Batman game breaks from the norm

Batman game breaks from the norm

Quite a few games have let players be Batman.

But “Batman — The Telltale Series: Episode One: The Realm of Shadows” is the first I can recall where the time spent as Bruce Wayne, the man behind the mask, is just as meaningful as the time spent punching out thugs.

And maybe that doesn’t sound sexy to you. Everyone wants to be the intimidating crime fighter with all the toys, not the handsome, single, playboy billionaire ... Wait. That doesn’t sound quite right now, does it?

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I know why games such as “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and its sequels put the emphasis on running about in costume. It’s nonstop action for players, even if those games break credulity on how much punishment the Caped Crusader can dole out over the course of a single evening.

But here, Telltale appears to be taking a more realistic approach, where Bruce Wayne has a company to run, a legacy to live up to and everyone clamoring for a bit of his time. Where Gotham’s No. 1 son is much better fodder for newspaper headlines than a vigilante boogeyman not everyone believes is real.

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The action is set early on in Batman’s career. The mob boss Carmine Falcone rules much of the city. Catwoman is a new face in town. Oswald Cobblepot is Bruce Wayne’s long-absent childhood pal — and he’s not short and rotund with a beak-like nose. So yes, Batfans, the lore here isn’t in lockstep with most versions of the world’s greatest detective.

And as for how the story will play out for you, well, that’s almost impossible for me to say. Like other Telltale games, this episodic series is all about making choices — choices that not only affect what happens in the here-and-now but also the unforeseen future. Choices that mean that by the time we reach the conclusion of episode six, the story you’ve witnessed may be very different from my own experience.

As is usual for Telltale, “Batman” melds elements of point-and-click, Simon Says and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure games into a neat little package.

The point-and-click stuff is there because, well, it wouldn’t be a Batman game if you didn’t have crime scenes to investigate, clues to find and conclusions to draw.

Fights involve quick-time events, where you’ve got a limited amount of time to execute moves that briefly appear on the screen, i.e. swipe the control stick left or quickly hit “X.” Successful execution means Batman will block that punch or deliver his own. Messing up means he might take a hit — and it might not be one he can get up from.

And the Choose-You-Own-Adventure aspect generally comes into play during conversations, where you’ve got a short span of time to pick a response. And what you decide may very well have a ripple effect in future episodes. Did you shake that man’s hand? Were you playful or confrontational when meeting Harvey Dent’s girlfriend? Everything you say and do can have repercussions.

And if you’ve got backseat drivers to your CYOA decisions, the game has a “crowd play” feature you can activate, where smartphones can be linked to the game (as long as you have a Telltale account). With crowd play active, up to 12 players can vote on the decisions Bruce Wayne is asked to make. In other words, you can turn this into a party game.

Ultimately, I found this first episode of “Batman — The Telltale Series” to be deeply satisfying. Yes, it’s like playing a comic book, but it’s also far more soap opera-y than most other superhero games you’ll find. But that just means there’s a complexity here that someone looking for more than punches, kicks and batarang throwing will appreciate.

I can’t wait to see where my Bruce Wayne story goes.

Joel Leizer is The News-Gazette’s Playing Critic. Contact him at jleizer@news-gazette.com.


“Batman — The Telltale Series: Episode One: The Realm of Shadows”
■ Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC. (Coming eventually to other platforms)
■ Price: $4.99 for just this episode; $24.99 for a season pass
■ ESRB rating: M for mature

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