publisher provided a review copy of this title.