Like many of our long-running comic book heroes, there have been a number of different versions of Batman. Telltale could've drawn on a number of different versions, including cartoon interpretations from Batman: The Animated Series or Beware the Batman, the beefy bruiser from the Arkham games, or any number of film interpretations.
Instead, the developer has crafted its own Batman, introducing its unique take on the Caped Crusader in the first episode of Batman: The Telltale Series: "Realm of Shadows". Since it's an introduction to a new Batman, Telltale has to answer the question, "Who is this Batman?"
What's interesting is that Batman: The Telltale Series is more concerned with "Who is Bruce Wayne?"
The game's story takes place earlier in Batman's career, with familiar faces having not yet reached their most iconic states. Harvey Dent is still Bruce Wayne's best friend, running a campaign to become the city's first Mayor. Selina Kyle is Dent's girlfriend and a recent transplant to Gotham City; Batman and her alter-ego meet here for the first time. James Gordon is just a lieutenant in a police force that's still coming to terms with Batman. Oswald Cobblepot is a former friend of Bruce Wayne whose rich family eventually fell on hard times. Carmine Falcone is the mob boss who runs Gotham City.
Unlike many Batman titles where Bruce Wayne is little more than an afterthought, you'll actually spend a great deal of time in this episode as the millionaire playboy. You'll navigate the world of Bruce Wayne, the parties and the politics. Episode 1 takes the time to tell players what Bruce Wayne and his family have meant to the city of Gotham: a shining example everything right with the city. It frames his vigilante crusade as a way to live up to that ideal in ways his public persona can't.
The central conflict of this episode involves stolen physical material, but it's really about questioning the Wayne family legacy. Were the Waynes perfect humanitarians? Is Bruce doing the right thing by being Batman? Is there more to the family history?
That's not to say there's not Batman action here. Telltale's new game engine more powerful, so the developer is trying some things out. You'll get larger set pieces and some rather extensive quicktime action scenes. Those action scenes and Batman's detective skills are highlighted with an all-new mechanic that lets you link objects together. On the detective side, the system lets players link together different clues to puzzle out a crime scene: nothing to tough, but it's fun. On the fighting side, the link system allows you to plan out an infiltration in pure Batman style. It's a strong addition of Telltale's repertoire.
The action scenes also have a new finishing move meter, powered by successful completion of the game's quick-time events. Since Batman doesn't really take hits from rank-and-file criminals, the finishing moves give you a reason to do your best in the fight sequences.
The voice cast is largely good, though Troy Baker's Batman is odd. His Bruce Wayne is great, but his Batman relies on a voice changer (like Ben Affleck's Batman) that gives him that Kevin Conroy growl. It sounds weird and others I spoke to who played the game didn't even realize that Batman was using a device to change his voice. Slight speed bump, but I think people will get used to it.
Where Batman: The Telltale Series is at its strongest is in the choices you have to make. Does Bruce Wayne brush off the city's biggest mobster or grit his teeth to make the city safer? Is the public version of the millionaire playboy a carefree lout or a young man struggling with the death of his parents? Is your Batman a brutal, violent monster, or a non-lethal protector?
Telltale is a master at giving players the illusion of real choice and the choices you're given here still feel satisfying. The cliffhanger for the first episode hits a strong emotional high as well, trying everything that happened in the episode together in a neat bow.
This is one of the stronger starts to a Telltale Games' series. Many of them tend to be mired in setup and while there's some of that here, the unique focus on Bruce Wayne, a strong story revolving around his family, and some great actions scenes make for a great start. I really enjoyed Episode 1 and I'm looking forward to where this Batman is headed.
Telltale wastes no time in establishing its Batman and the surprising thing is the studio is spending an equal amount of time on Bruce Wayne. The elements are familiar, but the focus is rarely this evenly split. An strong premise, sold takes on familiar characters, and great fight scenes bring this first episode to a strong conclusion. Looking forward to see what's next.