I was slightly wary going into Telltale games latest storytelling adventure, The Wolf Among Us, not because Telltale couldn’t pull off another hit, but because my main attraction to their 2012 Game Of The Year – The Walking Dead, was that I already knew the world, I knew some of the characters, I’d read the comics, seen the TV show, and TWD universe had a place in my heart.
Things were different here for The Wolf Among Us. I hadn’t read any of the Fables comics that this game is based off, but I’d heard very good things about them, so I was going in a little dark. I knew about the ideas from the comics, about the fairytale characters, disguised as humans, but I never knew the in’s and out’s, the how’s or why’s, or even the who’s, so I had no real idea which way this game was going to go. Even from seeing the trailer with a talking dog to a talking frog I still wasn’t initially hooked, but having the experience of The Walking Dead, and being a massive fan of the point and click genre, adventure titles and Telltale Games episodic series, I still knew, even with initial hesitation, that I’d have to at least give The Wolf Among Us a go, and boy am I glad I did, because this could very well be another fine notch in the Telltale bedpost of Game Of The Year awards!
In case like me, and you hadn’t read the ‘Fables’ comic-book series from author Bill Willingham, artist Mark Buckingham and the DC Comics Vertigo imprint, then you might be a little confused with what’s going on in this game-world. To put simply, after the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, the fairytale characters along with the likes of the aforementioned Big Bad Wolf, or The Woodsman, Snow White, and others, all get exiled from their homelands, and have to settle on the Upper West Side Manhattan, hiding in plain sight with and around the humans (or mundies as they are called here). By taking a special magic called Glamour, they then can turn into the appearance of a human. Glamour can be expensive though, so if some do not take the magic or afford it, they can appear in their normal form, and this can cause numerous issues, especially for The Big Bad Wolf, who is really the sheriff around these parts.
The leading role here in The Wolf Among Us, Episode 1 : Faith, is The Big Bad Wolf, or as he is known to everyone, Bigby, and that’s who you will be taking control of.
From the get go, everything looks gorgeous, cell shaded effects, crisp looking comic book style, gritty looking scenes, heavy drawn outlines, fantastic comic book feel, neon bright lights mixed with deep dark blacks and browns, it just feels like everything is jumping from the screen, it feels like the Fables comics brought to life.
To me there seems to be a little nod early on to The Walking Dead Telltale series too, with the opening scene in the back of a taxi, like the back of a police car with Lee (from The Walking Dead) but maybe that’s just my perspective, and that how it starts in the Fable Comics, either way it brought a smile to my face.
Most of the time you will be talking to the other various Fable characters, investigating crimes scenes, and solving a few puzzles here and there. The interaction between the characters are again great, as like The Walking Dead series, and can really makes you feel for certain characters. Game-play relies on your choices, and Bigby usually has four possible responses to any conversation, and a time limit depending on the situation. This is a great way to force the player into a response, but also normally makes you press your first instinctive judgement , as that’s all you had time to press, so it feels a natural progression through each ongoing scene, and shapes the way your version of Bigby will be perceived by everyone else.
The way these characters are brought to life on screen, away from the still of the comic book is excellent too, and everything about them feels spot on. As said previously, not having read the comics, I had no idea how many people would show up here from the fairy tale world, so when you run into the likes of Snow White, Beauty, Beast, the likes of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, The Woodsman and Colin the pig, seeing these come to life, remembering these characters from your childhood is just great. The characters are a really high point in this game. The voice acting seems perfect too, Bigby, that gravelly voice, The Woodsman, strong, but troubled, and Snow White, assertive and articulate. I’m sure its exactly how ‘Fables’ fans would have imagined their favorite characters coming to life, and if not, I believe Telltale have done them very much justice.
There are a few QTE (Quick Time Event) action scenes, a few foot chases and a couple of great fights, including the final fight in the game which is an excellent choice of character moment, and plays on the opinions that you the player have made throughout the game, and everything before this moment, and defines which way you want to proceed for future episodes. These new QTE sections have been updated by Telltale since The Walking Dead series last year, with a more glossy looking button prompts on screen, be it face buttons, triggers, or analog sticks (if using a control pad), it all comes thick and fast, especially at the start when you first see the new button layout, as you’re not expecting to be thrown straight in the action, but its still simple enough to understand after a button or two, and in most cases, even if you miss the button or the swipe needed, you’re generally not penalised, and the story continues.
The way the story continues is interesting too, because the actions you take change the outcome of the story, but also the time it take you to do actions, could also alter certain progress, it could cause someone to live, someone to die, someone to love you, someone to hate you, every step you take has a consequence on how the story is tailor made to you, if you choose to talk to someone before someone else, lie to a friend, befriend an enemy, be stern to a colleague, all this adds up to the way Bigby acts, and the way the world acts towards Bigby.
The world that is created by the player can’t work just on visuals alone, the audio needs to be relevant to the game world too, and again it prevails here, as The Wolf Among Us has a fantastic soundtrack, it really is awesome to listen to. Times when you need a quick beat, or a slow progressing moment, the chords, the rock, the strings, are all perfectly timed. I was humming the tune for days after playing, and when a game does that, one that has never had a previous adaptation, with no recognisable tunes, it shows what great work has been put into the audio side of things.
The Wolf Among Us, Episode 1, is a little on the short side, at about 2 hours, but it boasts so much quality that you realise that with every episode it will just get better and better. The story is brisk, and moves at a a joyful pace. The direction and method though is all your choice as Bigby.
Fans of this type of release, episodic games, understand how its going to pan out, you will pay for a few hours of quality, and you certainly get that. Being short though, adds a nice big dose of replayability, especially because your dialogue and investigation choices alter the story considerably, so if like me, you instantly start the game again, and try different choices from your first play through, you genuinely will enjoy the game from start to finish once more.
One thing to note, even though most of the time everything runs smooth during the investigation side of the ‘point n click ‘game play, unfortunately (at least on my XBLA version I was playing) there were times of stutter or slow down, and out of sync audio visual moments during transition of scenes. It can be annoying, but only last a few seconds, so here’s hoping something can be done about this before the next episode. Some issues were brought up previously about the Telltale game engine used in the likes of The Walking Dead or Back To The Future episodic game series where is was looking a little stressed at times and strained, yet even though here in The Wolf Among Us its presentation has been updated, there are still some of those issues as like before.
With those minor problems though, this shouldn’t deter you from making a purchase. Its enjoyable from start to finish, its a great story telling experience, and as you’re playing and come to the end, you will be eager for more, and fortunately more will be coming soon.
Also you know this is a different, unique game, when you have a non gamer (mother) walking past you, who spots the game, comments on the artistic style, then sits down, gets gripped with what you are doing, shouting out what to do, who to choose, what choices to make, gets emotionally involved with what’s happening on screen in front of them, all from someone who would normally say its just a game. If a game can do that, evoke emotions, get people involved and invested, well this ‘just a’ game is something rather special indeed!