Emerging from the widespread critical and commercial success Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead rightfully deserved, and introducing yet another stellar edition to the developer’s ever-increasing portfolio of license-based video games, The Wolf Among Us: Episode One – Faith sticks closely to Telltale Games’ trademark formula by presenting a delicious new flavor of engrossing storytelling, drama-infused dialogue choices, and point-and-click-style exploration for players to selfishly devour.
Serving as both a five-part episodic prequel story, and an interactive adaption to Bill Willingham’s ongoing comic book series, Fables, The Wolf Among Us: Episode One doesn’t just act as a mere placeholder until The Walking Dead: Season Two meets its inevitable release. Instead, Telltale Games’ latest series concocts a distinct blend of the studio’s tried-and-true gameplay mechanics, and properly infuses them with an intriguing, noir-inspired murder mystery premise – that’s filled to the brim with quirky, fascinating characters to interact with – to deliver an entirely new, yet surprisingly familiar experience that is sure to entertain both panel-appreciating comic aficionados and controller-clinching gamers alike.
Penning a New Fable
|Platforms:||PC, PSN, Mac, XBLA (reviewed)|
|Release dates:||October 11th (PC and XBLA), October 14th (Mac), and October 15th, 2013 (PSN)|
At the forefront of The Wolf Among Us: Episode One’s thoroughly satisfying adventure lies the gorgeously-rendered, neon-shaded fictional neighborhood of Fabletown, a fantastical community of exiled fairy tale characters (secretly located in New York City) who live relatively ordinary lives amongst the unsuspecting human inhabitants thanks to the magical, identity-altering effects of an expensive spell called glamour. As surprising as it was at first to witness a handful of childhood fantasy favorites actively participating in normal occupations, we couldn’t help but appreciate just how natural seeing these iconic characters at their real-world jobs seemed to be: Mr. Toad’s essentially an apartment superintendent, Snow White’s a clerical assistant, Tweedledee and Tweedledum are private detectives, and then there’s you, sheriff Bigby Wolf (ex-Big Bad Wolf), serving as Fabletown’s renown protector against those who are conducted in… well, not so legal affairs.
As aforementioned, The Wolf Among Us: Episode One’s central narrative revolves around the atonement-seeking Bigby Wolf, and his continuous mission not only to keep Fabletown’s existence undiscovered by the mundies (human residents), but to also preserve order amongst the community’s otherworldly and human-like occupants. Usually, this entails badgering the anthropomorphic locals (the stubborn Mr. Toad) to purchase glamour or intervening in violent disputes and thwarting off longtime nemeses (like the belligerent Woodsmen), but somewhere within the marvelously cel-shaded streets of New York City conceals something far more sinister, criminal, and downright gasp-inducing for Bigby Wolf to investigate. One of Fabletown’s own storybook residents has been brutally murdered in cold-blood – an incredible feat since Fables are notorious for being hard to kill – and it’s up to you, a semi-redeemed fairy tale villain, to unravel the mysterious truth behind the homicide, and promptly bring the bloodthirsty perpetrator to justice.
A Murder in Fabletown
With the underlying foundation of a solid detective story properly constructed, The Wolf Among Us: Episode One immediately tasks you with investigating crime scenes for clues and striking up conversations with persons of interest in order to receive the evidence you desperately need, and does so by reintroducing you to gameplay mechanics – including dynamic choice-based dialogue branches, point-and-click-style interactive exploration, and engaging quick-time button prompts – that practically mirror those seen in Telltale Games’ past five-part episodic series, The Walking Dead. Despite the obvious familiarity, however, interacting with each linear environment or controlled scene, and utilizing the extraordinary detective skills of Bigby Wolf to search for case-solving clues proved far more rewarding than the mild exploration segments showcased during Lee Everett’s drama-infused zombie tale.
Personally, one of our most memorable investigations in the game was conducted in Mr. Toad’s own apartment, where we acted like amateur forensic scientists by analyzing clues, and eventually, formulating a concrete understanding of the events that had previously transpired based on the evidence we had uncovered. And while catching the suspicious Mr. Toad in numerous lies thereafter – thanks to selecting the “correct” line of dialogue after specific clues were acquired – did reward us with a detailed explanation pertaining to what exactly had occurred, interesting enough, we could have taken a more unsubtle route, and viciously interrogated the vulnerable amphibian until a set of scripted events delivered the information we desired.
“…we acted like amateur forensic scientists by analyzing clues, and eventually, formulating a concrete understanding of the events that had previously transpired…”
Ultimately, it all comes down to personal choice. Should Bigby reveal his new-found compassion, and show his fellow Fabletownians he’s truly ready to atone for his dark, villainous past by conducting investigations calmly and professionally or should he unleash the beast, and be feared by the locals in hopes of utilizing intimidation to gain the information he needs? The decision – along with the unforeseeable consequence(s) associated with that choice – is essentially yours, and will help mold a unique experience that will accommodate you on your mysterious journey through the other soon-to-be-released episodes.
Further establishing Telltale Games’ noteworthy Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-reminiscent framework, dynamic choice-based dialogue interactions return as both a decision-permitting narrative device (allowing you to simultaneously gain glimpses of each character’s distinct personality), and as an excellent mechanic that helps determine how well-received Bigby Wolf becomes amongst the fictitious community. Of course, this revolves heavily on the timed responses you select during the roughly two-hour-long experience, and, similar to The Walking Dead’s emotion-fueled, choice-guided conservations, what you say (or even don’t say) makes all the difference in how The Wolf Among Us: Episode One unfolds. Stay mum when Snow White asks you an important question related directly to the murder case, and you may leave her questioning both your judgment and detective skills. Take a violent approach when questioning a suspect caught fleeing the scene of a crime, and Bigby might miss the opportunity to obtain helpful information from that specific person of interest. Each choice made has immediate and sometimes unforeseen consequences, and based on the dialogue responses you choose, you might receive a considerably different outcome to certain events than your friends, family, or even your significant other experienced, establishing a welcome sense of replayability into the core of the game itself.
Unleashing the Beast Within
Adding an extra layer of depth to Telltale Games’ hard-boiled detective mystery, The Wolf Among Us: Episode One surprisingly places quite an emphasis on action-packed quick time events, which are cleverly peppered throughout Bigby’s entire crime-solving adventure. Breaking up the steady narrative pace and point-and-click-style exploration segments that occupy the bulk of the game, these engaging opportunities usually involved intense, button-sensitive chase sequences or satisfying, knuckle-busting brawls that felt immersive in their own distinct way. In particular, the brutal, interactive fight scenes themselves consistently showcased the sort of expertly-crafted cinematic flair usually reserved for heart-pounding action films, with each brawl oftentimes granting us with a few bone-crushing options that allowed us to beat our opponent senseless the way we desired.
“…The Wolf Among Us: Episode One surprisingly places quite an emphasis on action-packed quick time events…”
It must be noted, however, that even though improved responsiveness, varying controller inputs and a slight degree of improvisation made these violent confrontations a bit more enthralling than your standard QTE sequence, these sections weren’t necessarily flawless affairs. While there were times where simplistic button prompts seemed clumsy and rather sloppy – particularly ones that utilized both an analog stick and a quick trigger press to conquer, perhaps the most aggravating occurrence came from the select few times The Wolf Among Us: Episode One randomly incorporated lightening-fast button-mashing inputs into the experience in hopes of producing a sense of struggle during each scuffle. Sure, the implementation of this potentially engaging device sounds excellent on paper (and it was only a slight, insignificant hiccup in the game’s otherwise stellar fight sequences), but purposely allowing the player to begin losing at any time – not from lack of talent, but unfair gameplay mechanics – just feels undeniably cheap and unfair to us.
Despite some reoccurring technical faults (including stutters and slight freezing in between scene changes), and relatively long load times stripping away precious seconds of immersion, The Wolf Among Us: Episode One undeniably shatters any potential doubts by continuing to exemplify how Telltale Games’ remarkable talent can be applied far beyond the apocalyptic, undead-infested panels of Robert Kirkman’s captivating and predictably tragic universe. From the vibrant cel-shaded visuals that illuminate even Fabletown’s dirtiest, uninviting locales to the superb writing, and spot-on voice acting that properly flesh-out each extraordinary storybook character in realistic and meaningful ways, our peak inside Bigby’s intriguing, fantastical world thoughtfully merged the notions of good and evil, and brilliantly-crafted a memorable experience where nothing is quite as it seems. With a genuinely shocking cliffhanger ending just beginning to uproot what the series is capable of achieving, and a slight preview highlighting exactly what our emotionally-invested choices may have cost us, we can’t help but anxiously anticipate the second episode of this grim fairy tale.