The first episode of Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us, a prequel story to the popular Fables comic book, contained plenty of atmosphere, darkness, and character. That it turned out as enjoyable as it did has become both a blessing and a curse, the latter due to Episode 2 suffering from the longest wait in-between episodes of any Telltale game so far.
But fret no longer, as Smoke & Mirrors is finally out, bringing players back into the role of Sheriff Bigby Wolf to continue his investigation of an ongoing murder mystery. And while I have a little more to complain about with this episode than I did with the series’ debut, the overall experience is still pretty incredible.
Episode 2 picks up very soon after the previous one’s finale, with Bigby still reeling from the discovery of a second murder victim in addition to the one that kicked off the investigation. Suspects are interrogated, leads are investigated, and it’s up to Bigby to put the pieces together and start discovering what the deal behind both deaths is.
I’m just going to get this out of the way, while at the same time doing my best not to spoil anything. An early reveal in this episode threw my expectations for a loop, and at first, not in a good way. For a while I felt slightly betrayed by the reveal, solely due to the fact that it almost entirely robs the first episode’s shocking ending of its impact.
The upside is that it re-opens the door for some good character moments and interactions. Furthermore, it takes the plot element that was turned on its head and does something very interesting with it, leading to a natural and logical new plot thread that opens the door for Bigby to have more great interactions with characters both old and new. In other words, while I was upset at first, the story progressed in a way that allowed me to regain the good will that I feared was lost.
The story unfolds in numerous locations, such as the bar from the first episode’s climax and a seedy nightclub with mysterious links to the main case. The pacing is also as good as ever, and while this episode definitely gives off a vibe of setting up for future episodes in its writing, what it provides is still engaging from beginning to end. Also, while the ending feels a tiny bit abrupt, much like the first episode’s conclusion, it again manages to hit players with a big revelation that will both shock and entice.
The character interactions and dialog continue to be very well-crafted, possibly even more-so than the first episode in certain parts. You’ll be meeting interesting new faces, as well as seeing new sides of returning ones. A good example is Bigby’s boss, Ichabod Crane. Though he came across as little more than an ill-tempered control freak in the first episode, an early scene here helps to give him more dimension.
Of course, in that scene, you can choose to be compassionate or hostile to him as Bigby, since the choice-based dialog system naturally returns. On this initial playthrough, I continued to play my take on Bigby as an understanding man who’s still determined to work things out and set everything right, but the beauty of the dialog system, despite not greatly impacting the overall story (at least at this point), is the degree to which you can shape the lead’s personality. When you interrogate a suspect, you can try to be civil and inviting, or take the opposite route and try to beat the answers out of him. Much like when this system made its debut back in the first season of The Walking Dead, it does wonders in increasing your sense of immersion and personal involvement.
Gameplay continues to be much more of a cinematic experience than conventional adventure game puzzles. There aren’t many occasions where you’re in direct control of Bigby, but personally, I’m all right with this approach if what the game throws at you is still interesting. In the case of The Wolf Among Us, it definitely is.
Unfortunately, and as much as I hate how routine it has become to talk about this problem with Telltale’s releases, framerate hitches, temporary freezes and numerous load times continue to have a noticeable presence, arguably even more so than in the first episode if my memory serves me correctly. Nowhere is this more noticeable than the opening recap and closing preview of future episodes, with several seconds passing between location transitions, dialog completely failing to sync with animations and a terrible framerate.
Thankfully, the main game never reaches a point as bad as either of these, but at this stage, I’m really crossing my fingers that Telltale decides to update or replace their antiquated engine for future series, especially now that we’ve started a new generation of consoles.
Despite my initial issue with its first big reveal, and a step down in technical performance, The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2 - Smoke & Mirrors is still a very enjoyable experience and just like before, I’m dying to see where this story goes next. I can only hope that we won’t have to wait another four months for the third episode, but at the same time, you can’t rush something great.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.