|System: PC, Xbox 360*|
|Release: October 11, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, and Use of Alcohol and Tobacco|
by Angelo M. D’Argenio
What do you get when you mix Dick Tracy, Phoenix Wright, and a book of fairytales? Welcome to The Wolf Among Us, Telltale’s newest cinematic adventure game set in the universe of Fables. Like Telltale’s previous award-winning series, The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us is far more concerned with its story and your role in it than its gameplay. But don’t think that the game is just The Walking Dead with a coat of Fables paint over the zombies. It’s really a beast of a whole different variety, with a completely different aesthetic and tone and a far different role for the player to play.
For those of you who don’t know, Fables is a graphic-novel series that takes famous storybook characters and gives them a much darker twist. Everyone from Red Riding Hood to Ichabod Crane has been exiled from their homelands due to a powerful invader called The Adversary. They have taken up residence in a small community in the lower-east side of New York. Using magic, they conceal their storybook nature from us mundane folks, or “mundies,” and just try to live their lives. Unfortunately, a New York filled with storybook characters is still New York, and the Fables themselves still have a lot of grudges and baggage left over from the old days. So it’s not all that strange for theft, murder, and all manner of seedy business to take place in Fabletown, and that’s where you come in.
You play Bigby Wolf, Fabletown Sheriff. In case the name pun wasn’t clear to you, Bibgy is the Big Bad Wolf in human form. He’s kind of a loner and a hardass, and it’s up to him, i.e., you, to keep the citizens of Fabletown in line both through his powers of deduction and his ability to rip your arm off and beat you with it if you cross him one too many times. On a routine call to Mr. Toad’s house (where he has to berate Mr. Toad for not keeping up payments on his human form… again), he notices his old rival The Woodsman beating up a prostitute and breaks up the fight, but when the prostitute’s severed head shows up on the steps of what is essentially Fabletown city hall, it’s up to you to figure out who did it.
The Wolf Among Us controls practically identically to The Walking Dead. You have a cursor controlled by the right analog stick or mouse, and you use it to interact with areas of interest. Your actions are limited to four basic choices: look, touch, talk, and (use item) or some other contextual command. On the console, each of these commands are mapped to a face button, and usually only one or two are available when you hover over something with your cursor, but you’d be surprised as to how many options this gives you. Every item of interest is very clearly highlighted by the game with a set of crosshairs, so you’ll never get stuck pixel-bitching and trying to find that one slightly camouflaged item that you need to proceed.
The Wolf Among Us plays out a lot like a murder mystery. Pretty much the entirety of episode one is spent examining crime scenes, questioning witnesses, chasing down suspects fleeing the scene of the crime, and beating up thugs that get in your way. The game will actually ask you to task your powers of deduction as you catch people in lies and tie pieces of evidence to suspects. Unfortunately, there are a few sequences where you have to examine a particular thing to move the story forward, and this can leave you frustrated and stuck at times; the scene in the Mayor’s office involving the magic mirror being one of the worst examples, but this doesn’t happen too often.
The story’s murder-mystery nature actually puts you in somewhat of a more passive role than in The Walking Dead. Bigby is an observer trying to piece together a crime, not one of the last survivors of humanity trying to make everyone get along. So it doesn’t feel like you are risking anything when you tell the punks that give you a hard time to piss off. There are choices you make that alter the way the story plays out, but these choices are more telegraphed, being punctuated by slow-motion zoom-ins that prompt you to choose between two suspects to chase or two crime scenes to investigate. It’s still well put together, and you do feel like your choices have an impact on the story, but these impacts are less constant and in your face than they were in The Walking Dead. In short, your choices aren’t fleshing out the world you are in, just what happens within it.
The biggest change to the gameplay system comes in combat. Once again, fighting someone is usually just a series of quick-time events. However, this time around, these quick-time events have their own choices embedded in them. For example, if you have The Woodsman in a full nelson, you’ll be given several different points you can mouse over/press the right/left trigger on. Choose a bar, and you’ll slam his head into it. Choose a couch, and you’ll try to tackle and subdue him in a more peaceful manner. What you do in combat later affects how characters treat you in the game, which is interesting because the choices here have to be made with split-second timing, so they are really more instinctual than anything else.