The Wolf Among Us

Episodes 1-4

Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:  TellTale Games

Released:  December 2013 to May 2014

PC Requirements:  

  • Processor: Core 2 Duo 2.3 Ghz or equivalent
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Video Card: ATI or NVidia card w/ 1024 MB RAM
  • Hard Disk Space: 2 GB Space Free
  • Video Card: ATI or NVidia card w/ 512 MB RAM (Not recommended for Intel integrated graphics)
  • DirectX®: Direct X 9.0c
  • Sound: Direct X 9.0c sound device

 

 

by flotsam

  

The Wolf Among Us - Episode 1: Faith

So what to do while you wait for the next instalment of The Walking Dead, the pinnacle of episodic adventures, especially as the latest TV series has gone into hiatus (zombies it seems still remember Christmas).  Simple really; take the game engine and apply it to another graphic novel with an appropriate mix of fantasy, violence and pathos, and start all over again.

The story and the Wolf

The novel in question is Fables, which sees characters from folklore congregate in New York City having been driven from their homeland by the Adversary. Some can pass for human, others use glamour magic to appear human, and these folk live in Fabletown. Those who can’t or won’t live at The Farm, in upstate New York.

The wolf among us in Telltale’s interpretation is Bigby, the wolf previously known as Big Bad and of little pig and Red Riding Hood fame. It’s the 1980’s, and Bigby is trying to put all that huffing and puffing and gobbling behind him, in his current role as the sheriff of Fabletown.

Your introduction to the world starts with a call from Toad about a fracas upstairs, which Bigby interrupts just as his old nemesis The Woodsman starts beating a prostitute who you come to know as Faith. Ever the gentleman, he/you feel compelled to intervene, leading to a two story fall from a window and the realisation that Fables can take a whole lot more punishment and damage than Mundies (short for Mundanes, which is how they refer to the rest of us). Which is helpful, because there is rather a lot of potential damage around.

Just as things look decidedly not good, Faith returns the favour, and having literally stuck the boot in, she promises to stop by later and make a statement. Before though she needs to check in with her pimp, short on the cash she was promised despite rifling the pockets of the seriously incapacitated Woodsman. Bigby offers her some money to help, or perhaps he doesn’t.

Gameplay – Compared to Telltale's Previous Game

Those who have played The Walking Dead will be familiar with these choices. It’s up to you whether to offer money or not, and the game promises that the choices you make will determine how the game plays out as it goes along. It worked in The Walking Dead and there is no reason to think it won’t work here.

It might have been me but many of the choices here seemed starker. Walk away or punch a character in the face; be satisfied that a protagonist has had enough or tear off his arm. Perhaps it was a reflection of the hard boiled noir feel present throughout the game, or indicative of the rage which no matter how hard Bigby might want to be different, is always simmering just below the surface, waiting for a reason (or an excuse) to be let out.

Or maybe it was because Bigby has a past that is big and bad, which is something we know and which can’t help but shape our perceptions. Lee Everett had a violent past but one with another side, and with Clementine at his side you wanted him to be good. Bigby is far more a loner, his internal demons being his prevailing companion, and while I did offer money to Faith, the arm ripping and the face punching seemed far more likely to get me the result I wanted, and I didn’t have to be nice for no one.

Again as in The Walking Dead, you can see how many other players made the same choice as you through the menu. Not all of them though; I would really have liked the statistic that told me how many other players succumbed to the ripping thing.

It is violent, it is profane and Bigby chain smokes, like all good noir anti-heroes.  There is murder, which is what Bigby spends most of the episode investigating, and another that provides the cliff before Episode 2.

There is very limited puzzling, but excellent character dialogue to engage in, and a fight or two (maybe more depending on your choices) to negotiate. Despite the extra capacity to absorb punishment, Bigby can die, but you can automatically retry should that happen. The fights aren’t difficult, engaged in by responding to the keys appearing on the screen and by targeting the areas highlight by the mouse, but it did take me the first one and a few deaths to get into the swing of things.

I do think that visually it was more polished than The Walking Dead. The cel shaded graphic novel style is perfect for the grimy settings and moody atmosphere, set off by a juxtaposition between dark shadows and searing colours. The characters too are high class productions, from the lip seeking, through the facial expressions, to the wonderful voice acting. It’s the characters that drive these stories, and the gripping nature of both adventures is testament to how well these characters have been made.

Sound, Music, Humor

Everything else is similarly top notch – the sound, the music, the detail in the scenes, the occasional reference to 1980’s culture. The Wolf Among Us is a class act.

I don’t care yet though, at least not in the way I did for Lee. I might, and for a while I think I did, but at the moment the frustration at having my investigation stymied by uncooperative fables, none of whom (apart from Snow) seem to like me, is the dominating emotion. Maybe I need to get the chip off my shoulder. No doubt other emotions will build as we go, as they did last time.

There are some humorous moments, all of them black, my favourite involving a couch surfing pig.

Not Necessary to be Familiar with the Source Material

You don’t need to be familiar with the Fables world. I wasn’t, and the game did a good job of introducing me to that world as it went along. It never felt like it was bludgeoning me with backstory, or that I was missing something that I needed to know. The character pages you unlock as you go, and which can be accessed via the menu, provide further details, but are completely unnecessary in order to have a grasp of the Fabletown milieu.

You interact with the game world with the mouse, and walk around using the WASD keys. The fights also utilise those keys, and the Q key for some sustained “keyboard pecking”. The game autosaves periodically, and will start again form the most recent autosave, so if you want to quit and not replay a segment, quit just after you see a spinning save icon in the top right corner. They are fairly prevalent though, so any replay is unlikely to be lengthy.

I have to confess I am hooked. Episode 2 can’t get here quickly enough.

Grade: A-

The Wolf Among Us - Episode 2: Smoke and Mirrors

If Episode 1 laid the table, Episode 2 sat down to eat. Whether it’s the sort of meal where everyone at the table is just managing to keep their first instincts in check and stay just the right side of the civilised dinner companion line, or one where 5 minutes into the first course and a butter knife ends up in the back of someone’s hand and all hell breaks loose is up to Bigby aka you.

More than any other Telltale episode, Smoke and Mirrors felt like I was in control.

Bigby is front and centre. His reputation precedes him and we have had a glimpse of what that can lead to in Episode 1. He is feared and loathed, a product of his past which his present has not dispelled. Whether it can may be up to you.

I have no idea how Bigby will turn out, but there are numerous instances in this episode where you get to contribute to and shape that outcome. Early on you question a prisoner strapped to a chair. You rummage through his paltry belongings and find a cigar stub – do you ignore it, offer him a puff or burn him ? You could similarly give him a drink from the glass bottle, or you could smash it over his head. What you do may or may not bring answers, but it will certainly have an impact on what follows.

Later, an obnoxious, sleazy weed of a man called Georgie (of Pudding and Pie fame) probably deserves to be belted with the cricket bat, and it would certainly make Bigby/you feel better, but do you do it? Or do you smash up the bar instead?? Or just ask, albeit with menace and simmering intent.

In between, there is a frightened small boy who may have seen something. Can  a big bad wolf be tender enough to convince him to open up, or do you frighten him some more so he can’t help but talk.

It’s all up to you.

A number of these interactions, and many in between (are you understanding, dismissive or silent in various conversations) will undoubtedly determine where we go and how we get there, and more than one has an immediate and obvious consequence. Softer or harder, that reputation will always get there first.

These confrontations by and large replace the set piece fight scenes of the previous episode. There are some of these, but not on the same scale. The violence here is very much a product of your choices.

Except for the blood soaked mattress where the beheading occurred. That is simply a given.

Plot wise, there are further deaths and a surprise or two. We start not long after where we left off in episode 1, and about an hour and a half later we have more loose ends than we started with, we know a bit more, but haven’t made a whole lot of progress towards a resolution.

Which doesn’t matter because it isn’t what Smoke and Mirrors is all about. A character tells Bigby at one point to try not to be … and he finishes … so much like me. He knows what he is, and whether he can or wants to be anything different is the rich tapestry we are weaving.

It remains a class act in all those other aspects that matter. Read the earlier review for more detail.

I tried to behave as I thought I would. I confess to breaking a bottle or two. I was surprised that only 12% of other players chose one option, but not that 81% chose another. I can’t wait to get to the very end, then go back and make deliberately different choices to see the difference.

There is regular use of bad language, lots of cigarette smoking and one scene with some nudity. They are all integral parts of one of the more compelling games around. As an episode, Smoke and Mirrors is outstanding, and the character investment in Bigby promises much for what lies ahead.

Bring on episode 3.

Grade: A

The Wolf Among Us - Episode 3: A Crooked Mile

Short and (not so) sweet, and ends with a bang (a few actually). Not much more to say really.

More like Episode 2 than Episode 1, the choices are the thing. I did what most people did (according to the stats) except for the last big choice. My Bigby is trying hard to be more reasonable, but a broken nose or two can’t be helped, especially when they deserved it.

The plot moves on and we are definitely getting closer to what is really going on. Some new characters  come on board, and I can’t wait to see the newest one again. This mirror image is far more interesting than the alternatives.

Everything remains top notch and suitable “gritty”. If you don’t like bad language or adult themes, stay away.

It is short, 90 minutes perhaps, but it wasn’t a letdown. As the set up to the finale, it would be just about right; with two episodes to go, you could argue it needed more, not in terms of the where it takes the story, but just more so it couldn’t be said it was eking out what should be a shorter story. Nit-picky perhaps, but nothing can be perfect.

No more ratings until the whole thing is finished, but I think I am looking forward to the next part more than the next Walking Dead instalment. High praise indeed.

The Wolf Among Us - Episode 4: In Sheep’s Clothing

Having walked the crooked mile, Bigby is where he was inevitably going to be.

How crooked has been up to you. What he does now may owe far more to that path than to Snow’s exhortations.

Damage is big in episode 4. We start at the aftermath of Bloody Mary’s assault, with Bigby just one more silver bullet and an inside full of shredded pieces away from the morgue. The damage from that point on is all Fabletown’s. A murder at the start was just the tip, the iceberg below owing as much to the failures of the Business Office as to the actions of the underbelly.

The choices you make in this episode seem far more limited to the people involved. What they think of you, rather than where it will drive the story. That is not to say what they think of you won’t influence how you think of yourself, and in turn impact on what you do next, but it’s what is at stake that is brought out from under the sheep’s clothing.

I left Bigby in the lion’s den, sitting and smoking and waiting. The fate of Fabletown waits with him.

I played on:

OS: Windows 7

Processor: Intel i7-3820 4GHz

RAM: 12GB Ripjaw DDR3 2133 Mhz

Video card: AMD Radeon HD 7800 2048MB

PS – If 30 Days of Night isn’t on Telltale’s radar, it really should be.

 

 

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