As Realm of Shadows, the first episode of Batman: The Telltale Series, neared its end, I felt a mixture of emotions. I was angry that secrets had been kept from me, annoyed that I hadn’t realised them sooner, and embarrassed that I’d had to find them out from a criminal who I despised. As I stared at Alfred, I saw a glimmer of fear in his eyes as I questioned him, but his resolve never broke. Then the screen faded to black and I realised that I was actually sitting in my chair at home, the body that I was born with still intact no matter how much I really wanted or thought I was the Dark Knight. My emotions turned to disappointment. I wasn’t in fact a billionaire philanthropist by day or a feared vigilante by night. Instead, I was still a normal woman with a bank account full of pennies and a bed time that rarely went past the midnight mark. For a few hours, though, Telltale made me believe that I was both the man behind the mask and the caped crusader, a trance I wished I could have stayed in for longer.
Putting us in the shoes of their protagonists is a skill that Telltale has honed for many years prior to this game. The studio did it with The Walking Dead and many others, including my personal favorite, Tales of the Borderlands, transporting us into the fictional bodies of our virtual characters with ease. Telltale makes us believe that our decisions matter and here it is no different. Bigger consequences will inevitably arise because of my actions in this episode, some of which weren’t always nice. The game let me be a brutal Batman and a charming Bruce, and vice versa, with my time as the man behind the mask being arguably more exciting than my time in it. And that is what makes Batman: The Telltale Series special.
Batman videogames tend to focus on exactly that: Batman. But here Telltale gives us a rare glimpse into Bruce and his life outside of his vigilante persona. Without the usual combat found in Batman games, and less of a focus on the detective aspect, Batman: The Telltale Series reveals that being Bruce can be as rewarding as his alter ego. Seeing Batman’s life from a different angle also allows us to connect more with the person in the suit. While Batman is a cold and emotionless figure, driven by reason and logic, Bruce is depicted as a normal man, one capable of feeling the whole spectrum of human emotion. Since we play as Mr. Wayne more than we play as Batman in Realm of Shadows, the human side of the caped crusader is more prevalent than ever. There are times when Bruce gets angry, feels fear and experiences sorrow, one specific flashback showing us his vulnerable side. As a result of seeing this alternative part of Batman, during Realm of Shadows I actually cared about my double sided protagonist’s thoughts, feelings and quality of life, a feat that I haven’t really experienced in a Batman game before.
Having a bond between myself and Bruce also allowed me to become more invested in the story, which I thoroughly enjoyed watching unfold. Specifically written for this series, Telltale has taken the familiarity of the Batman world and carved something new and exciting out of it. Set in a time when Mr Wayne is relatively young and Harvey Dent still has a symmetrical face, Realm of Shadows weaves a compelling and suspenseful story. It’s full of ideas that haven’t made it into Batman videogames or movies yet, such as the exploration of darker side of the Wayne family legacy, but the familiar faces make me feel at home in Gotham right away.
For those who don’t consume as much Batman related content as I unashamedly do, the game also does a great job of explaining who people are. For instance, we don’t need to know that Selina Kyle is Catwoman, the game making sure to connect the dots for us. One character I especially liked was Oswald Cobblepot. Turning him into a man rather than a monstrosity, Cobblepot’s new portrayal is a refreshing change from his usual origin stories, although some Batman fans may not appreciate the direction Telltale have taken with him. I’m intrigued to see how his character will develop throughout the rest of the series, and whether or not his usual Penguin persona arises.
It’s all told through the familiar Telltale actions of interacting and decision making. Realm of Shadows does have other gameplay mechanics, though, namely ones used when playing as Batman. There’s the expected combat, which is done through QTE’s. This is the weakest aspect of Realm of Shadows—the Arkham games’ fantastic way of fighting making it hard for me to get too excited about pushing a button on time in this game. What I did enjoy was the detective work I was asked to do as Batman. After surveying the evidence in front of me, I have to link pieces together, thereby revealing the story of what happened. I thought this was an ingenious way of using Batman’s detective instinct, a feeling of accomplishment washing over me when I managed to get the right pieces of evidence together.
Speaking of playing as Batman, while I’ve praised Realm of Shadows for allowing me to be Bruce Wayne, I did enjoy my time as the vigilante. What I really liked about it was how Telltale allowed me to become my own version of Batman, one that either bent the rules or followed them. Due to my increasing intrigue throughout the game to see what would happen if I were a more ruthless caped crusader, some of my decisions, as I’ve mentioned, had a more sinister edge to them. I wanted to see what it would be like to be a Bat with no boundaries and I can’t wait to see how these decisions, namely the ones where I maimed people, affect both Batman and Bruce Wayne in future episodes.
This is only the first episode of the game, of course. The typical episodic nature of a Telltale game means we have to wait for the next chapter. It will be a hard wait. The cliffhanger that Realm of Shadows ended on frustrated me for a good few hours, the game’s narrative clearly sinking its hooks into me. For the first time in a Batman game, I feel like I know the person behind the mask, and while I can’t wait to don the cape again, it’s the mortal underneath whose future I’m more intrigued to see.
Batman: The Telltale Series Episode One—Realm of Shadows was developed by Telltale Games and published by Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment. It is available for Playstation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Mac, iOS and Android.
Emma Quinlan is a Manchester based freelancer who specializes in jabbering on about games. She’s written for VICE Gaming, gamesTM and Stuff.tv. You can see more of her work here.