Telltale's series have always been hit or miss with me. I loved the first season of The Walking Dead, but felt the second season was underwhelming. The Wolf Among Us was superb, but Game of Thrones was not. This back and forth love/hate relationship with Telltale was making me skeptical about them handling a beloved property such as Batman.
Much to my relief...I was wrong. Telltale's first episode in the series is engaging, exciting, and slightly funny. Realm of Shadows starts off with introducing us to Batman as a rookie in his craft. He's relatively new to to his profession, yet he clearly has skill. The game starts the player in the middle of a fight, taking out a handful of bad guys using a series of quick-time events much like every Telltale game. In this case, the quick-time events are fairly scripted, so much so that I missed a couple of QTE's and the game still carried out the same actions as if nothing happened. Quick-time events in previous Telltale games tended to be tedious due to the game not running properly. With Batman, Telltale's using an updated engine that makes gameplay smoother-even though there are slight hiccups.
During Batman's fight with a series of henchmen, he crosses path's with a familiar face to fans. Catwoman. Even though Catwoman is a well-known character by fans; this is Batman's first encounter with her. Both of them seem to have one thing in common; they are relatively new to their respective jobs. Seeing their interactions toward each other as I played gave me reassurance that this franchise was in safe hands.
Catwoman isn't the only character that felt fresh, a whole roster of characters that fans have grown used to are given their own cell-shaded debut. The likes of Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent, Vikki Vale, Carmine Falcone and Alfred Pennyworth all make an appearance. The game doesn't throw these characters at you, instead the narrative is tightly written for each character to receive his/her proper introduction.
It's through helping Harvey Dent run for office that these introductions take place. A multifaceted story that involves corruption and betrayal waiting to happen...welcome to Gotham! The story is paced well enough that I never found myself bored as Bruce, and playing as Batman never overstayed its welcome. Bruce's day agenda was investing due to to the personal story that involves his family's reputation. Likewise the Batman moments in Realm of Shadows fit inside the Telltale format, with detective sections that involve connecting clues to each other to figure out crime scenes. There is also a really neat moment towards the end of the episode that involves planning out an attack on a series of henchmen, which results in cool sequence.
Playing through the episode felt very enjoyable, but there were a few things that bothered me. One thing that bothered me was the origin story. This is where I feel the episode starts to suffer. In almost every iteration of Batman there tends to be a need to cram the Wayne murders into the introduction. Bruce's backstory is one of, if not the most well-known in comic book history. A lot of the episode basks in this concept, dwelling far too long on the murders; Alfred constantly bringing up Bruce's parents as an example of moral righteousness doesn't help things either.
The voice acting is another thing that felt out of place, specifically Bruce Wayne. Troy Baker is a well-known and talented voice actor, bringing depth to many game characters he voices, but Bruce is one of his least interesting, instead he sounds like he's playing himself. As Batman it's less worrisome since his voice is modulated like in Batman v Superman. Where Troy Baker falters, Laura Bailey shines as Catwoman, bringing a seductive, strong, and clever delivery. Even Richard McGonagle-aka Sully from Uncharted-as Carmine Falcone sounds really good.
Telltale's first episode in their take on the Batman franchise is promising, and sets up future episodes to be more impactful. With a slightly better engine, interesting characters, and an engaging story, Batman is truly worth your time.