The Wolf Among Us

The Wolf Among Us

Platforms: PC, Mac
Release Date: October 11, 2013
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games

MINI-REVIEW: The Wolf Among Us: Episode 1

WAU E1 MiniReview Banner MINI REVIEW: The Wolf Among Us: Episode 1

PressPlay Score 8 MINI REVIEW: The Wolf Among Us: Episode 1With extremely inspired visual design and a sharp script, it seems that lightning has struck twice for Telltale Games with THE WOLF AMONG US.

 

*Editor’s Note: Press Play will be properly reviewing THE WOLF AMONG US when all episodes have been released; these mini-reviews are less formal reactions to individual episodes. Enjoy!

 

After the breakout success of Telltale Games‘ episodic opus THE WALKING DEAD, one could easily forgive the studio for sticking exclusively with that series- at least for a while. Imagine my surprise when they launch another episodic saga, based on another popular comic book, before season 2 of their now-flagship title sees the light of day. With extremely inspired visual design and a sharp script, it seems that lightning has struck twice for Telltale Games with THE WOLF AMONG US.

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Some Fables don’t have the money to blend into human society like Bigby.

FABLES, the graphic novel source for Telltale’s brand new adventure, revolves around a community of ex-fairy tale heroes and villains as they try to make a life for themselves in modern-day New York. Using magic, the ‘Fables’ with money can disguise themselves as humans, while the rest live in exile far away from prying eyes. They’ve all left their past deeds behind them, but as we follow Sheriff Bigby Wolf (of ‘Big Bad’ fame), we soon realize how slow these characters are to forget their past quarrels. Even in the first episode, Wolf runs into The Huntsman (who defended Red Riding Hood from Bigby’s advances) and one of the Three Little Pigs, who crashes in Bigby’s apartment. Because of Wolf’s antagonistic involvement in multiple fairy tales and his new position of power, he naturally becomes the centerpiece of aggression among others in the Fable community.

THE WOLF AMONG US acts as a prequel to the comic book series, allowing players who haven’t read the source material to go spoiler-free. Unlike THE WALKING DEAD’s Lee however, Bigby wasn’t invented for the video game, so we get the opportunity to imprint our own moral standpoints on one of the central characters from the comics. Having read a decent chunk of FABLES, I found myself role-playing Bigby instead of forming my own motivations, which I assume many fans of the source material will do as well.

Episode 1 opens with a bang, leaving a good impression from the outset. Bigby is faced very quickly with a murder in the Fable community, something unheard of for thousands of years. Wanting to get the issue dealt with before more Fables find out, he launches into a full-scale investigation, in which the player takes an active part. During the first episode, he gets into fights, chases Fables on-foot, and walks into murder scenes. Judging by the imagery at play, THE WOLF AMONG US seems to dwell in the macabre with the same gusto as THE WALKING DEAD series; it feels like the game is trying to desensitize you, though that may not fit the universe quite as well this time around. Sniffing out clues and roaming from location to location, you will actually be asked who you think committed the crime at different points in the story. Your answers are then tracked along with your other gameplay choices, a feature that goes a long way toward making you feel like you’re really invested in the mystery.

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Because of their longevity, Fables can take quite a beating.

This series utilizes many of the nouveau adventure mechanics that worked so well in Telltale’s last outing, allowing the story to shine while sending traditional pointing and clicking to the back seat. Conversations net the signature “he will remember that” tooltip, and inventory items can’t be freely accessed, only coming into play when they have a narrative purpose. As sheriff, Bigby also becomes a de facto private eye, so THE WALKING DEAD’s famous “who-to-kill” mechanic is transposed for a similar “who-to-investigate” or “who-to-chase” feature. The format works very well this time around, even upping the ante in certain places. When you interrogate someone for example, the game won’t let you ask every question on your mind; usually only the first question will get an answer before moving the story forward, and sometimes you can even be asking ‘the wrong questions’ if you aren’t paying attention.

This game makes me wonder when we can start to call the lighting and framing of images in video games ‘cinematography,’ or at least invent a proper word to describe it within the medium. There’s a real understanding of composition and proper dramatic lighting at play in THE WOLF AMONG US that many games, even the self-styled “cinematic experiences” can only dream of. A stark use of low-key lighting is constantly at play, and the game makes use of daring color choices from the all ends of the spectrum. There’s also an effect that replicates the inverted outlines of shadows in comic books, which happens in real time as darkness creeps into a scene. It’s something you have to see to really appreciate, and it’s sure to excite seasoned comic readers. WOLF’s neon-drenched New York feels very much like a response to the muted greens and browns of THE WALKING DEAD, and it really helps to make you feel like you’re in a page of the graphic novel.

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Whether Bigby is truly ‘big and bad’ is up to you.

The comic book series does a great job of building these characters’ relationships across their countless original fairy tale origins and extrapolating them out to the present-day. The game shines in this regard as well, deftly blending new faces with the familiar in the first episode to create a cohesive universe. Fast-paced scenes really crackle with dramatic energy, and the game’s use of quicktime events in action scenes serve it well enough. Slower character-focused scenes tend to drag a bit however, with editing during conversations missing beats and tense moments losing some of their momentum because of it. This is exacerbated because emotion and storytelling is just about everything the recent Telltale games have banked on. Overall, the second-to-second pacing is a marked improvement over THE WALKING DEAD, but the issue hasn’t quite been solved yet.

THE WOLF AMONG US is proving to be an effective adaptation of the FABLES universe into Telltale’s new adventure game format. There are still some hitches in the micro-level storytelling, but the gritty fairy tale tapestry being woven for the game is right up there with the comic book series. I wasn’t quite as impressed as I was with the first episode of THE WALKING DEAD, but I feel there is a lot being held back for future episodes in this story. No matter the issues I had with the first episode, I can’t wait to see where this story goes from here.

Score 8 MINI REVIEW: The Wolf Among Us: Episode 1

 

Nick Hawryluk is the senior producer, director and editor of Press Play the Webseries. He also runs and contributes articles to the Press Play website.

 

* This mini-review was conducted on a retail Steam code provided by Telltale Games.

 

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