Batman – Episode 1 Review: My Parents Are Dead

batman-episode-one-headerThe latest in Telltale’s ongoing series of series based on licensed property is one that has a lot of fans excited. Even with the critical flops that were Batman: Arkham Origins and Batman: Arkham Knight on PC, Batman video games certainly generate quite a bit of buzz. Telltale’s take on Batman is very familiar to Telltale Games regulars but is a new take for Batman gamers as it puts as much an emphasis on Batman as it does Bruce Wayne.

Telltale’s Batman isn’t an origin story but rather starts as another day in the life of Batman who is still early in his career. The episode starts with Batman foiling a robbery of the mayor’s office by taking out some faceless goons before foiling Catwoman. He then hustled back to Wayne Manor to host a fundraiser for Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign. From the opening scenes, the game turns into an examination of Martha and Thomas Wayne and what connections they might have had with Gotham’s crime bosses. That’s a new take on the Batman story but isn’t tied into his origin which remains the same murdered by a mugger story that we’re all familiar with.

While this isn’t Batman’s origin story, Catwoman is explicitly described as being new to Gotham. Harvey is still a District Attorney and hasn’t become Two-Face. Taking a page from Gotham, Carmine Falcone (voiced expertly by Richard McGonagle of Uncharted fame) is the criminal kingpin of Gotham but another future supervillain turns up for an introduction for later episodes (a Chekhov’s supervillain sort of thing) and a new origin story that will likely factor into Batman and Bruce’s approach to him in later episodes.

batman-episode-one-promo-01That’s the one interesting thing about playing as both Bats and Bruce. You can play the game two different ways as the public figure and the vigilante. You can play Batman as the non-lethal Batman or as a violent vigilante while Bruce could be a goody two-shoes or be willing to cozy up to those members of the criminal underworld that cross his and Harvey’s paths. The allowance for a dichotomy between Batman and Bruce reminds me of Tales From The Borderlands but it’s a little more compelling to do this as the same person rather than two.

From a gameplay perspective, get ready for QTEs! Okay, it’s a Telltale game so you’re expecting it. The QTEs are a little faster paced than usual so you feel like you’re in a fight. They don’t really do combos like in TFTB’s final episode but you do get the occasional Shift+Q/E prompt so that’s something. You also have a new finisher meter at the bottom-left during fights. It wasn’t explained in the game, though. It probably was in a press release or my press kit but it seems rather daft if the press finds out these things and they’re not in the game. I could tell that the meter depleted if you missed QTEs and filled if you were successful but I thought that was a health meter since I never triggered a fail state for missing a QTE.

In addition to the sped-up QTEs, there is a light detective mechanic. In one scene, Batman links pieces of evidence together and the Batcomputer simulates what happens in freeze-frames. It’s a low-cost version of what we saw in Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments in terms of visuals and impact on the game. The detective mechanic seems very tacked on but it’s still better than what was in Battlefield Hardline. That being said, if it was removed, I’m not sure if anyone would have missed it.

batman-episode-one-screenshot-01Visually, the game reminds me a lot of Tales from the Borderlands. Telltale is marketing the game as being done in the styles of the Batman comics but the visual style goes for something closer to realistic but with a thick comic ink edge to the characters. There’s also a lot of bright tech gadgets in the game like a wrist computer, the Batmobile and the Batcomputer as you would expect from Batman. I doubt it makes a difference but you can pick your gadgets’ backlighting colour at the start of the game from blue, red, yellow and purple. Borrowing from TWD: Michonne, the QTE indicators look like keyboard keys on PC.

Unfortunately, Batman is on the Telltale Tool engine. I could really just copy and paste part of any of my previous Telltale Games reviews in here to cover the Telltale Tool. I don’t mind that Batman isn’t a visual tour de force. In fact, it doesn’t look too bad for a Telltale game and I’d say that it looks similar in style and quality to Tales from the Borderlands. The problem is that it’s poorly optimized. A lot of the early scenes suffered from low framerates for no apparent reason. Past the halfway point of the episode, I didn’t find the framerate too bad but you find yourself on-screen with no more than three other characters at those points either.

The PC port of the game was maligned at launch for framerate issues, especially in the Batman scenes. To be honest, I found the Bruce Wayne scenes to be worse. If you think the PC port sounds bad, don’t run out and grab the console version without researching those issues. Making the issue more confusing is that Telltale letterboxed the game so it runs at a ratio of 2.09:1 rather than using a whole 16:9 screen. Some quick maths says that Telltale trimmed 15% of the frames of a full screen so despite not rendering that, they can’t get the game to run smoothly. Telltale even had the audacity to ask you to update your graphics drivers. You don’t need to based on the visuals but you probably need to based on the optimization or lack thereof.

According to Wikipedia (the most reliable source of information in the world), the Telltale Tool will be used for The Walking Dead: Season 3 and Game of Thrones: Season 2. At a certain point, Telltale has to move to a new engine. They need to consider something like a Unity or Unreal engine which can run smoothly on multiple platforms and are fairly malleable. They really just need an engine that is capable of playing different scenes based on decisions. It’s not like games changing based on decisions is a new concept. We just ran a series of Mass Effect reviews and BioWare did that on Unreal 3. Sure, Telltale will have to learn a new engine and I doubt it will make a difference to the actual games, but if player experience matters, exploring new engine options has to be a priority before the next set of games are developed.

Conclusion

batman-episode-one-screenshot-02The first episode of any episodic game is tricky because it doesn’t really reflect the series as a whole. You could rate it on potential but sometimes the rest of the series is a flop. Just look at Telltale’s Game of Thrones which started promising and then flopped as they fleshed out Stark fan fiction. On the plus side, Telltale’s take on Batman is a unique one with the focus on Bruce Wayne and the Wayne family rather than on Batman and being “the world’s greatest detective.” I still think it’s worth taking with a grain of salt because of Telltale’s hit-and-miss track record.

So Batman has gotten off to a promising start and has a pretty unique premise but there is still six or seven hours left to play. However, it feels largely the same as every other Telltale game and has technical issues like most Telltale games. It’s far from perfect but they can improve. We’ll have to see how it goes from here. After all, I gave a Life Is Strange a 7.0/10 for Episode One and rated the whole season a 9.5/10 and gave it etg’s Game of the Year. If you’re not happy with this score, come back later because it can always turn around.

Rating: 7.0/10

Batman – Episode One: Realm of Shadows was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Mac OS X, iOS and Android. The review code for this game was provided by Telltale Games. Your impressions of the game may change depending on platform played on, PC specs and if you think a Batman game shouldn’t focus on Bruce Wayne.

Cross-posted from et geekera. For more from et geekera, follow us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr, Steam and RSS.

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