This morning I woke up and played the first episode of Telltale Games’ new episodic game series, The Wolf Among Us. I knew it was based on something — Bill Willingham’s Fables comic book series — but I hadn’t read the comics or heard anything about the story. I only knew that I loved Telltale’s The Walking Dead series, and that was enough for me to plunge into this new world.
The Wolf Among Us casts you in the role of Bigby — A.K.A. the big bad wolf of fairy tales, now working as a sheriff for the local community of fables (fairy-tale characters) in New York City. Like other fables, he uses glamor to take human form, and he’s strict about enforcing that law. When the bloody head of a call girl shows up on his apartment building’s doorstep in the middle of the night, he begins an investigation of her murder with Snow White, the deputy mayor’s assistant.
What unfolds is a smoky point-and-click adventure. The story plays with your expectations, as it presents you with familiar fairy-tale characters like Beauty and the Beast but hints that things in this modern day world are much darker than they are fairy tales.
I love the atmosphere in The Wolf Among Us. Although I liked The Walking Dead episodic games and enjoy the TV show (haven’t read the comic books yet), I’m not a big zombie fan. I played for the characters and storytelling there, but for me, The Wolf Among Us has the perfect moody ambiance and a unique spark reminiscent of 80’s noir. I can’t wait to spend more time in this world.
The action throughout is almost entirely point-and-click, and I personally found it a bit tricky to execute. I played on Xbox 360. During fight scenes (of which I encountered two), you move the right stick to highlight a hint and then hit the button that appears onscreen — typically one of the triggers. Other times, you mash one of the buttons such as A, or dodge blows and objects being thrown at you by moving the right stick as indicated onscreen.
When I occasionally missed a cue, I considered it my fault — and hey, Bigby would have missed that in real life too, or so I rationalized. But sometimes it was difficult to spot the cues, and it was always sticky to aim. For this reason, I appreciated that the game is forgiving if you don’t line up your shots perfectly; just pull the appropriate trigger and you’ll be fine much of the time. However, I found the mouse and keyboard controls more intuitive when I played The Walking Dead on my computer, and in retrospect, I wish I had bought this game for PC rather than playing on my Xbox 360.
The Wolf Among Us also lets you explore scenes by moving your cursor around, highlighting hints, and clicking on them to initiate Bigby’s investigation of the item or a conversation with a character, etc. To speed things along, you can sometimes just click a button without lining up your cursor. For instance, to open a door, you can move your cursor over it or just click B on the 360 controller, because a red icon appears there on the righthand side of the circle. (Red like the B button and on the right side like the B button is on the 360 controller, get it?) I don’t know whether this is how things were set up for consoles in The Walking Dead or not, but I thought it was a simple, brilliant touch that makes interacting with the environments breezy and intuitive.
But the gameplay is really secondary in The Wolf Among Us; what comes first is the amazing storytelling. It’s like playing through a comic book with an art style just as beautiful, but the interactivity makes it much more immersive. This type of story — a murder investigation, a mystery — plays out perfectly with Telltale’s unique style of storytelling. The Wolf Among Us is a little more straightforward than The Walking Dead, but I’m enjoying it more.
The game is mostly cutscenes with dialogue options regularly appearing. Each of your major choices affects future gameplay and the way the mystery unravels. You have a limited amount of time to make your dialogue choices, and staying silent is an option, too. I had Bigby busting down doors, threatening Toad when he lied, and being a bit of an asshole to his roommate — one of the three little pigs who has a penchant for smoking cigarettes and drinking bourbon. Other times, I chose to play Bigby weary, telling people he was tired of games and demanding answers so he could get home already.
The game tracked my choices in the upper left corner of the screen, telling me when something I said made Snow White appreciative, when I scared Mr. Toad’s son, and anytime somebody would remember something I said or did to them. In a way, I would prefer to have those notifications turned off as I had them in The Walking Dead games for a more seamless experience, but they definitely reminded me that in Telltale games, every action counts.
Naturally, the story is more engaging for being customizable. I was impressed when I got to the end and saw that the preview for next month’s episode already reflects my decisions, showing a certain character in lock-up while another is running free on the streets due to a key decision I made at the end of episode one.
Just as The Walking Dead did, The Wolf Among Us recaps your big decisions at the end of the episode and shows you the stats for what other players have done. It’s always interesting to see where my decisions aligned with the majority of other players’ and where I took the road less traveled. I could have sworn I even noticed a couple of characters I didn’t spend time with and maybe didn’t even meet due to the decisions I made.
Personally, I don’t want to go back and replay the story in a different way, because the choices I make in this game are it for me. I like that finality. However, knowing how influential every option is makes me want to watch someone else play the game in a different way. That’s the magic of Telltale Games’ storytelling.
For anyone else who’s played, what decisions did you end up making? Here’s my personal rundown:
— Gave Faith my money.
— Lied to the Beast and said I hadn’t seen Beauty.
— Went to see Prince Lawrence before helping Toad.
— Named the Tweedles as my prime suspects.
— Arrested the Woodsman.
Yeah, that last one makes no sense given my prime suspect, but part of the beauty of these games is that you have to make quick decisions based on instincts… and sometimes you live to regret them, just as you would in real life. I can’t wait to see the consequences of my choice in the next episode.