Truth be told, playing Batman – The Telltale Series Episode 1: Realm of Shadows (I’m not typing all of that out again after this, don’t worry) on mobile wasn’t my first go-around. I’ve actually watched a few let’s play videos of the game on other platforms, so I pretty much knew what to expect. That said, while none of the story in this first episode was a surprise, it did give me some decent insight on what was different.
Things could’ve gone a bit better.
Realm of Shadows kicks off yet another retelling of Batman’s early days — back when the police still considered him to be a dangerous vigilante and James Gordon was still just a lieutenant. Things are starting to get a bit hectic in Gotham as Harvey Dent (with Bruce Wayne’s backing) is campaigning to replace Mayor Hill and hopefully get the city back on the right track. Catwoman makes an appearance (no spoilers, you can see her on the chapter select screen), other forces seek to cause chaos in the streets, and Bruce Wayne himself gets embroiled in a pretty big political scandal.
I’m not well versed on any of the comic storylines in any way, but it’s a story I haven’t seen done in any of the other Batman games I’ve played. I like it. It gives a bit more attention to characters that typically end up in the background, and shows more of what people do and how they act when Batman isn’t punching bad guys in the throat. And I have to admit, it’s nice to see a Batman story that manages to make the “my parents were shot in an alley” story (because we apparently can’t ever talk about Batman without bringing that stuff up at every single opportunity) legitimately interesting.
There are also a few Batman-esque moments that I really hope we see more of in later episodes. Things like investigating crime scenes and linking clues together (it’s simple but I still like it), planning Batman’s assault on a large group of enemies before actually swooping in and breaking bones, and so on. For lack of a better vocabulary, it feels like a Batman game made by Telltale, which of course is the whole point. The downside is that it also animates like a Telltale game, so expect some awkwardness to undercut the tension and drama from time to time.
The first noticeable changes to surface in the mobile version were both surprising and odd: a chunk of the cinematic introduction, where the scenes jump back and forth between the action and the aftermath, was missing entirely. The omission doesn’t have any real effect on the story itself, but it’s a shame that the more movie-like intro was axed in favor of a less interesting and more direct approach. I guess it was due to wanting to keep the install size down a bit more?
The second change (or changes, really) is a bit more problematic. I’m not sure if it’s because of hardware limitations or because of a game engine that wasn’t optimized for mobile, but there are an awful lot of graphical hiccups throughout Realm of Shadows. I’ve spotted character models that will randomly glitch out at weird angles for a second during cutscenes, the occasional head twitch, and the shadows look incredibly off. Seriously, upon close inspection, the shadows flicker around like someone turned an animated music visualizer into a shader.
Lastly, there’s the load times. Hoo-boy. Now, I’m generally okay with loading that takes longer than one might prefer. It happens. The problem here, however, is that some of these loading screens appear in the middle of the action — and they’re not short, either. These loading interruptions really throw off the pacing at times, and can make the quick time event-based combat more of a chore than something entertaining that breaks up the quieter moments.
Even with the porting issues, the mobile version of Realm of Shadows is still a great start to Telltale’s take on Batman — assuming you don’t have the means or desire to play it on a console or computer, anyway. The story is engaging, the action is decent enough, and it ends on one heck of a cliffhanger (the good kind). Play it wherever you can — even if your only choice is mobile.