Video Games

Telltale’s first Batman episode offers intriguing, buggy look at hero

“Batman: A Telltale Series” takes a slower, more deliberate approach to telling the caped crusader’s story.
“Batman: A Telltale Series” takes a slower, more deliberate approach to telling the caped crusader’s story. Telltale Games

Does Bruce Wayne actually work?

He owns Wayne Enterprises, but I’ve always wondered what he does during the day. In “Batman Forever,” he is portrayed as a hands-on CEO. In most other films and games, he seems to spend his days surrounded by naked women and sleeping one off until about 2 p.m. One of these things sounds a lot better than the other.

When expert comic gaming storytellers Telltale Games announced in December that Batman would be its next major franchise, it piqued my interest. The company has revolutionized the forgotten art of point-and-click adventures by offering smart, edgy takes on well-known franchises, so the robust universe headlined by DC’s Caped Crusader seemed like a slam dunk choice. Telltale furthered my interest by promising to focus on the life of Bruce Wayne in a way not yet seen.

Eight months later, Telltale delivered on that pledge in a big way with the first episode of “Batman: A Telltale Series,” entitled: “Realm of Shadows.” There’s plenty of Batman bravado and gadgetry, but most of the game centers around the daylight jockeying Wayne must do in his personal and professional life. He is Gotham’s favorite son. He is trying to make it a better place by throwing his weight behind charismatic district attorney Harvey Dent, who is trying to unseat the city’s crooked mayor. He’s also looking to replace Arkham Asylum, the mental hospital where his alter ego has plopped villains time after time, with a functioning care facility.

“Batman: A Telltale Series” will have five episodes.

Perhaps my favorite part of “Realm of Shadows” was the considerable time Wayne spends interacting with the press. I am used to being the reporter who knows something the prominent local figure doesn’t want me to know, and who is prodding and poking that poor sap into saying something he or she shouldn’t. To have those tables turned on me was – unpleasant. But in a good way.

I enjoyed the game, but I can’t go any further without first addressing the crippling bugs and technical issues that plagued “Realm of Shadows” from the first second I launched it. I received my PC copy on Tuesday, but I did not play it until Wednesday – after Telltale supposedly released a patch fixing graphical issues.

Not so much.

First of all, I could not play the game at my native 1920x1080p resolution. The cursor would not move past about the halfway point of the screen, which of course rendered it unplayable. I had to downscale the resolution, which made the graphics noticeably worse. I love Telltale’s comic art style. It works especially well for Batman, a comic book. But the action visuals are several steps behind the larger franchises to begin with, so hamstringing them with a lower resolution made the visuals – especially during daylight scenes – pretty bad.

I noticed frame rate – basically how fast the images are put together to show motion in a game – drops throughout the episode. The action scenes – heck, even some of the dialogue scenes – get choppy. I normally don’t notice this as well as my fellow reviewers do, so it’s a major flaw.

My PC isn’t a beast, but I bought it about two months ago. It has far beyond the recommended specifications for “Realm of Shadows,” so I have to chalk this to developer error. It’s possible that these problems will be corrected soon for the PC or don’t exist at all in the console counterparts. Telltale did not have console copies available for press members this week.

Batman is 77 years old. He made is debut in “Detective Comics #27” in 1939.

Despite these problems, the stellar script and voice acting ensnared me. I was apprehensive about Troy Baker playing the lead, as he is the lead in about 4,289,300 other games. But he played both Bruce and Batman well, illustrating the diversity and struggle between the two without any clunky, forced hero speak. Laura Bailey, who gets about as much work as Baker, does the same for Selina Kyle and Catwoman. She was born to voice those characters.

Telltale’s manipulation of dialogue choices and their consequences was – as always – masterful. Bruce’s mouth can end up causing trouble for Batman, and vice-versa. Characters interacting with Bruce finally notice that this billionaire playboy is bleeding all over his $10,000 suit due to the butt-kicking he took as Batman the previous night, and they ask him about it.

If “Realm of Shadows” functioned properly, it would be pretty close to a perfect introduction to yet another successful Telltale franchise. After about 30 minutes, I was so immersed that I almost stopped noticing the bugs. Almost. The first Batman episode is a huge win for superhero and Telltale fans alike, but you may want to wait for the developer to hire an exterminator.

Batman: A Telltale Series Ep. 1 “Realm of Shadows”

Video Game Review

1/2

▪ Rated mature for animated blood/violence, drug/alcohol use, adult language and sexual themes

▪ Developer: Telltale Games

▪ Publisher: Telltale Games

▪ Out now on the PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Out soon on the Mac, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Out the week of Sept. 13 for iOS and Android.

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