Batman: The Telltale Series Review (Episode One: Realm of Shadows)Price:
£18.99 (complete series)
PC, Mac OS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS, Android
PC (at review event)
I've been a fan of Batman for a very long time, but despite playing nearly every game with a Bat logo on it for the last 15 years, I've very rarely had a chance to play as Bruce Wayne. In Telltale's new take on Gotham's finest, playing and defining Wayne is the real draw, because although it's Batman's name on the case, this is very much a story of subtlety, navigating the social minefield of high society and also, unfortunately, enduring far too many quick time events.
See, Telltale's engine has a talent for being able to tell amazing stories and make you laugh, cry and dwell deeply on your emotions. It's not quite so good at letting you punch goons in the face, and Telltale's answer to this is by taking the act of fighting these miscreants, often the main part of a superhero game, and handling it entirely through the use of quick time events. Each fight is one long cutscene and you just tap buttons and nudge thumbsticks to show the game you're still paying attention.
It's a fair way to navigate the difficulties Telltale's engine has, even with recent graphical upgrades, in depicting anything that isn't talking, but it's no substitute for the way actual combat feels, and it stands in stark contrast to Rocksteady's finely-tuned combat mechanics in the Batman: Arkham series (or at least in the games in that series that work) - it's even possible to have satisfying punchups in Lego Batman. Worse is that the fights in Telltale's game rarely advance the plot in any way. As such, while I was here to play Batman, the experience of actually being the Batman left me a bit cold and sour.
Admittedly, it's not all bad news when you put the cowl on. Batman's brawn has always been matched by his brains and in this area Telltale betters itself. Investigating a gruesome murder scene sees me digging around a dead police officer's skull for a special bullet, investigating why he tore a man's face off with his bare hands, and linking my clues together to find a workable hypothesis. There was just one of these crime scenes in the first episode, but it was one of the real pinnacles of the entire episode.
Another highlight was a fight scene that Batman planned out from a vantage point beforehand. You're looking through the window to identify threats, before making the choice whether to slam a guy into a pillar or toss him through a window. There's not really a wrong answer when it comes to ass-kicking, but it's one of the first glimmers of agency you get as Batman, beyond the option to torture a bunch of people, which doesn't seem all that heroic and makes everyone, understandably, hate you, so I steered clear.