Na na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na na BATMAN… BATMAN…!!
You know the song. Come on, you KNOW the song… That song may have been my first introduction to Batman decades ago. You may have a different intro to the caped crusader. Hell, this series right here may have been (or may turn out to be) your first foray into the world of the Dark Knight. Whatever the case may be, I think we can all agree that Batman has withstood the test of time. He broke down the door to our hearts and minds over 75 years ago, and that geriatric bastard is still kicking ass, taking names, and making grown men teary-eyed with excitement to this day.
In recent years, Batman has had his share of excellent video games. Video games have always taken popular IP and churned out less than OK products for decades, and for a long time, people just accepted that anything with a license attached to it is just going to be decent at best. Batman: Arkham Asylum changed all that. Yes, there had been other good licensed games before that, but nothing remotely boarding consistency, and that Batman series brought that feeling and gaming statement to the mainstream. Movie/TV/comic book properties didn’t have to be a mess anymore. It was OK to take your time, to craft a great experience (across the board), and deliver to the lofty expectations fans of the property have.
Enter: Telltale Games. In early 2015, Telltale announced a partnership with Marvel to bring something from their giant stable to us using their beloved “Telltale experience” style games. It’s hard to call them point and click adventure games at this point. It’s even tough to call them adventure games at all. They really do kind of feel like their own genre now. I may be overexaggerating a bit, but you no doubt understand my meaning. That Marvel game was said to appear in 2017, which could be over 2 years from then. Comic fans were excited. Comic fans started to wait. Turn to December 3rd, 2015. The Game Awards would drop a bombshell on us, courtesy of Telltale and DC. An episodic series was coming to Gotham, and it was coming in 2016. Comic fans were excited. Comic fans went crazy. Comic fans stayed crazy.
So here we are today, days after the first episode of Batman – The Telltale Series has released, and Episode 1: Realm of Shadows is in the books. The hook for this series was that not only would we be putting on the suit and cowl as The Batman, but we’d spend just as much time, if not more, as the man behind the mask – Bruce Wayne. To me, that’s super intriguing, and I’m 89% positive that most would agree. We can play (and have played) as Batman anytime we want, but rarely do we get to lace up the $1000 Italian imports of Bruce Wayne, at least not for more than a moment or two as a diversion. Here, in true Telltale fashion, what we do as the daytime man would affect not only the (k)night time “monster”, but also the lives of those around him. Not only that, but Gotham would play a pretty big role overall. And, yeah, it really does.
Gotham has always been an interesting setting in this fiction. The corrupt city is home to organized crime, a widespread major poverty sector, well off socialites, and everything in between. Once a couple of those start to mingle with each other, we get some storybook fireworks. This time, it’s no different. It’s up to the writers of any specific piece of Batman fiction to make Gotham what they want for their story. Some choose to have it be background fodder, others choose to have it be an important part, it’s own character, if you will. Telltale is going for the latter, and so far, it’s doing its part well.
Off the bat (pun intended?), we jump right into the cape and see Batman on the job, looking to stop some thugs from robbing City Hall. Seems like typical shenanigans in Gotham. What spirals from there sets up a whole chain of events that I don’t want to spoil any more of for you, especially since this is a story-heavy kind of series, and I’ll do my best to keep things to a minimum going forward. With this incident now in the books and setting things in motion, Batman not only needs to figure out what’s going on, but Bruce needs to be Bruce immediately after, and in a giant mansion full of people, no less.
After the initial adrenaline rush that is the first scene, you quickly settle into being Bruce, but the adrenaline is still there for him, it’s just now focused on politicking instead of hand to hand combat. An election is coming up, and, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, Harvey Dent is the only man who can put an end to the corruption and criminal activity in the big G. Harvey and Bruce are pals, and Mr. Dent knows just how far he can stretch the Wayne fortune in his favor. What happens in Wayne Manor on this night begins to set up what your Bruce Wayne is (potentially) going to be like throughout this run of episodes. A major player in crime, Carmine Falcone is introduced, and you get to make some (potential) crucial choices. Everything from there, well, I’ll let you find for yourself.
OK, so I’m done with the major story stuff because I really don’t want to ruin much more for you. Other reviews or what have you can do that just fine. Let’s get into some of the technical stuff going on under the hood and in the paint job, so to speak. The look of the game is nothing you haven’t seen before from a Telltale game, only this time, depending on where you’re playing it, it may look a bit more polished and detailed. What also hasn’t really changed are the animations. Bruce walks like he has a stick so far up his guano shoot that I’m really surprised no one testing the game found weird enough to suggest allowing a run button for the times when you’re walking around (which, to be fair, isn’t too much).
The Telltale engine is one of much scrutiny, and with good reason. It’s long outstayed it’s welcome to most objective players, and even though they’ve acknowledged this fact in recent months, even so much as letting us know they’ve tweaked and “upgraded” it for this series, we all know it needs to go and something new needs to take its place. The same issues apply here, and it’s a damn shame. The frame rate is still a mess. I will give them credit, though, because the game never outright ground to a halt, or froze between scene transitions, but the minute to minute movement, whether when I was in control or not, fluctuated and fluttered all over the place that it was definitely bothering me the entire time I played. Not only that but movement overall just felt too slow to me. Now, again, to be fair, the game is still playable. It was never so bad I couldn’t keep going. This is just typical Telltale, but I’m tired of having to say that to myself or even out loud. At what point do we stop giving them a pass in this area of critique? For me, it was a while ago.
Let’s move on to the voice-work and dialogue in the game. One thing I want to say that I know will get me the heat from a thousand suns is that I’m tired of hearing Troy Baker, Nolan North, and Laura Bailey in seemingly everything. Here, we have 2/3 of that group in full force. I’m not discounting their talent, they’re all wicked talented, and light years ahead of anything I could ever do, but this is no different than when film fans groan seeing the same big star in a dozen movies each year. The only difference is, the fan base is more venomous in this medium, which is a shame. Anywho, fair play of course to the performers, because they are pretty good here. Baker as Bruce/Batman works very well, especially as Batman, and even better when he puts his voice modulator on, which is an area I want to give a nice round of applause for. It sounds great. The rest of the cast is pretty good, too, save for Gordon, which just felt… off somehow. In every sense, from look, to voice, to, well, everything. I know this may sound odd considering the medium, but thinking about it, he just felt too “cartoony” to me. I could go on and on about my thoughts on the characters, but that would be better suited elsewhere.
As with every Telltale series such as this, choosing what to say, usually within a limited amount of time is a crucial part of the experience. Adding more flavor this time around are the action scenes with The Bat where you need to be quick with a button press or a stick movement. Both areas concerned me in different ways. With the dialogue, I didn’t have an issue with the amount of time we had to answer, but with what was said once you did. Many times what I picked was not what Bruce or Batman said, and sometimes, it was totally different than what it previewed. Hell, many times what was listed as the preview text was never even uttered in part, let alone completely. That’s really annoying. Fans of Fallout 4 know what I mean.
When it came to the action scenes, the speed in which you were given to react seemed much shorter than it needed to be in my opinion. Don’t take that for something it isn’t. I don’t need 8 minutes to move the stick in a direction, but most of the time I was barely making it, and the times I didn’t, it honestly seemed like the game bailed me out because nothing remotely bad happened to me, but to the opponent. I’d say 50% of the stick prompts were fails on my part because they never registered, but somehow, I never “failed” in the game. It was shocking, and bizarre, and took me out of the moment way more than I would have liked (or thought it would). I don’t know if I am the exception, or if I misconstrued what was going on, but when a dude is shooting you point blank in the chest, and you’re supposed to dodge and don’t because the game never registers you moved, I don’t think the outcome should be dodging the bullet and knocking the gun away. Did anyone else get this feeling, too?
As the “World’s Greatest Detective” I’ve got to say, the detecting here left a lot to be desired. Not in the overall sense of how it played out visually, but in the simplicity. Take point A, find point B, rinse, repeat. It was just so disappointing. Hopefully, this gets an upgrade in the later episodes. And just as a weird non-sequitur, I felt like there was an overuse of gulping sounds when someone took a drink. Has anyone else noticed that?
Let’s move on to some quick hitters with some little things I enjoyed. Oz is great fun. The new Batmobile is really neat and clever. The uncertainty of every big or little decision you make is really fun to feel in this game. Knowing how these games work, you just know one choice will doom someone or something somehow. But will it? How will it? Will what you thought happen or will something you never thought be the chain reaction? The story bobs and weaves well with these kinds of choices. One of the best parts of the game is unsurprisingly the story and where the first episode sets you up going forward. The cliffhanger is definitely intriguing and one I am very interested in seeing to completion.
Even with the annoying performance issues, I still feel like this is a solid first entry for our hero and this new Telltale universe. The acting was mostly a hit. The storylines being generated are something I’m very interested in seeing play out. The focus on Bruce more so than his alter ego is refreshing to play. All this adds up to plenty of fun in the sadly short episode (what else is new?). Still, I don’t think this is something fans of Batman or that universe should miss out on. Non-fans who enjoy the “Telltale Experience”? You should still play it, but I could understand waiting until everything is all said and done to jump in. Oh, and if you’re interested in seeing what % my choices netted me by the end (and at the time of completion), I’ll post a picture far below all the others. It’s obviously going to have spoilers. Even though the next episode has no date yet, I’d be missing out on a perfect opportunity for this one:
Will Heazie enjoy the next step in Telltale’s Gotham menagerie, or will the eventual Joke be on him? Find out next month (?)… Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!!
Batman – The Telltale Series: Episode 1 is available now on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 for $4.99, and on Steam as a Complete Season package for $24.99. It’s also available on just about every other place you can play video games. Hell, I bet even your fridge can play this now. A copy of this game was provided by Telltale for the purpose of this review.
PS I really hope they don’t introduce too many more villains this season. I like what we have going here and with such a short time frame for each episode, I think it would hurt it. One more at the most. And not him, OK, Telltale?