Fresh off of their critically acclaimed, Game Of The Year award-winning triumphant outing with The Walking Dead last year, Telltale Games is back with their next episodic adventure, The Wolf Among Us. Based on Bill Willingham’s edgy comic book series, Fables, Telltale looks to compel gamers as they did with their previous blockbuster, by delivering a ruthless plot filled with bizarre twists and an extreme layer of shock value. Will they be able to recreate or exceed that level of magic this time around? Episode one of the five part series suggests that they are well on their way to doing so.
Bigby Wolf, formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf, has given up his life of Little Red Riding Hood stalking and huffing-and-puffing to take a more righteous path… justice. As the sheriff of Fabletown, it is Bigby’s duty to maintain peace amongst the Fables and to keep their whereabouts concealed from the non-Fables (often referred to as “Mundys”) of New York City. Now the lead investigator in a strange unsolved murder case, you must take to the streets to solve the first Fable homicide to hit your town in years. Your reputation precedes you, however, so getting the information you need from folks isn’t going to be easy.
Unlike Lee Everett, who was a new character introduced in The Walking Dead game, Bigby Wolf is an established character in the Fables series. Fans familiar with Willingham’s comics can choose to make choices that they believe are canonical to Wolf’s comic book persona, or put themselves in his shoes and play the game entirely from their own perspective. I found myself choosing the high road most of the time, going against that “Big Bad” reputation of which Wolf is trying to cleanse himself. Of course, you can choose to be a complete asshole the entire time to everyone, if that’s what you prefer.
At first glance, I noticed that the similarities between The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us are rather conspicuous. Both star protagonists with troubled histories that continue to plague them into the present day of their lives. Both start off with their protagonists sitting in the back of a moving vehicle, with a seemingly perturbed look on their face. Both games make you feel apprehensive about every word that you say and every action that you choose to make. Telltale Games has mastered the art of choice and consequence, and every time you see “So-and-so will remember that” flash at the top left of the screen, there is still that eerie reminder that the button you decided to mash will have repercussions, be they good or bad.
As usual with any Telltale Games title, the highlight of the experience is the compelling plot and the extreme twist that it takes. This is how The Wolf Among Us differentiates itself from The Walking Dead, taking the world of the Fables comic series and constructing an insanely gritty thrill ride from within. You quickly learn within the first twenty minutes of the game that this story is destined to be heartless and unpredictable. You learn not to get attached to any characters unless you want to be heartbroken and not to trust other characters unless you want to feel betrayed. The Wolf Among Us is yet another emotional free-for-all from Telltale Games, and you better believe that no one is safe.
The writing in games like these is the lifeline that can make or break the experience. There is no shortage of engaging dialogue in episode one, perfectly delivered by the game’s stellar voice acting cast. Adam Harrington’s terrific portrayal of Bigby Wolf sits perfectly between that of an extreme douchebag and a misunderstood nice guy. The game’s writers didn’t hesitate to use the cruelest of obscenities to set the tone for The Wolf Among Us’ unforgiving atmosphere. The pacing is also very well done, getting us accustomed to the game’s setting and the rules of the source material, while humoring us with a sense of raw comic relief during the game’s less frantic moments, just to keep things fresh and interesting.
The cel-shaded art style that has come to define Telltale’s games is the most refined that it’s ever been. Substantially more polished than their previous games, the game graphically excels in delivering those “living comic book” visuals that are pleasing to the eye. It may be a bit different from what fans of the source material are used to, but it’s an outstanding adaptation nonetheless.
If you’ve played The Walking Dead on the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, you’ll be familiar with the point-and-click control scheme in which the left analog stick moves the character and the right analog stick moves the game’s cursor (WASD and mouse on a PC, respectively). You’ll also be familiar with the abrupt quick time event action sequences which call for your immediate placing of the cursor on a certain area of the screen, combined with a press of a button. The interactive dialogue is back as well, with players having to quickly skim through the answers before pressing a button while a timer winds down. You are allowed to let the timer run empty and be silent if you please, though that has its own repercussions as well.
Upon finishing the episode, you are given a preview of the next (which will be different based on your choices made during episode one), followed by a recap of the choices you made throughout your playthrough. I fell into the vast minority in every choice except for one, but I’m sure once the game officially releases this Friday, the numbers will even out a bit. This is yet another one of the excellent features Telltale includes in their titles, and an interesting way for folks to gauge their thought process with the rest of the game’s player base. If there are two things the folks at Telltale Games know how to do, they are coercing you into questioning your morality and making you explore the lofty extremes of your conscious, just to see the outcome of your wild decisions.
There are a slew of similarities between The Walking Dead game and The Wolf Among Us. From a technical standpoint, I’d even go as far as saying they’re close to identical, mechanics-wise. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the characters, environment, music and plot are all unique and extremely entertaining. With an abundance of choices to be made throughout the first episode, the replay value and justification to go back an make different choices is extremely high. I even found myself backtracking to scavenge every inch of the playable area Bigby was allowed to explore, searching for anything that might change the story’s outcome.
At the conclusion of my four-and-a-half hour playthrough on the Xbox 360, I was left at a rather nightmarish-yet-mind-blowing cliffhanger, a fine ending to the first installment of what is looking to be another masterpiece by the folks at Telltale Games. They’ve not only managed to put their unique touch on the Fables comic series, but they’ve remained true to form in regards to the source material. If you are a fan of Fables or you enjoyed The Walking Dead games from last year, this is definitely a game that you do not want to miss.
Are you excited for Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us? Let us know in the comments below!