Review: The Wolf Among Us

The Wolf Among Us is an episodic visual novel game developed by Telltale Games based on the Fables comic series from Vertigo (DC comics). It stars Sherriff Bigby Wolf as he investigates a series of murders happening in the Fabletown community in New York City.

The Good

  • Beautiful art-style
  • Strong voice acting
  • Interesting plot and choices
  • Good introduction to the Fables universe

The Bad

  • Quick-Time-Event action sequences are dull
  • Fables readers won’t find much excitement

The Wolf Among Us uses the same gameplay you’ve come to expect from Telltale’s latest games, a mix of multiple choice conversations with time limits, split paths and quick-time-event based action and fight sequences. It’s solid gameplay if a bit shallow, but let’s look at each of them.

If you’ve played Telltale’s The Walking Dead, you know what it’s all about: Unlike adventure games where you go from place to place solving puzzles in order to move the plot along, in this game you’ll mostly talk to other characters, your choices in these conversations deciding how these characters feel about you. These choices affect future encounters and some of the different outcomes for the season. Some of the conversations and choices are time-based, so you don’t have the luxury of weighing down your options before committing to one, instead having to decide quickly or just follow your gut. It’s workable gameplay but it does feel like if you’re not fast enough the choice is taken from you, which works really well in The Walking Dead but not so much here where the situations are rarely life or death.

Bigby and Colin, best pals!

Bigby and Colin, best pals!

When you do move around on your own, it’s a typical 3D point & click affair. You move throughout the area and there are hotspots you can click and interact with, but unlike regular point & click adventures where you need to find the hotspots, here they’re pointed out for you so you can move along. There aren’t any puzzles, though, just simple interactions to get more information. Again, it works but it lacks depth.

The other side of the gameplay comes with the action and fight sequences and these are purely Quick-Time-Even driven, as they’re essentially interactive movies. You might get a few choices on how things play out, but you don’t control combat, it’s just a cinematic. The game might prompt you to quickly press W or A or mash Q for an effect, but it’s nothing exciting. In fact, in one of the later episodes Bigby chases suspects through rooftops and avoiding cars and the only thing you do is press the W key when prompted. The scene itself looks really good and it would’ve been exciting if you could do more than just watch and tap.

As you progress more of the Book of Fables unlocks, giving you Bios on different characters and your choices

As you progress more of the Book of Fables unlocks, giving you Bios on different characters and your choices

But, you don’t really play Telltale Games for the depth of gameplay—which is a sad thing to say to be honest. You play them for the characters and story and the different twists and turns that come during a given season. This time around, Telltale drew from the Vertigo Fables comic series. Your protagonist is none other than Sheriff Bigby Wolf—as in the Big Bad Wolf. You see, everyone living in Fabletown is part of a fairytale or folklore. Fables came to our world to escape from an enemy who would’ve destroyed them all and they’ve now settled in their own little community in New York City. Fables are mostly immortal and can heal from almost any wound, though with sufficient damage they die like anything else. But with them being so old, they’re not exactly the same people you read about, not all of them, and not anymore at least. Take Bigby for example, he’s the evil wolf from Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs, but he’s in charge of keeping the town safe and one of his best friends is one of the three pigs. Snow White divorced Prince Charming because he was a cheating bastard (consider that in Fables, Prince Charming is the same guy involved with Snow, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty). Things change, even for Fables. Non-human Fables live in the city only if they have glamour spells to hide their appearance, otherwise they’re sent out of town to The Farm, but glamours are expensive so there’s a black-market, which is one of the central topics explored in this season.

The story is a prequel, set before even the first issue of the comic series. It opens with Bigby getting a call for domestic disturbance at Mr. Toad’s building. The altercation is between the Woodsman, a long acquaintance of Bigby’s, and a prostitute named Faith. Things can quickly get out of hand and I for one kicked Woody’s ass. Then it gets weird when Faith’s head turns up at the Woodlands, the big apartment building where the Fabletown government officials and some of the richer Fables live, such as Bluebeard, Beauty and Beast and Snow.

Some Fables, like Mr. Toad, have a hard time getting their hands on Glamours

Some Fables, like Mr. Toad, have a hard time getting their hands on Glamours

Tracking the killers take Bigby throughout Fabletown, tracking leads on his own or with Snow. Their chemistry is really good and their scenes together are fantastic, though having read the series I’m a bit biased because I know how things turn up, so a part of me wanted to direct events to match what I knew. The different characters you find fall into two categories: those created for the game and those adapted from the comic book and all of them are excellent. The original ones fit right in with the others, and I wouldn’t even blink if I saw them suddenly appearing on the pages of the series. The adapted ones are just brilliant. Bluebeard is his insufferable self, entitled and violent; and Beauty and Beast cling to their love and marriage while desperately trying to keep their noble lifestyle (though Beast makes a comment about that later in the game that made me want to reach in and smack him).

The season consists of five episodes, each slowly drawing you to the conclusion in a plot similar to a Noir story, filled with false leads and where everyone is guilty of something. In the end you realize it’s all meant to distract you, to keep you hooked until the main villains appear and the puzzle is ready for you to fit it all together (and, if I can be cynical for a moment, you have bought all five episodes), but even so, you will enjoy every moment of it. As a Noir fan, I saw a few things coming and I knew the main villains and the damning evidence wouldn’t appear until the last possible moment, but there was enough for me to keep coming back.

Every episode includes a choice on locations to visit. Sometimes you can visit them all, sometimes you can't

Every episode includes a choice on locations to visit. Sometimes you can visit them all, sometimes you can’t

The problem here lies with Fables fans and readers. Since this is a prequel and not a “what-if” scenario, we know how things turn out so a lot of the tension and adrenaline and excitement from the game just falls flat for us. We know who’s still around and who’s kicked the bucket, so when it comes to main characters and the developments, the game will struggle to excite us. In my case it was the plot itself, the mystery and the investigation that hooked me, but not the fate of Fabletown, because I know how things play out. It’s the weakness of dealing with established characters. If this had been about another set of characters, all of them completely independent from the comic book stories, then it would’ve been better for Fables fans.

Adding to the Noir mood and atmosphere is the outstanding music. The opening title music is especially good and coupled with the opening sequence itself it gives you a definite Detective Story vibe that I honestly found irresistible. Voice acting is superb from Bigby and Snow to every other little character. They, quite surprisingly, sounded exactly as I expected them to when I read the comics.

The comic-book cel-shaded look works perfectly with The Wolf Among Us, both because it’s a comic book adaptation and because plenty of the characters are inhuman, for the lack of a better term. The cartoonish look helps portray them, as a photorealistic approach would have made them less than appealing.

All you do in action sequences is press/mash/click when prompted

All you do in action sequences is press/mash/click when prompted

While the game is mostly smooth, there are a few glitches I encountered, the main one being the game bugging out and showing me multiple “This Choice is Blank” dialogues before jumping to different locations and finally returning me to the opening sequence of the episode. Thankfully a simple reload fixed the issue, but it was jarring to say the least.

There was one visual thing that struck me as a bit lazy in the last episode. After pursuing suspects to a brothel, Bigby is in his werewolf form (Fables fans, if you’re reading this, he does take on his Wolf form near the end. I whooped loudly when it happened) and of course his clothes are tattered. Thankfully for him, there’s a clothesline nearby with shirt and pants, which he puts on and when we next see him he’s wearing his full attire, shoes and tie included. It’s a minor thing but I felt it was a bit lazy and incoherent.

Tweedles and Bloody Mary...you'll hate them...

Tweedles and Bloody Mary…you’ll hate them…

Despite the shallow gameplay, The Wolf Among Us delivers what Telltale has proven they know how to give, an outstanding story and wonderful characters. And with multiple choices, there are plenty of reasons to go back and give it another go, if you don’t find the QTE that tedious.

The Mental Attic Score: Worth Buying. You’ll enjoy every minute of your visit to fabletown.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s