The Wolf Among Us review
“Hate’s the wrong word. They fear you more than anything”
Following the absolutely stellar season of The Walking Dead, I was unsurprisingly eager to experience Telltale’s succeeding effort, The Wolf Among Us. Taking on established franchises like TWD and now from the Fables, Telltale have been able to weave tightly intricate narratives with immense, emotional set-piece moments and the burden of free choice; indeed by the end every player might see the same end credits, but all will leave their own highly personal imprint on the game’s framework.
The Wolf Among Us is a prequel to the Fables comic series set in the fictional New York borough of Fabletown where the mythical characters have congregated following the invasion of their Homelands. You play as Bigby Wolf, or rather the big bad wolf as we all know him by; he’s the sheriff of this troubled community and tries his best to keep the peace while also attempting to convince everyone that his *ahem* dark past is behind him. All of the Fables characters are ‘glamoured’ to look like humans in order to maintain the guise of Fabletown. But when Bigby finds a severed head placed outside his apartment complex, it’s up to you to solve a murder case that threatens to topple the power structures in the community and perhaps it’s very existence.
It’s a deliciously dark tale and one that you’ll be gripped by until the credits start to roll, Telltale maintain a delicate pace to keep the narrative ticking along nicely until it builds and builds and builds until it blows you (your house down, sorry) away in a breathless finale. You’ll encounter fairy tale characters such as Snow White and the delightful interpretation of Mr Toad, there are plenty others in what is a riveting cast but I’ll not spoil it, it’s much better if you just meet them yourself.
It’s exceptionally well written too, you can tell that Telltale had a blast with creating this game, who could not with such a brilliantly rich license? Bigby is a compelling lead, he’s a morally tortured individual, his nature is wild and violent, yet he needs to redeem himself in the eyes of the community and wants to do what is right. His inner turmoil is explored with a bubbling intensity, you can see how the investigation is changing him, how you have changed him.
Such ambiguity is neatly translated to the choices you’ll make during the game, ah choices, such a stressful thing these days, especially in Telltale games, should I beat a man in front of his own son in order to get the truth out of him? Or do I risk not learning some new, potentially valuable information? The more choices you make, the more you mould Bigby into the Wolf of your own choosing, should people still be afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf? Or is he managing to keep a grip on his new-found humanity? The deeper you go into your murder investigation, the harder the choices become and not just emotional ones either, developments in the investigation mean you have to take responsibility for directing its structure. For example, you may choose to talk to the relative of a victim first then go to a suspicious apartment, or vice versa, there’ll be different encounters every time you play it. That’s not to say however every choice is of huge consequence, sometimes the choice on the dialogue wheel can just be whether Bigby tells a resident to fuck off or rather to ask him nicely to back off. This isn’t a bad thing though and the conversations are always enjoyable to listen to and even meaningless exchanges can create consequences for later episodes…
Unlike The Walking Dead, Bigby has a murder investigation to lead so as such the gameplay is a little different, in some episodes you’ll interrogate witnesses, look at evidence and examine other areas for more leads. I really love detective-based games so I welcomed this change of pace and the methodical mechanics that goes into any investigation, it’s not difficult and it’s well signposted so everyone will get all the stuff they need to progress, but the journey you’ll make to finding everything is still great. Besides the point and clicking, there are action sequences to be had and Telltale have ramped things up a notch since the first season of TWD, all quite spectacularly choreographed in its unflinching brutality. To allow Bigby to do what he needs to do, you need to press the buttons in time when prompted and push the thumbsticks in the right direction and in time when the prompt shows. It sounds all so shallow when I’ve described it like that I guess, but it’s way more engaging than it was in the Walking Dead, the confrontations are lengthy and require your sharp attention, more importantly you feel extremely satisfied at the outcome and its subsequent impact on the story, oh and seeing Bigby messing people up is pretty awesome too.
Onto the visuals now and it looks absolutely gorgeous, the moody 80s-noir vibe is effortlessly represented through its stark art style, harsh neon lighting intertwines with the seedy streets and bloody crime scenes. The lovingly stylized graphics only reinforce the sense that you are playing a game that has been based off a comic series, the distinctive character designs are perfectly realized and captures the very essence of Fabletown; in sum the art and visuals are simply exquisite.
A similar triumph can be found in the game’s soundtrack and wow what a soundtrack it is, the menu music is so brilliantly delicate with its noir influence, while the beautiful synth title track pulsates with style and atmosphere. It’s seedy, it’s sinful and it’s utterly breathtaking.
Unfortunately, there are huge technical problems here which does detract from the overall experience, there were numerous instances of slow-down, huge loading screens and even whole scenes failed to load for some time. Indeed it’s most noticeable during the frantic action sequences, sometimes the game takes a notable amount of time just to process what you’ve selected to do and then translate it into the fight scene. I don’t think throughout the game, I experienced one full action sequences without a technical issue interfering, of course the sequences were still brilliant and these did sadly get in the way.
Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us is a fantastic game and even exceeds The Walking Dead in a number of aspects although it can’t match its emotional intensity. The world of Fabletown is engrossing, the characters are wonderfully portrayed and the investigative structure lends itself better to the genre. Every episode is carefully crafted to maintain a priceless momentum in its narrative that so few games can sustain, player choice can shape Bigby to be the Wolf that you want him to be and Fabletown can seem a very different place as a result of your actions, better replay it all again just to see what you’ve done different then…
+ Captivating world
+ Gripping plot
+ Wonderfully realized cast of characters
+ Stunning art direction
– Technical issues