A dark fairytale where you find your happily ever after.
Telltale Games have a winning formula on their hands. An adherence to more classical approaches of storytelling, where the priorities of that story are dis-proportionally serviced by the interaction, rather than as a thinly veiled vehicle to the next corridor full of bad guys to shoot – is something to get used to in games, and while not perfected in The Wolf Among us, it’s exciting to see an alternate focus. Be wary though, if you weren’t in love with season one of The Walking Dead, and even season two, then be prepared for a very similar experience in both game play and design structure.
While TWAU doesn’t present gross sameness, there are many glaringly obvious parallels to its sister franchise. This isn’t annoying as the creativity and personality of both series’ distinct worlds keeps negative comparisons in check.
This time around, the suffocating morbidity of a zombie outbreak is replaced by another comic property – Fables, exploring a possible future for many beings of legend, myth and old stories. In this world, fairy tales are real, and so are tough lives these Fables live.
During a vaguely mentioned disaster, the Fables were forced to flee to the human world, more specifically, Fabletown in the New York Bronx. Those that have difficulty blending in with “Mundies” (mundane humans) resort to magic known as Glamours to hide their true appearance. One of these Fables was The Big Bad Wolf – then, the human-eating monster of Red Riding Hood’s nightmares – now, the town sheriff and protagonist of both the game and comic. I introduce you to the reformed Bigby Wolf. The driving force of the narrative is Bigby’s mission to solve the gruesome murder of another Fable, leading into a conspiracy brimming with plot twists and red-herrings that make it a truly exciting ride.
This is an intense experience to delve into. Violence and horrific situations are used to great effect as the realism in the human world clashes with the drip fed lore and fantastical aspects of the Fables and their secret society. The way Bigby interacts with the world, sometimes incorporating choice into these actions is an engrossing tool for story investment.
While QTEs are rampant and other game play is often relegated to moving around small areas and examining items in a style reminiscent of nineties adventure games – the real meat of TWAU’s interactivity is in the many choices to be made. It can be criticised that some of these decisions aren’t always impactful or high-stakes, but in having a few like that, emphasises is granted to those that will have a longer lasting emotional effect, inside and outside of the experience. There is an onscreen time limit for the dialogue choices, causing plenty of angst in the many tense and often deadly situations TWAU forces you into.
At the end of each of the five episodes (all have been released) there are summaries of the important decisions that were made and how that compared to the way other players handled those choices. And it’s especially interesting to note distinct variation in the appeal of TWAU’s cast, their plights, and the many opportunities to side and oppose them. These variations are evidence of writing and design that aims to follow a specific path while also giving enough space for diversity and ownership over the choices presented to the player. Few other titles can claim that ownership and situate players in a position of relevant individualism.
The pacing of TWAU is especially appealing to gamers who enjoy some of the popular drama television shows of the last few years like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. Each episode while not particularly spaced out by the passing of time and narrative drive, exhibit different thematic elements that highlight an area of the world and its meanings. By having separate episodes, the denseness of the story can be broken down and reflected on with more care. Leaving this to the discretion of the player is a great choice.
In such a cinematic game where the player is required to pay close attention, it can be distracting to see a rare visual bug appear in an important scene. They are usually forgivable and mostly harmless, except for a bug that removed my dialogue options and froze the game’s progress on two different occasions. These were so irregular, coupled with the overwhelming consistency and quality of TWAU as a whole, that it becomes hard to condemn the experience for it.
As a complete downloadable experience, TWAU, not only invested me in the story it provided, but since finishing, I’ve began reading the comic, mostly due to a resonating appreciation and love for the world, and characters that fill it. The intrigue and brilliant writing are so prominent, it should even carry those less enthusiastic about the arguably standoffish game play to the end with ease.
The Wolf Among Us exemplifies choice and consequence in games. It succeeds in telling an episodic story with maturity and excitement in an almost unbeatable fashion.