Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered, y'know? You'd think that Telltale would be able to gloss over the most iconic origin story in superhero history, but the haughty Alfred Pennyworth takes an almost perverse pleasure in reminding you about the unfortunate fate of your mother and father at every opportunity. It's, as is always the case with the Caped Crusader, the lynchpin of the plot of course; the fall of Gotham is at the centre of every conversation, and each of the sprawling city's citizens proposes to know the solution.
None more so than Harvey Dent, the square-jawed district attorney aiming to rise through the mangled metropolis' crooked political system and assume the role of mayor. Having secured significant funding from Wayne Enterprises, the opening exchanges of this inaugural episode – named Realm of Shadows, for those interested – finds you greasing the palms of Gotham's elite, canvassing support from some of the district's most influential individuals. It's an interesting change of pace – the brooding badassery of Bats exchanged for the politics of a city beyond repair.
But it fits Telltale's chatty template immaculately; consequences may be engineered to steer you in the direction that the developer wants you to go, but the studio still manages to build tension around something as mundane as a simple handshake. Do you clasp the paw of one of the city's most notorious gangsters, inadvertently implicating yourself further down the line? Or do you stick to your values, knowing full well that your morals may irreparably burn bridges? And what, if anything, will your decisions mean for the Dark Knight himself?
Ultimately it doesn't really matter – your picks merely add shading to a narrative that's been pre-determined – but the stress that surrounds the impossible decisions laid out before you has always been Telltale's strength. The problem here then is that the writing lacks the studio's usual care and attention; situations occasionally escalate in a manner that doesn't feel befitting of the options that you select, and Wayne will sometimes behave in a psychotic way – even if you're trying to play him more as a pacifist.
Perhaps this split personality will manifest itself later in the plot – the developer may very well be trying to portray Bruce as the schizophrenic that he probably is – but this early on it just feels sloppy, and breaks the illusion of choice worse than in the outfit's previous games. It doesn't help that the action is similarly untidy; fight scenes are choreographed with love and care, but the quick-time events that govern them are dreary, with laggy prompts and a lack of in-game feedback removing any illusion of control. A hasty button prompt is fine in The Walking Dead, but Bats deserves better.
Detective work is similarly lacklustre, and at odds with what the episode's trying to achieve. The real appeal here – particularly in the wake of much better Batman titles like Arkham Asylum – is masquerading as Gotham's billionaire playboy, and learning what his life is really like. But a miserable sequence in which you must drag links between pieces of evidence grates, and it just doesn't live up to the highlights of the encounter, where you exchange coffee shop niceties with Selina Kyle or bat away the increasingly invasive press.
To its credit, the instalment does show flashes of where this story is going to go, and the reinvention of one key character from Batman lore suggests that there may be meaningful deviations to look forward to. But first and foremost, this series needs to understand what it's trying to achieve. As an insight into the oft-overlooked mechanisms of Bruce Wayne's lonely life, it's on the right path – but as a superhero game, it falls flat on its partially obscured face. We're not convinced that the developer can successfully balance both.
When it's obsessing over the broken politics of Gotham, this alternate take on DC's most famous franchise promises plenty – but lacklustre heroics and writing inconsistencies really drag it down. There's reason to be excited by some of the fictional deviations that the developer's taking, but they're yet to manifest themselves in any meaningful way, and the overemphasis on tired series tropes will draw many a groan. It's obviously too early to determine where this story is going to go, but our biggest concern right now is that Telltale isn't entirely sure either.