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The new Batman game starts strong by letting you be Bruce Wayne

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Episode one is available today

Telltale Batman

In 2009, Batman: Arkham Asylum managed to capture something that had eluded video games for decades: the feeling of being Batman. The brutal hand-to-hand combat, the high-tech tools and investigations, that sensation of skulking around in the dark undetected, all of it was there in video game form. It’s a tough act to follow for a new game starring the Caped Crusader, so how does a Batman game stand out? In the case of Telltale’s new Batman series, the answer is simple: focus on Bruce Wayne.

The first episode of the developer’s new take on Batman starts out with a literal bang: a group of masked criminals shoot a guard in the head as they infiltrate Gotham’s city hall in search of sensitive material. As Batman, you slowly take down each member of the group by using a combination of stealth and gadgets, that makes it seem like they almost vanish. The scene wraps with a big fight sequence with Cat Woman on a rooftop at night.

So far, so Batman.

Telltale Batman

But the game pivots with the next scene, which sees Bruce Wayne hosting a fundraising event for Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign. When you’re Batman, what you need to do is usually pretty clear; take out bad guys and investigate crimes. But for Bruce, it’s much less cut-and-dry. Telltale’s Batman plays out much like the developer’s other games — particularly like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us — which means that events play out sort of like an interactive TV show. You’ll spend a lot of time watching things happen, but you can also interact with the narrative by making important decisions and choosing from a range of dialogue options.

It turns out this system is a great fit for a character like Bruce Wayne. There have been many renditions of Bruce over the years, and Telltale’s version is sort of a mix of all of them, depending on the choices you make. You can have him be the asshole millionaire playboy; the grim, humorless Bruce focused only on justice; the stand up citizen that Gotham loves; or you can be some combination. Like the best decision-based games, there’s rarely a correct answer, and no matter which direction you go in, you’re bound to run into trouble. In one early scene you can stick to your morals and end up on the mafia’s bad side, or you can play along with a criminal ringleader while sullying your reputation.

The first episode, called "Realm of Shadows,” has many great scenes where Bruce is forced to confront these internal struggles: heated discussions with Alfred, being confronted by invasive reporters, trying to say the right thing at a press conference. They may sound a bit boring — at least compared to the jawbreaking action of traditional Batman games — but these scenes are also perfect for showcasing a side of Batman that is usually only glossed over in other the comics or movies. Here you don’t just get to watch his conflicting emotions, you get to control them.

Telltale Batman

The moments when you’re playing as Batman are sometimes less compelling. The action sequences — as in every other Telltale game — are tedious, forcing you to tap buttons at just the right time while the characters perform elaborate actions on-screen. The real highlight, though, is when you get to take time to investigate crime scenes, figuring out how clues link together, and determining just what went down. You get to use a lot of the hero’s best gadgets, too: one great scene has you scoping out a mafia party by drone.

As fun as they can be, though, the Batman scenes have already been done better in other games. The real highlight of Telltale’s Batman, at least in this debut episode, is Bruce. The game can’t match the Arkham series in terms of action, but it smartly goes a different route. The big question is whether this will lead anywhere. The debut episode has laid down the groundwork for a potentially fascinating take on the Batman mythos. (The game exists separately in its own timeline separate from other Batman tales.) But if your actions and decisions can really have an important impact on how things unfold, it could be something very special. And you’ll have Bruce Wayne to thank.

The first episode of Telltale’s Batman is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One, and will be launching on other platforms in the coming weeks.