Note: This review of The Wolf Among Us Episode 5: Cry Wolf may contain potential spoilers, so please read on with caution, especially if you have not yet played the previous chapters. While I will endeavor to avoid spoiling some of the game’s finer moments, it is nearly impossible to talk about it without doing so. Like most games in this series, it is best experienced for yourself with no preconceived notions. Enjoy!
Was it all a dream? Is anyone who they really say they are? Am I really as big and bad as people keep telling me? Am I out of cigarettes? These are but a few of the questions going through both Bigby’s and my head when the dust settles at the end of Telltale‘s spectacular finale to their Fables-inspired adventure, The Wolf Among Us. The fifth and final episode in season one, Cry Wolf, is a violent, explosive, and ultimately thoughtful bit of film noir that manages to neatly tie a ribbon around the series like a nice, gift-wrapped present while tugging at other threads that threaten to undo everything you thought you knew. Sticking the landing is something that’s important regardless of medium, but especially so in gaming as it’s the final impression it leaves on the players, the taste lingering in their mouths. Fortunately for us, Telltale is like a fine vintner, crafting a complex, layered, but meticulously structured product with hidden subtleties for those of us out there with particularly keen palettes. And like a fine wine, Cry Wolf will leave you thinking about its intricacies, mysteries, and delights long after it’s done.
When we last left our hirsute hero, Bigby Wolf, he was neck deep in danger, finding himself face to face, at long last, with the Crooked Man and his motley crew of hired muscle, monsters, and murderers. The tension is so thick throughout Cry Wolf that you’d need a Vorpal sword to slice through it, as the episode oscillates wildly between moments of heart-racing action, introspection, and equally thrilling oration that requires the player to expertly weave their way through the thicket of lies and deceit in order to ferret out what we’ve been searching for all along: the truth.
In Fabletown, the truth is a tenuous tightrope walk over a seemingly ever-expanding ocean as more and more sharks gather below, having caught the scent of blood in the air. The weight of the four previous episodes bears down on Bigby and the player even during moments like the opening battle when you have to decide which assailant to disable first or whether or not to interrupt someone mid-speech. There’s a pervasive sense that everything you’ve done has a real importance to it and one little mistake could be the straw the breaks not only the camel’s back, but the Wolf’s as well, something that Telltale is all too eager to remind us of by the episode’s end: “Fabletown will remember that.”
Indeed, Fabletown is out in full force in this episode as we encounter nearly everyone with whom we’ve crossed paths thus far in some way or another. While not everyone is given equal screen time, Bigby does get to have a relatively meaningful interaction with damn near everyone, especially so in a tense encounter in the basement of Fabletown’s business office where the full weight of what you’ve done over the past episodes weighs down on you like Giles Corey. In particular, we get some revealing insight into characters like Nerissa, Georgie Porgie, and the Crooked Man, and we’re left to draw our own conclusions about others, namely Bloody Mary. Yes, Bloody Mary is back and this time vengeance is ours for the taking. But is it something we want? The showdown with Bloody Mary, a tense, claustrophobic standoff that finds Bigby assaulted from every angle until he is forced to give into those parts of himself he tries to suppress. By her nature, Bloody Mary is a reflection of the worst qualities of Fabletown and, in particular, Bigby himself. The result is a violent whirlwind of a set piece and one that will leave you breathing nearly as heavily as Bigby.
I realize that this review is fairly glowing and that’s because I am, unabashedly, a fan of the series, but it is not without its faults. Some characters, like Snow White, might benefit from increased screen time, and the game itself could stand to be a little longer than its relatively scant 90 minutes. I understand the mentality behind it; Telltale wanted to create a tight cinematic gameplay experience, but some of the in-between moments feel too rushed, robbing them of some of their narrative heft. While I have defended the series’ reliance on quick-time events in the past, some of the reliance on mashing “Q” to avoid having your head mashed into a lupine pulp in Cry Wolf felt a bit repetitive in spite of the impressive on-screen action. Still, at the end of the day, these are relatively minor quibbles in an otherwise terrific gameplay experience.
Perhaps what Telltale does best though is giving players a true sense of agency over their stories and instilling the idea that this is their version of Bigby, their version of events, and there are profound, lasting effects that can ripple outward from even the smallest of moments. They employ a clever blend of quick-time events and branching dialogue to achieve the effect, and some conclusions are definitely foregone, but they manage to mask the seams well enough that most players won’t even care. Hiding in plain sight, whether a game mechanic or a character’s motivation, is a dominant theme in The Wolf Among Us, and it is absolutely a game that rewards careful, studious gameplay in spite of time being a luxury that isn’t always afforded. Running a trim, taut 90 minutes, Cry Wolf is an episode that begs to be replayed, screams out for it with every fiber of its being. That is something that can be said of the series, as a whole, too, but I would offer this piece of advice: don’t replay the entire series before playing Cry Wolf (unless you were already doing so). Rather, enjoy it on its own merits and consume it with the sort of week-to-week prestige television mentality with which many of us approach the series. On your second play-through, however, be the detective and pay extra attention to those tiny breadcrumbs that Telltale has left behind on the long, winding, grimy path from Faith to Cry Wolf.
While I am a diehard fan of The Walking Dead, seeing the full tapestry of The Wolf Among Us makes me think this might be their best work yet, if not a tremendous exercise in genre study. On its own, Cry Wolf is a lean, mean, and deceptively deep piece of entertainment, but taken as a whole, the first season of The Wolf Among Us is a tour de force of sex, lies, murder, deceit, and, ultimately, hope. The final moments of the series are guaranteed to be the subject of heated comment section debate for months to come and can totally shatter your perception of everything you’ve come to know. Not everything needs to be spelled out for us, a mantra that Telltale has taken to heart, and like a fairy tale version of Rashomon, The Wolf Among Us leaves it up to you, the player, to decide what happened and that is something for which the series should be prized above all.
Episode Rating: 4/5 burritos
Series Rating: 4.5/5 burritos
The Wolf Among Us Episode 5: Cry Wolf is available today on PC, Mac, and PSN North America. It comes to Xbox 360 and PSN Europe on July 9th, and to iOS on July 10th.
What did you think of the series finale? What did you think of the series? What was your interpretation of the ending? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to mark spoilers where appropriate!