The Wolf Among Us – Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?
A Happy New Year to Upon Completion readers from the Masked Gentleman, sorry for the lack of content in the latter half of the year but I was not idle and now have a backlog of content so I should now be able to return to a regular schedule. For the first post I will be joined by Khinjarsi (hello! I’m writing in italics today) to review a game that we both played during the winter break, The Wolf Among Us. I am a huge fan of the Telltale series of episodic games and waited with baited breath for each episode of The Walking Dead season one. It took me a few months to get round to purchasing The Wolf Among Us and as I was unfamiliar with the Fables series, it also slipped under my radar concerning game releases for one reason or another. Therefore I didn’t get around to playing TWAU until late November. (I didn’t play it until after Christmas, but got it free so I’m not complaining. Apart from watching other people play The Walking Dead, and having played Episode 1 several times myself, I’ve got no other experience with either Fables or Telltale Games). I deeply regret this decision as it was one of my favourite titles from the year, with a cast of memorable characters, a story full of twists, and as with the Walking Dead, a cavalcade (posh word TMG) of decisions to make, that each play a part in creating an experience that differs depending on the player. (Let’s have a look at why we both like it, and where it falls a little flat).
Some Fairy tales in New York
As both Khinjarsi and I said above, neither of us are familiar with the Fables series and so The Wolf Among us was our first exposure to the series. For those also unfamiliar with the series, the Fable universe is based around the lives of traditional fairytale characters, known as “Fables”, such as Snow White and The Three Little Pigs in modern day America. The plot feels very similar to a noir detective novel, with brutal murders, police brutality and alcohol abuse all being portrayed, but where the victims are famous fairytale characters in place of post-war mobsters. It also feels similar to the Dresden Files series of books by author Jim Butcher (which I would heartily recommend if you haven’t read them already). You play as Bigby, an often maligned sheriff responsible for keeping order amongst the fables currently residing in New York.
Bigby is also the Big Bad Wolf made famous in Little Red Riding Hood, trying to reform for his actions in said story, and therefore many of the options you are given are either violent or the reaction of someone repenting for past mistakes. As with other Telltale Games this allows you to play the game in a variety of different ways and you’ll often find a response that you agree with. All of the other characters that you meet along your journey are very well created with subliminal motives a plenty which help to support the many twists that happen during the story. Without spoiling anything I can say that I really enjoyed the story and would recommend it to others looking for something that covers material in a slightly darker way than other games.
TMG has given you the basics there, but I just wanted to elaborate on some points, and some of my own observations. TMG makes a point about Bigby’s past and his desire for redemption. This isn’t of course, the only theme of the game. Many smaller stories are initiated in Episode 1, ready for further explanation in later episodes. What I found nice is that Telltale Games made no assumptions about how well you know your fairy tales. There’s a whole range of stories and fairy tales present in the game, and some aren’t all that obvious in your first playthrough. Hints are dropped throughout as to what has happened in Bigby’s past, and stories of other fairy tales are often alluded to, including a shop in many backgrounds titled “Glass Slipper Shoes”. Stories range from Red Riding Hood and Snow White, through to Sleepy Hollow and The Wind in the Willows, including more obscure ones that I wasn’t aware of.
Point and Clicking like the Wolf
The Wolf Among Us is incredibly similar to other Telltale Games in the way it plays, at its core it’s a point and click adventure padded out by puzzle solving sections, timed decision making and quick-time action sequences. It looks great and has very fitting music but there is sometimes noticeable lag when moving the cursor which can make the action sequences a challenge to complete. The main difference between TWAU and The Walking Dead are the collectable Book of Fables which can be accessed using the main menu and offer a brief synopsis of key events, places or characters. They are a welcome addition especially since more people are unfamiliar with the lore of the Fables universe than with that of the Walking Dead. The only problem with this addition is that one of the books is impossible to get in a single playthrough as you receive it through making a specific choice during an action sequence and in order to get this Book you have to replay through a large chunk of the game and an action sequence. Whilst on the surface it seems like an addition of replayability it is in actuality quite dull to do and something I hope isn’t repeated in subsequent chapters of the game.
I have to say, I agree with TMG here regarding the forced replay through a particular segment. I’m not a fan of games making you do something twice to complete a game (with regard to background info and in this case, achievements), and certainly in a game like this, where you have to live with your decisions and the consequences, it doesn’t fit. I also experienced a fair bit of lag during action sequences, although nothing game breaking, it’s infuriating when you’re on the clock. If you’ve played through The Walking Dead though, it’s nothing new. I’m also going to expand on TMG saying “it looks great”; the graphics style goes really well with the ‘noir detective’ style of the Fables series and game, though again nothing new to The Walking Dead players. What I particularly like about the graphics is the contrast between the background colours of greys, browns and blacks and the neon pinks, reds and purples of episode 1. The placeholders for further episodes suggests a colour scheme for each, but really they all fit well. The stark contrasts do well in emphasising the general atmosphere of the game, of backstreet alleys, seedy shops and dodgy bars. Hand in hand with this goes the sounds of course. Telltale, I think, have done well to pick distinct voice acting; each character is individual and noticeably different, fitting well within the ensemble of characters. The music gives off a sense of foreboding, of suspense, and of fear, where fear in particular melds well with the reputation of Bigby and his past, mentioned earlier.
A Wolf among Sheep?
It is impossible to talk about The Wolf Among Us without mentioning The Walking Dead Seasons 1 and 2, also produced by Telltale Games. In general I enjoyed the first instalment of The Wolf Among Us as much if not more so than The Walking Dead. The vibrant cityscape of New York was a welcome change to the post-apocalyptic wasteland in the Walking Dead and it was nice to be exploring a brand new universe rather than one I was already very familiar with thanks to the television series and comic books being almost everywhere in the past couple of years. The only place where The Wolf Among Us pales in comparison to the Walking Dead is the dialogue between characters. Whilst most of the dialogue is good there is a lack of a strong female character like Clementine in the Walking Dead. Hopefully this improves over the next few chapters as one of my favourite things about the Telltale games is watching the interactions between characters.
I haven’t played a whole lot of The Walking Dead, with exception to Season 1, Episode 1. I have however, watched a few people (including TMG) play through and have a good idea of how it all works. Where I draw comparisons between The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us is in the controls and style of the game. If you can play one, you can play the other. What I did notice is the speed of the timer bars. In both TWD and TWAU, conversations and the decisions you must make have time constraints – take too long and the game makes a decision for you, often silence but not always. These constraints are represented on screen by bars, which deplete at both ends inwards. Each decision/conversation has a different amount of time allocated to it, depending on the situation. What I noticed after playing both The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us is that the timer bars in the latter seem to deplete at a faster rate. Whilst there are situations that warrant this, I feel that actually, The Walking Dead would benefit more from faster time decay, considering the ever present threat of zombie attack.
As for zombie fatigue (as I like to call it), I agree with TMG when he says the change of scenery is nice. Whilst I enjoy The Walking Dead and it’s universe, the explosion in zombie related media has flooded the games market with the same dangers. It’s nice to feel less like I’m going to be bitten and more like I’ll be biting. Which I do, don’t annoy me.
Looking to the future
So then that brings the review of the Wolf Among Us to a close. We decided to do something a little different with this game review and we hope you have enjoyed reading through it. We both enjoyed playing through the Wolf Among Us and would recommend it to others, even if you are not familiar with the Fables universe and look forward to playing the subsequent chapters when they are released. The Telltale games are some of my favourite released in the last couple of years and with the news that they are making a Game of Thrones and a Borderlands themed game I look forward to a bright future for point and click games, This is the Masked Gentleman bidding you adieu.
I hope this change of format didn’t alarm anyone – we both wanted to review the game so thought it’d be nice to do something a bit different. If people like this 2 person review thing, perhaps you can persuade us to do some more, or maybe we can get Trunco involved too? For my closing remarks I have this to say. I really enjoyed playing this through, ignoring the minor issues I feel the game has. I’m curious as to what the next few episodes bring, what Telltale can do for the Game of Thrones and Borderlands series, and with Series 2 of TWD. As with almost all games, TWAU has teething issues, minor bugs and glitches that are solveable and yet what they have made with this episode is a grand foray into the alternate world of fairy tales, full of little “ah-ha” moments, and dripping with suspense. If you can get a hold of it, play it. Khinjarsi out.
The thoughts and opinions mentioned in this post are those of TMG and Khinjarsi. All artwork belongs to their original owners.