Last night I got back from vacation and had a few hours to kill. The Girl was exhausted and feel asleep almost immediately when we got home. This is usually the time that I grab my trusty XBOX One controller and travel to Gotham to kill (I mean, knock unconscious for a very long time) some bad guys. Over the weekend, I was boating and on a waverunner so that was more than enough physical activity for me. Sitting down and exercising my thumbs was exactly what I needed.
I turned on my XBOX and felt the normal delight that I feel when I hear that ubiquitous jingle and see ping of light. The Arkham Knight disc was already in the console and luck would have it that the unit did not need an update. That is usually how it goes though, “Great, I have 15 minutes, time to play a quick mission.” *This console needs a 5gb update* “DAMMIT!” Thankfully, this was not one of those times. When the screen loaded, I saw the bat symbol but it was not one that I was familiar with. Telltale had finally released their story based Batman game with the Episode 1 opener: Realm of Shadows. Needless to say, I bought it immediately.
*Side note: I used a credit that I received for getting Fallout 4 for free. They accidentally posted it for free on their website and so I “purchased” it. They of course noticed their mistake and retracted the purchase. As a consolation prize for me taking advantage of the situation they gave me a substantial credit towards something else. Nothing like Gotham at a discounted price.
Before I get into my experience as Telltale’s Batman, you should know about their format. Telltale is a company that has many designers that came from LucasArts and they focus on episodic storytelling. Their games are more focused on story and decision making than they are on action or button mashing. Bioware’s games come to mind when I play Telltale but this is a very different experience. Mass Effect is a first person shoot with some great story added in. Telltale is more like an old “Choose Your Own Adventure” comic come to life. They are usually even designed like living comics, at least the ones that I’ve played. Each decision you make effects your next move or how other characters treat you. There are a limited number of outcomes so that isn’t necessarily the point. But how you get to those predetermined endings can be very different from one player to the next.
My first experience was with The Walking Dead. I’m a big Walking Dead fan from the comics to the TV show. So when this came out I was all onboard. I played it for five minutes on my iPad and was bored thoroughly. Didn’t like it and I walked away. But years later I was able to get it free for my XBOX One using Games for Gold. I thought I would give The Walking Dead Season one another go around and I stuck with it longer. After 30 minutes, I was hooked. I couldn’t believe the difference that 20 minutes made. I needed time to adjust to the premise as well as the style. This style was very different than what I was used to, I had to be patient and I had to wait for any real action to happen. Even when the action happened, I wasn’t an active participant. It’s more about experiencing what your character is experiencing and feeling invested in their journey than actively participating in punching and kicking. You’re the decision maker not the sword thrower.
Back to Gotham.
This is the game that probably would have gotten me to stick around longer and not just because it’s Batman. With The Walking Dead, you were handcuffed in a cop car and had a long expositional conversation with the cop where you were defining your personality and backstory. Batman was an entirely different story. You start immediately as the Caped Crusader and are saving the day. Probably the most action that you partake in is at the beginning. You start the game beating up some random thugs who broke into City Hall but then Catwoman comes along and steals the booty while simultaneously showcasing hers. During her escape, you are able to save her from certain death, recover the McGuffin, and she slices your face. Onward to a fundraiser for the future mayor of Gotham, Harvey Dent.
I could go moment for moment in this review but I always hate that when people summarize everything and then just give their opinion in the final paragraph. If you’ve seen it, then you don’t need it summarized. If you haven’t, then you don’t want it spoiled. The crux of the story is that the Wayne family might not be the towering beacon of hope that they have been portrayed as for decades. The Wayne family having dealings with the mob has come into question and every news station is reporting it. Bruce is currently in the public eye because he is Dent’s largest backer and the Falcone crime family wants him to tow “the family line” as it were. I will not lie to you, you are going to spend a lot more time as Bruce Wayne than you do as Batman but both will be worth it. You’ll get more invested in why and how Bats does what he does as opposed to just making it happen. You get to explore the psyche of Bruce Wayne while also shaping it at the same time. You can be cool, flippant, reserved, or a harsh Bruce Wayne. You also get to decide if you’ll be an even, thoughtful, decisive, gruff, or rough Batman. Are you stepping close to the edge? Are you plain jumping off it? That’s up to you. Alfred will be there in the cave, with concern, as he always is.
One thing I think a lot people enjoy about Batman games is that you get to focus more on the detective side of the Dark Knight. We see this all throughout the comics but very sparingly in the movies. This game is no different from Arkham Origins or Arkham Knight when it comes to in-depth detective work. Utilizing it’s own limitations instead of trying to ignore them, Telltale helps the player think it through rather than just discover. It’s easy to stumble upon a bullet wound and declare a thug dead, but with Telltale’s Batman, you discover several clues and YOU are the one that has to link them in the appropriate manner. In one scene in particular, you are at a crime scene before the police arrive. Several dead bodies lay before you, thugs and cops alike. Blown doors and interesting scorch marks. In other games, you would most likely have to find all these clues and then the character figures it out on their own and the story progresses for you. Telltale has you figuratively and literally link the clues together in a fashion that makes the most sense. Only after that can the story progress.
I could spoil the ending of Episode 1 for you but I won’t. It is a deeply satisfying cliff hanger that makes you beg for more so you can find out if Alfred and Bruce’s relationship will be forever changed.
In summary, you should give this story a chance. There may be a lot of things that you aren’t used to or even immediately accept. The Wayne family possibly being corrupt, an attractive, skinny Cobblepot, or Bruce being the focus instead of Bats. These are all things that made me give a knee jerk reaction of “I don’t like it.” But stick with it throughout the episode because there is a definite style and direction that this story is taking. It’s ok if it’s not just like the comics or exactly like the movies. This is not called “Batman” it’s called “Batman: A Telltale Series” because that is exactly what it is. You will find yourself getting invested in this Batman just as much as you have with others.