Telltale Games are the undisputed masters of the episodic game format, which they damn-near perfected with The Walking Dead: Season One, a game that picked up over 90 game of the year awards back in 2012. The Wolf Among Us is their first foray back into the market since that incredibly successful title. Based on the comic series Fables by Bill Willingham and actually considered a canon prequel to the books, The Wolf Among Us takes a lot of the best ingredients from The Walking Dead and spins them into a interesting noir-style detective story with a supernatural twist.
First, a quick word about the Fables universe to set the scene for you. Fabletown is a small area of New York City that was formed when characters that we all know from our childhoods (Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Georgie Porgie, Mr Toad – essentially anyone conveniently in the public domain) fled from their homelands to form a community of “fables” to protect themselves from “mundies” (literally “mundane people” like you and I). Fables are semi-supernatural and some aren’t even human, with trolls, toads, wolves and all other manner of creatures populating the area. The non-human ones use magical spells bought from witches known as “glamors” to make themselves appear human so that they can integrate with mundy society without arising suspicion. The majority of the fables are struggling to make ends meet and some are driven to less savory means of making money like prostitution. Fables may be based on fairy tales, but it certainly isn’t something that you’d read to your children at bedtime.
You play as local sheriff Bigby Wolf, the former Big Bad Wolf. Now (just about) reformed and trying to do his bit to protect Fabletown’s residents – mostly from each other. Bigby is a chain smoker with a world-weary outlook and anger-management issues. During gameplay, you’ll be given different ways to respond in dialogue and it’s not uncommon to see options which see Bigby looking for a fight, or just flat-out telling someone to f**k off. Bigby needs to keep that anger under control though, as there’s an undercurrent of sexual tension between himself and the game’s other main lead: Snow White. Now divorced from Prince Charming, Snow White works for Ichabod Crane in a sort of local government capacity, and she doesn’t like to see Bigby lose his temper. All of this is conveyed pretty early on, allowing Telltale to get to the meat of the experience and kick off the main story, which is essentially a traditional whodunnit. A fable has been murdered and with no sign of a killer, it’s Bigby’s job to track down the killer and bring them to justice.
Much like The Walking Dead, the main elements of gameplay are choosing responses to dialogue, point-and-click item investigation and quick time events during more physical moments like fights and chases. They key difference here though is that in The Walking Dead, you’re fighting for survival, but in The Wolf Among Us you work as a detective. That means your dialogue choices are often made during interrogations and how you interact with them will affect what information you receive: take it easy, and they may open up – but they may also think that they can pull the wool over your eyes; get rough with them, and they might clam up – or they could spill the beans out of sheer fear of Bigby’s feral nature. It’s up to you how you approach things and in that way the game evokes memories of Team Bondi’s ill-fated LA Noire, where you’d have to choose in what manner to confront and interrogate your suspects in the hope of getting a vital clue or confession.
However, as is often the case in these types of stories, suspects won’t always come quietly. Sometimes, Bigby is forced to drop his cigarette and get tough. Quick-time events are used during fight sequences and chase scenes and while they sometimes result in nice set-pieces, it seems that occasionally the controller input fails to be recognized – which can see you receiving a beating and requiring a reload which. Unfortunately, these loading times may take longer than you might expect. The most frustrating moments come from these instances, but thankfully these are few and far between.
There are a couple of other technical issues with the game beyond the input problems. Much like in The Walking Dead there are frequently issues with cutscenes being juddery, or the game’s audio falling out of sync. It’s a surprise that these problems still exist, despite being so apparent and frustrating in The Walking Dead. They’re easily overlooked, but after the success of The Walking Dead and all the feedback on its issues, it’s irritating that they have not been addressed yet. With more big name games ahead for Telltale, such as the upcoming Game of Thrones, it really is something that needs to be fixed sooner rather than later, otherwise all the good will they’ve built up could start to be worn away.
Visually, this is a lovely looking game which manages to look like a comic book in every frame. The characters are almost instantly recognizable using basic fairy tale knowledge despite them being updated to near modern day. This easy distinction is ideal in a title that relies on you knowing a little bit of each character’s backstory. Each character is also well voiced, although some of the British accents (particularly that of Georgie Porgie) are a little bit hammed up.
Gameplay, visuals, audio – it’s all great, but above all else The Wolf Among Us is a story – and my word, what a story it is. From the very first minute you’re instantly captivated by the tale unfolding around you. Bigby and the cast of characters are all well-rounded and intriguing. From the Woodsman’s tragic tale, to Snow White’s quest to help the fables she has let down in her job, through to Beauty’s total devotion to Beast and her desire to do whatever it takes to keep them both afloat – everyone has their own lives and their own dramas going on. Even relatively minor characters such as the barfly, Gren, have their own defined personalities and motivations which is quite some achievement. The overall narrative that ties them all together though is a great piece of writing and will have you sitting in front of your TV open-mouthed at some of the most shocking and tragic moments. This first episode will get you interested, the cliff-hanger ending will leave you wanting more.
I thoroughly enjoyed playing the first episode of The Wolf Among Us. It’s be just as memorable, interesting and captivating as the survival adventures of Lee and Clementine in The Walking Dead: Season One. If you enjoyed that game, the Fables comics, LA Noire or just if you love a good story, I’d recommend checking this one out. It has some frustrating technical issues that hamper it slightly – but at less than half the price of a retail game for the full season pass, it’s definitely worth the money.