It’s starting to look like the greatest enemy in Batman’s famed and expansive rogues’ gallery is not The Joker or Two-Face, but the PC. Not only did Arkham Knight have a less-than-stellar PC release, but Batman – The Telltale Series: Episode 1: Realm of Shadows (which is a very lengthy and silly title, so let’s go with Telltale’s Batman) is hardly the finest of the Dark Knight’s appearances on the best platform.
I will say that I haven’t encountered issues that some have mentioned. I didn’t try Windows 7 mode, but in Windows 8+ mode the graphics were fine and the only framerate problems I suffered were mild blips for the first second or two when a new scene was being loaded in. I have, however, hit a lot of other problems.
The opening scene of Batman taking down a group of armed thugs, for instance, was somewhat marred by all of the sound effects disappearing halfway through. Voices and so on were still there, but there were no meaty THWOCKS as armoured fist connected with fleshy face, which lessened considerably from the drama of the situation. Soon after – about a quarter of the way through the episode – I quit out… and on re-opening it today, I discovered that the game had lost my save file and I had to start from scratch. And, after starting from scratch, I paused the game and was rendered completely unable to unpause the game. It hadn’t crashed. I could still access the menu. I just couldn’t make the game do anything.
As far as first impressions go, Telltale’s take on Batman basically turned up to a blind date in a clown suit while clutching a copy of Mein Kampf.
While those issues are probably the single worst thing I can say about Batman: Episode 1, they’re unfortunately not the only problems. Walking animations are incredibly stilted and unnatural. Subtitles occasionally disappear for no apparent reason. It’s very, very QTE-heavy, and in typical Telltale fashion, most of those QTEs don’t really seem to matter that much.
As an example: in that opening fight, you can completely ignore a few of the QTEs and the animations will proceed anyway. However, if you muff up three or four of them (or possibly one particular one; I’m not quite certain, but I think it’s the former) then the animation is interrupted by the bad guy you’re fighting pulling out a gun and shooting Batman dead. At other times, getting a QTE right will trigger a different animation, which does not neatly segue from what came before; Batman blocking a punch will suddenly switch to Batman running at a thug from several feet away and launching into a flying kick.
In an attempt to make these QTEs feel more heavily linked into the gameplay, getting them right fills up a “finishing move” meter in the bottom left… but, uh, I’m not entirely certain what purpose this serves. You can die due to failing QTEs long before the actual finishing move prompt appears, and unless I’ve missed something, you can’t immediately end the fight once you fill up the bar. It’s possibly just a bar you have to fill up before the end of the fight in order to win… but if you’re screwing up the QTEs, you’re probably going to lose before that point anyway. It’s muddled and weird, and if anything, these QTEs feel far less connected to the action than in The Wolf Among Us. Telltale really need to find a better way of handling this stuff.
All of this might not matter too much if the story, plot, and set-pieces are bang on, but that’s honestly far too difficult to judge based solely on this episode. This is another early-ish take on Batman, and this first episode chronicles his attempts to take down mob boss Carmine Falcone. The police are still after Bats (Gordon, not so much, although their present relationship isn’t actually expanded on), and we witness the first meeting between Batman and Catwoman, and the character who will eventually become The Penguin, and spend some time with Harvey Dent as he runs for mayor. Oh, and obviously, the murder of Bruce’s parents is brought up about 19 times because there are probably five or six people who don’t know the how and why of Bruce Wayne’s turning into Batman.
The overarching story looks like it’s going to deal with the Wayne family’s alleged ties to organised crime, which is definitely an interesting direction to take. I’m curious as to how this will be resolved; if memory serves, Batman R.I.P. touched on character assassination of the Waynes, and it’ll be fun watching similar play out here. Still, with only one episode out, it’s way too early to think about how these threads are going to tie up.
There are things I definitely do like, though. The choices here deal more with how you want Bruce Wayne and Batman to be perceived, and what sort of Batman you think this is. You can decide whether Bruce Wayne shakes the hand of Carmine Falcone in public, for instance, and you can decide whether Batman brutalises a thug with an iron pipe, or merely threatens him with it. Is Batman a restrained man who terrifies people with threats, or does he actually shatter arms and crack ribs for reasons other than self-defense? Will Bruce Wayne sully his name to get information, or is his public standing more important? Again, it doesn’t feel quite as fitting as The Wolf Among Us‘ take on Bigby, where basically every decision felt in-keeping with the character no matter how you played it, but it’s still early days for Batman and I expect that this’ll be expanded on a lot as the episodes continue.
There are a few really neat set-pieces, too, although one or two offer more in future potential than they do in present execution. A bit of mid-episode detective work at a crime scene has you “linking” pieces of the environment to determine what happened, although while it’s a neat idea, it requires almost no thought. Surprisingly, the man with the clawed face can be linked to the man with blood on his hands, and bits of human flesh under his broken fingernails. World’s greatest detective!
The biggest highlight is probably the episode’s climax, in which you plan out Batman’s attack on a room of armed guards by determining how best to deal with each of them in turn. I don’t think there’s any way to “fail” this (barring screwing up the resulting QTE, obviously) but it’s a lovely little touch that does a lot to make the QTE fight feel more personal and more relevant.
Good dialogue, good voice acting, and the usual lovely Telltale visuals are all present and correct, but general presentational polish doesn’t change the fact that it’s buggy, technically problematic, and… well, it just doesn’t have that spark. Nothing in this made me particularly eager to see more; nothing really clicked to make me want to press on.
Even putting aside the technical issues, this is far from the best start to a Telltale series. There’s every chance it could improve as it goes on, as it moves away from introductions and towards its bigger story arc, but for now it’s a definite wait-and-see.