Batman: The Telltale Series. Episode One: Realm Of Shadows Review
OK, I'll be honest with you here. It was going to take a LOT for me not to like this game. We're talking the kind of epic failure that hasn't been seen since the Captain of the Titanic yelled "Full speed ahead and damn the icebergs" or since someone at Warner's thought it would be a good idea to hand the reins of their entire DC Movie Universe over to Zack Snyder.
And I know that, as your friendly neighbourhood reviewer, I should go into every game with a completely unbiased attitude, I think it's only fair that I warn you in advance, if you're looking for a hatchet job then you've come to the wrong place.
Move along, nothing to see here.
That's not to say that there aren't aspects of this game that don't bug me, there are and I'll get to those, but on the whole this is a triumphant start to what I can only assume will be the best of the Telltale releases to date and when you consider some of the other games in their armoury, that's saying something.
From the get go Batman: The Telltale Series tries to set itself apart from other Batman titles by doing the one thing that none of the others have and that's put you in the highly expensive shoes of Bruce Wayne, which it does during your first steps as (SPOILER ALERT) the Bat takes down a heist at City Hall and ends up in a face off with Catwoman and The GCPD. The action is fast and furious but is interspersed with flash forwards to the aftermath of the fight where a battered and bloodied Bruce Wayne is tended to by his faithful butler Alfred who tries to make him see the folly of what he's doing.
As you can imagine he doesn't succeed because if he had this would be the shortest review in the history of the written word and I'd be kicking down the doors of Microsoft's headquarters demanding they return my five pounds and twenty-one pence I'd dropped on their store for the game.
This helps set it's stall out nice and early. Letting you know that yes, you are going to be Batman and have great fun taking down bad-guys and playing with gadgets but you will spend just as much time being Bruce Wayne and making decisions that will effect the way the story plays out over realm of shadows and the remaining episodes. As well as occasionally kicking ass which took me by such complete surprise that I almost ballsed it up.
Like all Telltale games, how you choose to play as Bruce Wayne/Batman is entirely up to you, well as entirely up to you as you can get through four choices of dialogue, and being the comic book fan that I am I chose to play The Bat as he'd do it on the page but for Bruce I decided to go the more bright and breezy route. I've always found Bruce Wayne a bit...well...annoying. Moping around his mansion, lamenting the murder of his parents and holy hell will you just put on the damn suit already and start punching faces.
But here you have the choice to make him far more interesting as he jokes with Harvey Dent, flirts with Vicki Vale and tells Carmine Falcone to go f...er...I mean, tells Carmine Falcone that he's not welcome in his home and it's this ability to make a lighter, more likeable Bruce Wayne that is one of the stand out moments of the game for me.
Hell, this could've just been 'Bruce Wayne The Simulator' and I'd have been quite happy but fortunately for us he remembered to bring along his alter-ego too. Playing as Batman is a total joy, whether it's the aforementioned stand off of the opening scene or planning how to take down Falcone's goons as you go after the man himself the fighting is crisp and fluid (up to a point), even if it's all done using QT events.You even get to do some actual detective work as you piece together what happened at a crime scene and even though it felt like it took me out of the total immersion I had experienced up to that point, it was still good fun trying to figure out what had happened.
The supporting cast is none to shabby either. Catwoman/Selena Kyle is on point as is Alfred and I like the new take that they seem to have put on Harvey Dent but my favorite is the re-imagining of Oswald Cobblepot. Gone is the short, squat Danny DeVito looking Penguin and in his place is a lean and vicious man who seems to ooze violence from every single pore.
Now I know that comic book fans can be, shall we say, a little protective when it comes to people messing about with established characters and I expect that there will be a fair amount of backlash to this new take but I, for one, am a complete convert to the new Penguin and can't wait to see what his threat of revolution actually leads to. Even if his accent is bordering on Dick Van Dyke territory.
I don't know what it is with Telltale but they seem to think that everybody with an English accent (at least, I think it was English) sounds like they're auditioning for a role in Oliver, with their "Cor Blimey Guv'nor, strike a light, up the apple and pears crafty cockney bollocks" It's annoying and they really need to stop it.
To be honest, some of the voice acting really isn't up to scratch and it's not just Oswald either. Troy Baker, who I have NOTHING but the upmost respect for, is just as guilty as Jason Spisak is by seemingly phoning it in but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and just put it down to getting to grips with the roles they've been given. Besides which you have the always amazing Laura Bailey's take on Catwoman which just drips sex appeal and machiavellian charm to make up any short falls of the other characters.
Next to that slight annoyance there are a couple of other things that, as I mentioned at the beginning, bugged me and that are the...er...bugs. During the opening sequence, for example, the throw down between Batman and Catwoman would've been a lot more dramatic if the bloody sound effects had worked. Trading blows in spectacular fashion would've worked so much better if it actually sounded like WE WERE TRADING BLOWS!!!!
Instead, all I got was silence.
Also, none of the characters can walk properly, they all move as if they've got a rod up their butts and on more than one occasion their eyes suddenly bulged out of their sockets for no discernible reason, other than to give me something to have nightmares about for the next couple of days. But the one thing that really annoyed the hell out of me was a choice I made that didn't seem to register in game.
(SPOILER ALERT) There's a sequence where you get one of Falcone's goons and decided to pry some information out of him by tying him up and threatening to beat the snot out of him. Now, you can actually give him a kicking but I decided that wasn't The Batman way so I chose to intimidate instead and yet when the scene was over I was back in The Batcave with Alfred chewing me out for nearly beating the man to death.
I mean, seriously? What's the point in having the option to do it the right way if all that's going to happen is Alfred tears me a new one for something I didn't bloody do? Next time through I might just batter the bloke silly and see what happens instead.
But overall these are just small niggles in what is a superb game with a story that may just prove itself to be one of the best Batman tales ever written and realm of shadows is a brilliant way to kick off the series. Here's hoping that the next episode doesn't take the usual two to three months to be released and will pop up on the Xbox Store at the same time as the disc version is released on September 13th. Until then, I'll just have to make do with playing through episode one: realm of shadows again and this time I think I'll go the bastard route.
Rating: 8 Batarangs out of 10.
Platform Reviewed: Xbox One
Neil Gray | @neilgray007