It’s fitting that The Wolf Among Us‘ newest episode drops mere days after Game of Thrones returns because Melisandre’s words ring true for both: “The night is dark and full of terrors”. The game’s third episode, A Crooked Mile, picks up in the wake of the shocking, gruesome finale of Smoke and Mirrors, mere moments after Bigby makes a fateful discovery about what happened to Helen’s sister Lilly and just who could be behind the rash of murdered prostitutes that’s keeping the Big Bad Sheriff up at night. Yet the brutal killer stalking the streets isn’t your worst enemy in A Crooked Mile — it’s time.
A ticking timebar rapidly depleting while you mull over your conversation options has long been a staple of Telltale’s games, time has never been more of the essence than it is in A Crooked Mile. Multiple branching options, time-sensitive decisions, and an underlying sense of urgency mean that not only do you have to act quickly and decisively, but there’s a chance that characters may live or die, or entire scenes may not take place if you don’t keep things moving. This sense of momentum is sort of the unseen version of the moving screen in old-school Mario games that would quite literally ensure that you kept plugging onward, and it makes each investigation seem like a frantic scramble for some clue, some slip-up that will lead you to your quarry before the other guys get there.
At times, I found myself slightly annoyed at the inexorable march of progress that game forced upon me. Other times, I would be investigating a room chock full of items with which to interact, but I foolishly clicked on the one containing an event trigger, setting off a chain of events that took me away from the other possibly red herrings. Generally, when it comes to games with an exploration element like these or JRPGs, I like to explore every square inch of my environment, combing the area for clues, easter eggs, and other items of interest; I am a completionist by nature and I want to leave no stone unturned. Once I was able to put my own silly ego aside, though, I appreciated this move on Telltale’s part. You’re investigating a freakin’ series of horrific murders. There is no time to dilly-dally looking at every last bookcase and portrait. People’s lives are on the line.
It’s not like Telltale’s The Walking Dead is especially bright and cheery, but there’s something about The Wolf Among Us‘ sleazy, neon light-drenched urban hellscape that makes it more foreboding than its post-apocalyptic counterpart. Perhaps it’s the fact that the Fables have escaped the great tragedy of their homeland only to be faced with the crumbling facade of sanctuary. Whatever it is, it’s working for The Wolf Among Us and makes for a high tension murder mystery whose plot is thickening faster than Paula Deen’s arteries. In any event, A Crooked Mile has atmosphere in spades, which serves it well as every action you take has palpable consequences and the hits keep on coming. Still, Telltale takes its time to look inward, showing us how different Fables deal with death and more permanent loss, and pulling the layers back on characters like Ichabod Crane and Bigby to give us an idea of what makes them tick. All of this serves to make the denizens of Fabletown seem like living, breathing people and weaves a rich, bloody tapestry for you to unravel.
In A Cooked Mile, you will hit the ground running, but the finale will leave you breathless, reeling from a shocking encounter with a new, even more dangerous adversary. It’s one of the strongest moments in Telltale’s canon so far and the episode will undoubtedly leave you huffing and puffing for more. As I’ve said before, the worst part of any Telltale episodic release is the moment the credits roll because then your mind is being pulled in two directions: one that laments the fact that you have to wait a few months until the next glorious episode, and another that furiously retraces your steps and wonders what could have been if you’d chosen differently. Well, unless you’re a Time Lord, I can’t help you with the former, but with a game like A Crooked Mile, the latter is looking awfully appealing. Just don’t wait too long; the clock is ticking, after all.
Verdict: Highly recommended
The Wolf Among Us: Episode 3 – A Crooked Mile is available today on PC, Mac, and PSN; tomorrow on Xbox 360; and later this week on iOS.