Some would argue 2016 as the Year of the Batman. There’s plenty to go around: a new face to lead an epic team-up, a cameo in another, an R-rated adaptation of one of the most iconic Batman tales, and now a multi-episode series from the benchmark studio of episodic gameplay. The Dark Knight may live in the shadows, but he’s certainly in the limelight right now, especially considering his foray into the world of multi-episodic storytelling begins in such a rocky fashion.
Batman: The Telltale Series: Episode 1 Realm of Shadows is undoubtedly one of the buggiest, most unstable episodes the studio has released yet.
It isn’t to say this first chapter isn’t gussied up with the studio’s trademark QTE button presses and ever-expanding dialogue trees to give the player even more freedom to play Bruce Wayne (voiced by Troy Baker) as social – or as morose – as they wish. Quite the opposite, Realm of Shadows is also the most perfectly-balanced episode in Telltale’s history, fine-tuning the combat mechanics to maintain simplicity while still giving just enough challenge and comic book karate sequences to keep bat-fans entertained throughout.
The ‘Bat-chapters’ are straightforward enough, as the game throws you into the fray from minute one. Batman steals into a bank vault to stop a small gang after something specific. After a run-in with Catwoman, the mood switches to a social soiree in Bruce’s mansion, and it’s here where the game (and hopefully the entire series) starts to shine. It’s always fun to be Batman, sure, but tip-toeing the minefield of high-class snobbery and corrupt crime lord threats is definitely an uptick in this first chapter.
When coupled with Telltale’s signature dialogue trees, it becomes apparent that Bruce Wayne is the star of this series, providing far more interpretation and malleability on the player’s side. Here we are given the chance to take the iconic character into new territories that haven’t been explored in the seventy some-odd years of illustrations and graphic novels and movie franchises. How pure can Bruce Wayne be to his philosophy of no killing? What would you really say to Harvey Dent knowing what he is supposed to become? Would you make Batman kill the Joker, if given the opportunity? There are only small hints to suggest where the narrative arc is headed, but any of these questions could be fair game for the player to find out.
It is surprising then, to find the otherwise enthralling Episode 1 Realm of Shadows hindered by such an amazing amount of bugs, glitches, and framerate dips in such a short amount of time. Telltale is no stranger to PC versions of their series (some would argue the PC is the best way to play Telltale’s products), but the breadth of failures and game crashes I experienced suggests an almost amateur-level of quality control that Telltale isn’t known for. I’m almost certain some rush was involved behind the curtain in getting this series off the ground and into the public (especially to launch alongside another maligned bat-product, Suicide Squad), but it’s still frustrating to have to qualify a review with a warning to anxious fans that in this case, the console version is far and away the better version of the two.