"He'll huff and he'll puff and he'll solve violent crimes and protect a secret society of fairy tale characters from each other."
After the surprise success of last year's The Walking Dead, developer Telltale Games is back with another similar episodic series, also based on a long-running comic book project for grownups. This review is for Episode 1 of 5.
The “Fables” comic book tells the stories of characters from various classic tales (including the likes of Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio) who have been chased from their homelands by the enigmatic “Adversary” and now live in here in the mundane world. Most Fables live in Fabletown, a secret community in Manhattan.
The Wolf Among Us stars Bigby Wolf. You may know him as the Big Bad Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. Bigby has the ability to change from his human form to that of a gigantic wolf (not to mention several stages in between), mostly keeping the appearance of a particularly hirsute human being in order to keep his identity as an immortal fairy tale creature a secret. Fables in Fabletown are offered amnesty for any past crimes they may have committed in their stories, which has allowed Bigby the opportunity to put his keen senses and bright mind to work as the community's sheriff.
The game's aesthetic approach serves as its most immediate draw, and can best be described as Neon Noir. As a detective story set in the 80s and based on a comic book, the contrast between bright colours (with a heavy emphasis on purple and yellow) and black shadows is stark. The music ranges from moody to more grand and dreamy, depending on where in Fabletown you happen to be standing. It always fits the mood of the scene. The character models could use a few more polygons here and there, but they feature some very nice cel-shading to make up for it. Environments look even better. Most areas could pass for a hand-drawn picture, with thick black outlines and bright colours. Some screenshots wouldn't look out of place framed and hanging in someone's home.
The colourful-yet-dark style fits the fantastic-yet-gritty story to a T. Make no mistake: this game's universe is inspired by children's bedtime stories, but this game is not for kids. A routine domestic disturbance call quickly turns to a murder mystery when a severed Fable head is found in a residential area. While tracking down his prime suspect, Bigby will encounter a variety of Fables, some major players from the comic (such as Beauty of Beauty and the Beast) and some making their first ever Fables universe appearance (like Mr. Toad from The Wind in the Willows). Of course, it's a mystery story, so everyone has a secret. Former heroes aren't necessarily heroic and former villains can simply be trying to make the best of a bad situation. The dialogue is well written and the voice work is generally pretty great. Bigby, especially, sounds perfectly gruff without coming off as cartoony. Even one of the Three Little Pigs sounds exactly how you'd expect a drinking, smoking, freeloading, passive aggressive hog to sound. It's great to see the ways these characters bring bits of themselves into the modern world. References litter the environments, like Cinderella's Glass Slipper shoe store, and Bigby's Huff and Puff brand cigarettes.
If you've played The Walking Dead, you probably have a pretty good idea of how the game plays. Most of the action consists of dialogue choices. Unlike its spiritual predecessor, The Wolf Among Us' protagonist is already an established character. His dialogue choices range from good cop to bad cop to violent cop, and most options are believable as things Bigby would say. The game does a solid job of offering a variety of choices without breaking character. More action-oriented sequences trade dialogue for QTEs. These scenes are more dynamic than they have been in past Telltale games. For example, in the intro, you can choose to slam a character into a couch, a sink, or a desk. It doesn't really matter which piece of furniture you choose to destroy, but it's nice to have options. Besides offering the improved QTEs, The Wolf Among Us feels a bit more polished than The Walking Dead in other areas, too. Animations are a little more natural and, while it does hang and stutter occasionally, it feels like a smoother experience overall.
Most of the time, what you specifically choose to say or do doesn't seem to have a huge impact, but you won't always know which decisions will have unintended consequences. Sometimes, though, it's glaringly obvious that you're about to do something that will cause the following events to branch out in one direction or another. How major an impact these decisions will have on later episodes remains to be seen. There's more to a story than the ending, in any case, and even trading one plot point for another similar plot point means the experience is tailored to the player.
With an intriguing story that is worthy of the “Fables” universe, the first episode of The Wolf Among Us serves as a perfect introduction to the game series, whether you've read the comics or not. The cliffhanger ending, especially, will leave newcomers shocked and “Fables” fans confused. Either way, you'll be drawn in and want to come back for Episode 2 in a month or two.
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (November 01, 2013)
Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.
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