Developer Telltale Games has been developing classically-styled point-and-click adventure games for close to a decade, but their prominence in the general gaming world exploded last year with the release of The Walking Dead. While the company has promised to continue with their story of the zombie apocalypse, they’re still taking the time to branch out and continue to try new things.
Enter The Wolf Among Us. Taking place in the universe created by Bill Willingham’s popular comic book series Fables, Telltale’s latest effort clearly takes some influence from their recent hit. That being said, it does not feel like a retread, thanks to a radically different world and concept. The result (at least with the first episode), is another winner, as it offers a great start to a series that gamers will definitely want to keep their eyes on.
I will admit that I haven’t read Fables before, but the game seems to take this possibility into account, and does a good job of establishing the premise and rules of its reality. Basically, the series takes place in a world where the characters and creatures from fairy tales and folklore are all real, and hiding in the rougher parts of modern-day New York City. Humans, such as Snow White and Ichabod Crane, can blend into society without much effort, but other species rely on spells known as Glamour to mask their appearance.
Among the disguised creatures is Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of the group of fable characters (and the same Big Bad Wolf who previously tangled with three pigs and Red Riding Hood). It’s Bigby who players take control of and who the story mostly focuses on. While the choice-based dialog and decision system originally established in The Walking Dead does return here, at his core, Bigby is a much tougher and more hard-edged character than Lee Everett ever was.
It’s a good thing too, because the world that this game sets up is not a pleasant one. Right off the bat, Bigby is shown doing his best to protect a woman from the huntsman who originally saved Red Riding Hood. Not long after that, Bigby and Snow White are thrown into a murder mystery that only gets more complicated as things progress. Despite the fairy tale trappings, The Wolf Among Us gives off a strong vibe of darkness and despair, and I could not get enough of it in this episode.
It helps that the graphical style used here may be Telltale’s best yet. Going for more of a flatter style of sorts than The Walking Dead, yet still retaining the griminess necessary for its tone, the game truly looks like a comic book brought to life. Characters are fluidly animated and well-voiced, and the soundtrack, provided by regular Telltale composer Jared Emerson-Johnson, alternates between well-done orchestrated tracks and synth-heavy music that sounds like it could have been lifted from a classic 1980s horror film.
One of the main selling points of The Wolf Among Us is its story, and luckily, it delivers in that department. The plot is both compelling and intriguing, leaving us with a strong emotional punch at the end of the episode and giving us the feeling that things are just getting started.
As for the actual gameplay, it should be noted that this is a much more linear experience than other efforts in the genre. You do have an inventory and an interface that allows for multiple forms of interaction for each environmental object, but at the end of the day, the game is more focused on telling a good story than it is on dishing out puzzles.
It should also be mentioned that as this is the first episode, it’s too early to tell how much of an impact the decisions you make will have on the overall story. One of the main complaints I heard regarding The Walking Dead was the fact that no matter what you chose to do, the main story had a set path and only one ending. With luck, The Wolf Among Us will address this, but I will have to reserve judgment until further down the line.
Special mention should also go to the multiple fight scenes, which play out rather ingeniously and intensely. When Bigby inevitably gets into confrontations, a sort of quick time event first seen back in the days of Shenmue will play out, where players must press the indicated button or make the indicated analog stick motion to proceed.
Though there aren’t too many things wrong with the game, I do need to point out that as with just about every Telltale title to date, there are still some annoying technical problems. I didn’t see quite as many as I did with the first season of The Walking Dead, but I did notice numerous brief freezes between camera cuts, and the framerate absolutely chugged during an establishing shot of an apartment that took place a ways into the game. Looking at the credits, the game is still running off the Telltale Tool engine that the company has used since its inception, so I’m thinking that an upgrade is in order at this point.
Despite the above mentioned technical hiccups, I found myself completely engrossed with the first instalment of The Wolf Among Us. With a well-realized world, an interesting cast and plot, and a memorable atmosphere and feel to the whole package, the game is definitely worthy of being the follow-up to Telltale’s biggest hit. I only hope that the following four episodes follow suit.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Both engrossing and atmospheric, The Wolf Among Us: Episode 1 - Faith is a great start to Telltale's latest series.