The modern era of TellTales point-and-click adventures, that began with The Walking Dead Season 1, have provided some of the most gripping narratives to have ever come to Video Games. They are expertly crafted, mature stories loaded with subtlety and nuisance. Whether they’re writing gritty dramas (The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, The Wolf Among Us) or hilarious comedies (Borderlands, Minecraft) they find a way to engage the player and allow them to actively participate in the story. The hallmark of a TellTale series is dynamic dialogue choices that is “tailored by how you play”. The decisions, although ultimately irrelevant to the overall progression of the story, carry an illusion of weight and significance that, in the moment, make you feel as if you are controlling the ultimate fate of every character. They’re mesmerizing experiences that have never failed in providing me entertaining and exciting moments of excellent storytelling.
The one issue is that Batman The TellTale Series doesn’t feel like those other excellent games. Trust me when I say that it was hard to write that down. It’s not terrible but it feels different from what I’ve come to expect from the developer. This was like a match made in heaven. One of my favorite developers tackling one of my favorite characters. I grew up on Batman comics and the animated series. My childhood involved devouring Batman Comics and One-Shots, watching the Animated Series and playing all of the Batman games I could get my hands on.
Batman The TellTale Series suffers in multiple categories. The lack of stakes is what seriously hinders this game from entering the pantheon of excellence. Almost every character we are introduced is a familiar face that we know will go on to become one of Batman’s many villains. In the first episode we are introduced to three characters, each of which have a varying relationship with Bruce Wayne. In the opening minutes we are introduced to Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Harvey Dent, and Oswald Cobblepot. All characters who are deeply entrenched in the Batman mythos. We know that Bruce’s relationship with these characters are temporary at best, and we are well aware of who they become. It’s a story that we have seen time and time again but utterly fails here because this is not what I have come to expect from TellTale. While the combat in a Telltale game is finicky at best, the writing is what takes the center stage and allows for twists and turns. We are never treated to the level of exploration of the universe that we have come to expect from the developer making this an incredibly formulaic approach to a hero with an staggering level of depth and complexity.
In Episode 1: Realm of Shadows we are treated to a healthy dose of combat, the bane of any TellTale game. The amount of combat in the first episode of Batman is more than the majority of TWAU, TWD, and GoT (Game of Thrones being the second most combat intensive game they have put out). I never outright hated it, and it was never too difficult, it just wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted choices that at least seemed to matter and events that at least caught my interest. This was just a very standard Batman story in an era that has been dominated by this same Batman story. Catwoman steals something, Batman gets it back, Batman has to figure it out all while managing his life as Bruce Wayne. It’s not a bad story, it’s jut one that I’ve seen and read a million times. Combat is what you will be doing for a significant portion of Realm of Shadows so be prepared for quick time events galore. Again, it’s not bad, it’s just a lot of the wrong thing. If you didn’t like the QTEs in the previous TellTale titles then I’d suggest contemplating just how willing you are to accept them.
I won’t deny that there are some interesting threads that are being sewn in this first episode that could evolve into a more unconventional story. The relationship between Carmine Falcone and Bruce Wayne is an interesting (albeit unoriginal) development that has serious ripple effects depending on your stance during the conversation, the invisible hand of Mayor Hill which has power that poses a legitimate threat to the Waynes (although we know it doesn’t really), and some other cool moments that unfold throughout the episode all provide interesting avenues for the story to progress. As I mentioned previously, there is a severe lack of stakes that arise from having a familiar cast of characters. While there is drama, there is no real tension. It’s purely an artificial anxiety since we are well aware of who everyone becomes and they’re relationships later on down the line. What Batman The TellTale Series is severely lacking is a fresh cast. The lack of a new and notable cast in The Wolf Among Us works because the original group is not as recognizable as Batman and his rogues gallery. Again, I’m coming at this from a biased perspective. Someone who is well read on the Batman universe and its corresponding villains. If you’re someone who is completely ignorant to Batman (firstly, I’d believe that you were merely an astral projection or someother equally ridiculous phenomena) then I’d say that this might be a good jumping off point to learning about some significant characters and how they relate to one another. If you even have an ioata of knowledge on The Dark Knight then this might feel like familiar territory.
As you can tell I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers because, no matter what, the draw of this game is the story and knowing everything makes the entire experience a wholly stale affair. No matter my feelings on the first episode I will still continue to follow the progression of the season and will add a new review for every episode. I want this game to grab me more than any other, and that might be my ultimate failure. I might be expecting too much from this since it’s a character that I treasure so dearly, and I expect that a good majority of people may feel the same level of disapointment that I have felt. But, now that I know what I’m getting I’ll be looking at the next episode from a different perspective. It’s just difficult to detach oneself from something that you are inherently biased too, and that’s the case here.
Overall, Batman The TellTale Series Episode 1 is a good albeit disapointing addition to the catalogue of TellTale games. I only hope that the second episode allows the game to fully flesh out its unique aspects to the story of The Dark Knight, rather than retelling the stories of others in an interactive medium. If you’re planning on buying Batman A TellTale Series I’d suggest waiting until the second episode comes out so you can fully understand the breadth of what this take on Batman really is.