Spinning a mystery: a Batman Telltale Series Episode 1 review

Columns, Featured, Gaming, PC, PlayStation 4, Top story, Xbox One
Batman is getting the Telltale treatment with a few new additions.
Batman is getting the Telltale treatment with a few new additions.

After a slew of Batman games focused on open world action (sometimes mired in unplayable bugs), it would seem the Dark Knight is in dire need of scaling back down to basics. Enter in Batman – The Telltale Series, an effort by Telltale Games to tell a unique story surrounding the famed caped crusader. The first episode, dubbed Realm of Shadows, was released on Tuesday for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Currently it’s mired with bugs on the Steam version and some issues prevail on the PS4 copy I played, but it still managed to be entertaining enough for a debut.

Batman – The Telltale Series visits Bruce Wayne at a relatively early stage in his millionaire-by-day-vigilante-by-night routine. In Realm of Shadows, he’s campaigning to get his dear friend Harvey Dent elected as mayor, while also dampening the criminal presence in the ailing Gotham City. Eventually Bruce becomes embroiled in a mystery surrounding his deceased parents’ past dealings and family secrets come to light.

Bruce is still haunted by his parents' murder, but this go round puts more of a spin on the Wayne family's secrets.
Bruce is still haunted by his parents’ murder, but this go round puts emphasis on the Wayne family’s past.

For all its slow boil conversation, the events of the episode seem to move at a breakneck pace and stuff itself full of characters. Bruce bounces around his campaign funding with Harvey, foils a robbery by Catwoman, meets up with his old friend Oswald Cobblepot (who appears to be an angry drunk in this iteration), banters with reporter Vicki Vale and comes up against crime boss Carmine Falcone. With all of this involved, the first episode is a bit of a disorienting mess. To its credit though, most of the interactions are tied together to make a fairly intriguing cliffhanger by the end.

Batman a Telltale Series Episode 1While Telltale is certainly doing well to lay out an interesting Batman story, where it’s roughest is with the action aspect of the comic book hero we know and love. As with every game made by the developer, all of the interactions are relegated to quick-time events. While this worked decently enough for Wolf Among Us or The Walking Dead, it seems sluggish when applied to a character trained by ninjas and known for dealing out beatings with a deft hand.

The use of quick-times are applied with a slow motion aspect to make it feel more like 300 than say, the thrilling combo-ridden punch-ups of Batman: Arkham Asylum. They also incorporate a meter that fills with correct button presses that allows for a finishing blow to be triggered, as well as a system of planning an attack on unsuspecting thugs. This is an interesting addition, even if it doesn’t seem to affect much during playthroughs. The combat isn’t outright terrible and certainly works well enough, but it feels off for such a character.

Speaking of characters, the series is boasting heavy voice talent in this go round. Richard McGonagle (Sully in Uncharted 4) gives Falcone a different twist than your typical gangster and Erin Yvette gives Vicki Vale a nice shine. Perhaps the most jarring of the voice cast, however, is Troy Baker as Bruce Wayne. It’s understandable that Kevin Conroy can’t be expected to play all of Batmans’ animated iterations, but Troy Baker simply sounds too much like himself in this game. Bruce Wayne sounds more like the hapless Rhys from Tales From the Borderlands (another Baker/Telltale team up), making it difficult to take him seriously outside of the cape and cowl. It is something definitely suited to personal preference, but given Baker’s great range in previous games, his interpretation of Bruce is a bit disappointing.

Batman a Telltale Series Episode 1

The episode itself is worthy of a play through, but only on console since it’s currently experiencing problems on a variety of builds on Steam. On PlayStation 4 there were still frame rate problems but nothing outright game breaking occurred. If you can’t wait to dive into this latest Batman adventure, do so on console platforms for now.

Final Score: 4/5

The latest in Telltale’s series holds a lot of promise for a full blown Batman detective mystery, even though it stumbles a bit when it comes to action. The season pass is currently on sale for $24.99 on Steam, Playstation Network, and Xbox One.

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About Christen Bejar

Christen BejarChristen Bejar is a freelance gaming writer who started the local blog The Pause Button while studying at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. For Nerdvana, Bejar reviews video games and also previews, recaps and photographs many local events from a gamer's perspective.