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BATMAN – The Telltale Series Episode 1 “Realm of Shadows” Crowd Play at San Diego Comic-Con 2016 Impressions – The Man Behind the Mask

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Episode 1 of Batman: The Telltale Series, titled “Realm of Shadows,” the newest episodic series by the prolific Telltale Games, is not due out until next week on August 2. Luckily for you, Telltale held a Crowd Play event of the game during the San Diego Comic-Con 2016 this past Saturday night, and yours truly was part of all the audience action. Don’t worry, I’ll minimize story spoilers, but I can’t say the same for gameplay details.

Hosted by Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller, and graced with the presence of members of the Telltale team and the voice actor of Bruce Wayne himself, Troy Baker (whose name you may recognize from The Last of Us, to name just one of many credits he has under his belt), the Crowd Play event was a full house of more than 100 strong in one of the Hard Rock Hotel’s event theaters. Being such a large audience at a Crowd Play, loud yelling and laughter ensued throughout the night as choices were made and reactions to them vocalized.

Following some technical audio difficulties and an accidental slip-up showing the title of Episode 2, which you can read about here, Greg began the episode on the second try. The first player-chosen decision, a game mechanic that Telltale has honed over the years since Jurassic Park, was deciding the BatTech’s color (red, blue and yellow are what I can remember, but there are others). Greg went with blue on his first attempt before the audio issues, then changed to red during the second attempt, both times choosing what the majority yelled in the theater. For the record, I yelled yellow, even if I am a Team Mystic player. *wink*

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Beginning with an action scene right off the bat, the Telltale game engine of old was apparent. Quick-time events requiring button and analog stick pushing were bountiful throughout the Crowd Play. Of course, what kind of Telltale game would Batman be if it didn’t have many dialogue options? The art style of Episode 1 is highly-reminiscent of the darker Batman comics in recent times, but still has that gritty, comic-like Telltale flare. One thing that did bother me, though, is that Bruce Wayne’s head snaps back then forward again when the game allows the player to control him, a common occurrence with past Telltale games as well, including Lee and Clementine in The Walking Dead.

As has been true for every episodic game series by Telltale Games over the past few years, every action, choice, and dialogue option selected in the episode affects not only the relationships between characters and their culmination in the final couple of scenes, but future episodes as well. This is especially apparent after the dramatic concluding scene and the repercussions of what you, as Bruce Wayne, decide to do to a certain person who is the main antagonist of the episode.

Two brand new mechanics were also shown off. Linking together pieces of evidence, either on a computer or at a crime scene or other place, is an important part of investigations in Batman. Visualized through Batman’s LED eyepiece in his mask, the linking system is basically simple button pushes and dragging of the reticle to “link” together pieces of evidence or specific parts of an area. The tricky part is not how to do it, but putting together the right things in the correct logical order. Greg was playing on a PC, so he had an easier time of putting links together using the mouse (or touchpad, since I wasn’t able to see which he was actually using in front of the podium), rather than the analog sticks/joysticks I am used to using on consoles.

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The second new mechanic announced at the end of the Crowd Play event was of the same name, crowd play. Essentially a form of multiplayer, crowd play allows players to be coached by other people either in the same room or online on what choices to make in terms of dialogue or actions and other variables. Viewers who are part of your crowd play session can vote for what to choose via their respective devices. While not very many other details were given as to how it works, this is certainly a brave new step in a different direction for the Telltale team as a whole.

Surprisingly, the highest praise I can give the game right now is not the story (which was a close second with its well-written and focused emphasis on the Bruce Wayne under the mask in setting up the next four episodes in the season), but, rather, the short loading times and rare lag in the build shown, which one of the two members of the Telltale team at the front of the room said is still a work in progress build until launch next week. After all, the opposite adjective describing these two attributes quickly got annoying in The Walking Dead, both Season 1 and 2. Fortunately, based on what I saw, those problems do not plague Batman.

Lastly, a few words about the Telltale version of the Batsuit: the eyepiece in the mask give Bruce piercingly-white eyes reminiscent of Ben Affleck’s portrayal of the Bat in Batman vs. Superman while also being in sharp contrast to his all-black traditional-Batman attire. Other than the eyepiece, though, not much more is different about this Telltale version of the suit than Christian Bale’s in the Batman movie franchise.

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Overall, I think everyone in the room–and hopefully everyone reading this come August 2 and beyond–enjoyed what was shown of Episode 1 at the crowd play. It truly is a different experience when you play a choice-driven game with several other people yelling out what you should choose, rather than by yourself with just your own thoughts and voice for company. You can also view three additional screenshots from Episode 1 at the bottom of this post.

I know for me, even without my hands being the ones playing, the episode looked really fun and enjoyable. Thankfully, the crowd play function should also allow everyone who plays online to enjoy the same experience.

Episode 1 of Batman: The Telltale Series will be available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Come August 2, get ready to answer the question: what kind of Batman will you choose to be?

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198X Review — A Nostalgia Trip Without a Destination

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198X

Some short stories feel more like chapters—snipped out of a larger work—that struggle to make sense on their own. 198X represents a translation of that ethos to video game form. As a result, the game feels unfulfilling, though that does not detract from the overall quality on offer. Ultimately, the player’s appraisal of 198X will depend on whether they place more stock in story or gameplay because while the former leaves much to be desired, the latter will be a hit for anyone with fond memories of the 8- and 16-bit classics.

In the framing and overall structure, 198X is decidedly modern, but everything else pulses with a retro vibe. At its core, the game is a compilation, weaving together five distinct experiences under the auspice of a story of personal development. From the Double Dragon-infused ‘Beating Heart’ to the turn-based dungeon RPG ‘Kill Screen’, each title feels slick, if a little undercooked. Those old-school originals could only dream of being as smooth as these throwbacks. However, the two-button input methodology results in the games feeling just a touch too simple, though their brevity—each clocking in at a maximum of 15 minutes (depending on the player’s skill level and muscle memory)—makes that less of an issue than it might have been. If more depth is present, it is hidden well, as the game lacks any sort of tutorial to guide players. Nevertheless, the stellar presentation goes a long way towards papering over the cracks.

The pixel art aesthetic of 198X is staggering. Each of the worlds that players make their way through is pitched perfectly to fit the mood it evokes. From the grungy brawler of the first game to the more melancholic mood of the open-road racer, the screen is drenched in lavish colour and far more detail than one might expect from such a seemingly simple art style.

Easily a match for the visuals is the audio. The in-game sounds of a car engine or bone-crunching strike are low-key, which allows the music to come to the fore. Those tunes are all from the electronic genre, simple, yet layered with enough depth to not feel tedious or tiring. Easily overshadowing all the rest though is Maya Tuttle’s voice-over narration as The Kid. Her tone is one of pervasive resignation that works to reinforce the same mood within the script.

That melancholia will surely strike a chord with anyone who has grown up on the fringes. The Kid speaks of once loving and now hating the Suburbia of their childhood, where memories of happiness collide with a contemporary feeling of entrapment. The words and lines are powerfully evocative—made even more so by the connection between the gameworlds and the prevailing emotion at that point. The problem is that they amount to nothing. The story comprises of these snippets—these freestanding scenes of life lived lonely—that never coalesce into anything. The Kid may find an arcade and speak of finding some sort of home and a source of strength, but it goes nowhere. The game ends just as things start to get interesting. Setting up for a sequel is no sin. Plenty of other games and media products—from Dante’s Inferno to Harry Potter—have done just that. However, to be effective, such first parts need to offer a story in and of themselves, not just the promise of a story to come, and that is where 198X falls apart.

With each game in the compilation being a straightforward, one-and-done affair and the overarching narrative feeling like a prologue at best, 198X is wafer-thin. The presentation is simply remarkable, and the package has enough variety to be worth a look, but the unmistakable impression is that something is missing.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Coming soon to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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