The Wolf Among Us – Episode 1 Review19 Oct 2013  by
I love Fables. Love it. Love, love, love. It’s a comic that manages to tap into my love for dark and well-written comics, and my love for dark fairy tale variants, at the same time.
Fables is set in New York, where the Fables themselves – the fairy tale characters you know and love or fear – have taken up residence as refugees, having fled their own worlds due to a war with a mysterious tyrant known only as the Adversary. There’s an amnesty in place, meaning that any pre-evacuation crimes have been forgiven, but that’s tentative at best: the Big Bad Wolf is still horribly mistrusted by most, and you can’t expect him to get on too well with the Woodcutter or the Three Little Pigs. The wicked witch might look like a harmless granny, but can you blame the people still suspicious of her? Hmm.
The Big Bad Wolf – known as Bigby – is our protagonist in Telltale’s series of Fables games, titled The Wolf Among Us and set shortly before the start of the comics. He’s operating as the sheriff of Fabletown (the name for the secret community of Fables living in New York) which is a job that mostly revolves around keeping the general peace, intimidating troublemakers, and making sure that nobody reveals the existence of Fables to the human world… but things take a turn for the worse when the severed head of a Fable turns up on the front steps of one of their buildings.
From there, we’re into The Walking Dead territory. Not in the sense that zombies turn up (they don’t) but in the sense that this is more “linear interactive fiction with choices” rather than “head-scratching point-and-click adventure.” Bigby’s path through the game is largely linear, and your job is generally to look at stuff, note it down, and occasionally decide whether or not to use it.
Example: in the game’s opening scene, you get the opportunity to give your money to a young lady. Do this, though, and you won’t be able to use your money to buy cigarettes from a machine later in the game. (I’m pretty sure this isn’t a decision of globe-spanning importance, which is why I feel okay spoiling it here).
Other decisions are a bit more important. More than once you have to choose between two important things; you might hear about two crimes in progress, both of which may be tied to your investigation, and you’ll probably be too late to be much use at the second you decide to visit.
And, naturally, Telltale’s love for quick-time events is back in full force. You’ll have fights and chase scenes where you’ll need to tap a direction or click on something in the environment (helpfully marked out) in order to evade blows, strike back, or catch up with a running suspect. Thankfully, these generally offer a generous amount of time and aren’t particularly problematic – and, this being Telltale, I’d be surprised if outright failure only led to a change in the path of the story.
This is where we hit upon the first problem with the review: I’ve now summed up all of the mechanics, and I can’t really discuss the story without spoilers. Which is where we hit upon the second problem with the review: the story doesn’t come anywhere near to closing, with basically no plot threads resolved by the end of this episode. While most Telltale episodes are at least somewhat stand-alone, moving the main plot forward while wrapping up one goal or series of events, this… pretty much isn’t. You investigate for awhile, get a few leads, and then there’s a cliffhanger and a COMING IN EPISODE TWO sequence.
And there, of course, we hit the third problem – it’s very, very hard to judge something like this based on one episode. This is a set up for the rest of the season, and as a set up it works fine, but the real meaning of what happens here isn’t something we’re going to see for a few months. There’s every possibility that The Wolf Among Us will wind up being one of my favourite things of the next 12 months, but on its own – as a stand-alone piece – this first episode isn’t phenomenal. Which is the problem with reviewing episodic content, really: taking it as stand-alone feels entirely like missing the point.
But the biggest problem The Wolf Among Us has, right now, is actually that it’s a little too slavishly devoted to the comics. I’m hopeful that this is very much just the first episode thing – that the game will rapidly transition into its own thing – but right now I’m not actually sure who this is aimed at. The plot of this first episode borrows heavily from the first arc of the comics, to the extent that it’s continually nodding at it and poking at it, and if anything this rather diminishes the impact of that first comic arc because so many of the situations and setups have, it turns out, already happened. Bigby teams up with Snow to investigate a murder. Colin (of the Three Little Pigs) turns up on Bigby’s couch to moan about life at the Farm, the upstate region where non-human Fables are forced to live. There is quite clearly more going on with the murder than is first shown.
To some extent, then, it’s presumably aimed at people who haven’t read the comics… except that there a lots of little nods and developments that won’t make sense to those who haven’t read the comics. For instance: fabulously wealthy habitual wife-killer Bluebeard is offered up as a suspect continually, despite not appearing in this episode. Those who haven’t read the comics probably won’t know who he is, and won’t have much indication of Bigby’s continual suspicions of the guy. Those who have read the comics will already know how the whole Bluebeard arc already plays out. So… um?
Still! It work well enough, and it manages the difficult task of bringing to life a series that, until now, hasn’t animated or voiced its characters. The voices here fit. The dialogue works and feels authentic. The animations, movements, models, and backgrounds are beautiful and evoke the same style as the comic. I have no complaints about any of the presentation, which is saying something considering they had to find voice actors for well-known characters; Bigby, in particular, manages to balance noirish world-weariness and some minor self-loathing with being a justifiable badass, without every really slipping too far into stereotype. I am more than happy to spend more time in his company. I’m more than happy to see what Telltale have done with the old characters. I’m more than happy to see their twists on new characters. I want more, basically.
So no, I have no real issues recommending this to you, although at this early stage it’s impossible to tell whether or not it’ll live up to the emotional heights of The Walking Dead. For now, The Wolf Among Us looks like an investigation with fascinating characters and some interesting twists on old fairy tales, which will likely make those familiar with Fables nod in approval and capture the hearts of those who’ve yet to be introduced. But as to how well that investigation will turn out, we’ll have to wait and see.