The Bat rides again
Like Elvis, Batman is everywhere.
When the Nolan-verse ended, here comes the DC Extended Universe and Batfleck swooping in, alongside of LEGO Batman and the Arkham series. It never ends.
And you know what? As someone who has followed Batman through nearly every major comic book event and film (animated included), I’m okay with that. There is such a thing as “too much Batman,” but Telltale proves that it’s another exception to that rule with the first episode of its series, Realm of Shadows.
Batman: A Telltale Games Series: Realm of Shadows (iPad, iPhone, Mac, PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360)
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Released: August 2, 2016
MSRP: $4.99 (Each Episode)
Shadows sets its brutal tone right away. With a scene that evokes memories of the Heat-like intro from Nolan’s Dark Knight, there’s an on-screen security guard death by way of a bullet to the head. In swings the player as the Bat, and then…a cut to Bruce! As Telltale promised, you’re going to be seeing a lot of Batman’s alter-ego (you read that right). In fact, I kept count, and there are nine scenes with Bruce, and three with Batman. It’s early yet in the Batman mythos (Gordon is still a lieutenant), but the persona is known by the people of Gotham, and he has a wide array of those wonderful toys, so it’s not an origin story either.
In general in Batman-related media, I like seeing new takes on Bruce (something I feel like each film actor did in their own way, with Kevin Conroy’s animated takes), but Troy Baker’s performance doesn’t really do it for me here, even if he is a formidable and confident-sounding Bat. Although you may remember him as The Joker in two Arkham games, he’s not new to the role of Bats as he’s been playing him for years in the LEGO series. The animation team is also to blame, as Bruce doesn’t emote nearly as much as the rest of the cast.
As for the rest, they’re generally more fun to watch. Laura Bailey’s Catwoman is predictably coy but does the character justice, especially in one scene as Selina Kyle, showing early chemistry with Bruce. Travis Willingham’s boyish enthusiasm as Harvey Dent is infectious, and probably my favorite of the lot. Richard McGonagle manages to squeeze every ounce of sleaze out of Carmine Falcone without feeling cartoonish.
There’s also a lot of cool action choreography that makes the most out of Batman’s gadgets, and it’s still QTE-based. But since it’s hand-to-hand combat with a superhero at your fingertips, it feels a little more engaging than, say, The Walking Dead. Crime scene investigation is mostly clicking things since there are no real puzzles still, and not as interactive as the Arkham series (I particularly like the crime reconstruction bit in the apartment in Origins).
I will say, despite the middling performance of Bruce, I do like that he is the focus. Watching him deal with situations that are over his head is fun, as are the scenes where basically everyone in his life outside of Alfred tries to use him for their own gains. It makes his dyspeptic responses and mopey retreats to the Batcave where he can subsequently feel in control all the more justified. The dire tone of Gotham also echoes through, and listening to the news feed in the cave (featuring Jack Ryder, who becomes the Creeper in the comics) explains exactly what kind of crime goes down in the city.
In case you’re wondering, we are not spared the “alleyway death scene” for the millionth time. It’s mentioned in passing at a banquet in case you’ve never heard of Batman before and has a surrealistic flashback — though instead of the pearls dropping, we get tickets! One of the upcoming episode menu previews also hints at a another flashback, so we’re not entirely safe. There are a few re-imaginings though, like Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin) as a childhood friend of Bruce. Plus, the advantage of the episodic format is that as long as Telltale doesn’t constantly retread covered ground, it can serve as a building block for what’s to come.
Telltale is making baby steps in terms of what you get outside of each episode, and this time it’s little ancillary things like Bat-tech colors and crowd play. The latter has the potential to get really big when it’s ready for its streaming closeup, but it’s mostly meant to be used on the couch at the moment. I unfortunately encountered a few extra “features” too, including several menu glitches, and one forced reboot.
Batman: A Telltale Games Series: Realm of Shadows is a nice setup. It’s not as strong as some of Telltale’s other work, but it manages to honor the legacy of the series and throw in a few curveballs to keep things interesting (thank God there’s no Joker yet).
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]