Written by Kevin Kennedy, @thekevmiester
Set in Vetigo’s ‘Fables’ universe written by Bill Willingham, The Wolf Among Us is the latest game from Telltale Games. Instead of getting straight into the second season of The Walking Dead, they instead decided to go in a completely different direction. While the engine, mechanics and story telling techniques are similar, the tone and style is fairly different, How does it pay off?
The story is set in the New York area of Fabletown, a ‘safe haven’ for fairy tale characters that have been exiled from their home land and forced to make a living in the real world with some fairing better than others. The sheriff of Fabletown is Bigby, AKA the Big Bad Wolf, who is trying to shake off his evil past of blowing down houses and eating grannies and make a decent name for himself. When fairy tale characters (who also go by the name ‘Fables’) start showing up dead, it’s up to Bigby to sort things out. The first episode largely sees him team up with Snow White as they chase down leads.
As bonkers as that plot description sounds, the game pulls it off brilliantly. While the tone is grim, thankfully The Wolf Among Us doesn’t take itself too seriously. After all it is a detective story featuring characters from Sleepy Hollow to Snow White. Dragging these fairy tales kicking and screaming into the real world and hearing Beast complain about his multiple jobs or watching the Huntsman drink himself into a stupor is very comical and the game knows it, though that doesn’t mean you can’t come to care or sympathise with these characters.
Speaking of the characters, they’re all great. From the Huntsman to the Big Bad Wolf himself, there are no stock characters here; everybody has baggage and seems to be striving for some form of redemption. Fables are immortal or can at least live for a long time, time enough to reflect on past mistakes. Snow White may come off as weak when compared to the other more colorful cast members, but even she is well defined and relatable. A few characters only briefly show up, as if to just set themselves up for further appearances (the Beauty and the Beast cameo wis very noticeable in that exception) but quite frankly I can’t wait to see more of these characters and what they have to bring to the story.
While the game features similar choice moments as The Walking Dead and has many similar features, they are quite different beasts. The Walking Dead was a dour tale of survival and humanity, The Wolf Among Us is very much a noir detective story. Whereas Lee would run from danger, Bigby calmly swaggers into it.
The only real drawback in terms of story is that it behaves very much like a first episode because, well, it is. A third or so of the episode is mainly about dolling out exposition to the player, which is where the Walking Dead had it easy; there, the only exposition needed regarded Lee’s past and that was a deliberately kept in the dark. This time, there is an entire world with it’s own government, rules, settings and characters with varied pasts to get across, as such the tale takes a while before it gets truly interesting. I’m still not entirely sure why the characters moved to Fabletown, there is the occasional mention of something called “The Exodus” but that’s all.
Also, and this may be simply a personal preference, but I find opening text scrawls, akin to Star Wars, to be a fairly useless trick in storytelling. Don’t tell, show. Though I’m just nit picking now; things are never boring, infact the intro is great fun, it just may take a while before you are truly invested until the main storyline kicks in and the game starts to feel more confident in itself.
A touch less exposition may actually have improved my enjoyment though as by the end of the first episode, I was so invested that I actually started reading up on the characters when bio pages were unlocked. Not since Mass Effect was I so keen to read more about a game’s world and relished seeing the “more fable pages unlocked” icon in the corner of the screen.
All in all, The Wolf Among Us gets off to a great start and with the story and characters largely set up now, I can only see things getting better in the coming episodes.
If you’ve played The Walking Dead, you know what to expect in terms of gameplay, in fact The Wolf Among Us is almost identical. You’ll walk about rooms searching for little circles to click, hit quick time events when it’s time for action and will constantly get confused when given control of Bigby and end up walking in the wrong direction.
The fight scenes solely consist of quick-time events which have you hammering buttons and clicking on circles. Again, if you’ve played The Walkin Dead you’ll find nothing new. The circle clicks are as tense as ever and every so often hammering on the button is useless for story reasons which is a nice touch. The main difference this time around is that the fight scenes are more fun than tense. Like previously mentioned, Lee would rather avoid fights, but Bigby trashes entire rooms and pubs in this first episode.
The controls may not be great, but quite frankly who cares? They work well enough that I never felt that any mistake made wasn’t my fault. The timer on conversations can still feel punishing at times as taking in four different responses on a time limit is no easy task, but other than that it controls as well as it needs too.
The Wolf Among Us is quite a cool game to look at. While the The Walking Dead was quite drab and lifeless to fit it’s world, The Wolf Among Us has a dark, noir aesthetic to it, with moody shadows and cell-shaded graphics helping set the mood. There is the occasional splat of neon color, but for the most part the color palate is rather select, as such the game looks a lot better during night time. Far more impressive are the character designs, from anthropomorphic Toads to little piggies. The music is also cool, I had the main menu music playing whilst writing this review. While the jump to the opening credits is a little jarring, the sights and sounds all come together to make an extremely appealing package. The operative word here, of course, is cool. A very cool game.
The Final Word: A very stylish, unique and cool game with a first episode that definitely leaves you wanting more. I honestly spent the rest of the day after completion thinking about little else. As much as I was anticipating season 2 of The Walking Dead, I’d much rather see more of this series. The first episode was over far too soon for my liking and the rest of the series can’t come soon enough.Telltale Games are on fire right now and I dearly hope it doesn’t go out any time soon.