What a big brain you have
Last year Telltale games released the excellent ‘The Walking Dead’ series of adventure game episodes, setting a new standard for what used to be called point-and-click adventures, but now features an unusual mix of quicktime events and keyboard or gamepad movement, so we’ll settle for adventure games. When we gave it ‘Best Story in a game’ for 2012 we had a feeling it might have been partly down to the license and setting. We already like the Walking Dead, we love the zombie genre, so an adventure game set there was a no-brainer (pun intended). That’s why we were pleased to see Telltale releasing a new series of episodes based on an IP we’d never heard of before, the ‘Fables’ series of comic books. Set in a world where fairytale creatures must hide their existence from the public in a gritty film-noir-esque New York – it’s certainly something different, but does it succeed in the way that The Walking Dead did?
First of all, despite the fairy tale setting this is definitely not a game you’ll want to play with children around. Yes there’s a big bad wolf, Snow White, one of the Three Little Pigs and even Beauty and the Beast, but time has not been kind to them. Throughout the course of the episode we see gore, discussions about prostitution, a copious amount of swearing and some heavy drinking and smoking. This is emphatically an adult game, although it doesn’t seem to go out of it’s way to try and pretend to be mature. In some titles there’s swearing or gore for the sake of it, as if that makes it more hardcore, The Wolf Among Us follows a similar path to Hotline Miami where the gore and the abuse is just a part of this horrible world you’re asked to partake in. Also similar to Hotline Miami is the slightly trippy Neon Landscapes that are juxtaposed with the typical city streets and apartments. Everything feels fairly natural but the use of colour makes the world seem slightly ‘off’ somehow. It was a startlingly powerful effect and keeps the game in your head long after you’ve finished an episode.
You play as Bigby, an assumed moniker for a character we all know as the Big Bad Wolf. Turned into a sheriff within the new district where all the fables live, he’s feared by many and has precious few friends left. Trying his best to keep the world together he’s naturally involved in many of the conflicts that surround him and provides an interesting window through which we can meet all the other characters. It’s genuinely exciting to meet new characters in the story thanks to their connections to fairytales, so you’re always vaguely aware of how they should be, but they’ll often defy your expectations in surprising ways. It would be a crime to spoil any of those for now, but pay close attention to the surroundings and all the little incidental details that cover the world.
Set up like an American TV show in the same way as ‘The Walking Dead’ was, the episode lasts around three hours and concludes with a ‘next on The Wolf Among Us’ segment. Each episode costs around £3.39 on the consoles, but on PC you need to buy the whole season at once for £19. It works out a little more expensive on PC, with the whole season on 360 costing just over £13, so that’s worth considering if you have both platforms available to you. Assuming all five episodes are a similar length as they were with ‘The Walking Dead’ then you’re looking at around 15 hours of gameplay for £19, which isn’t a bad deal at all.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward, you simply walk around different environments clicking on objects of interest and having conversation. So far there’s no tricky puzzles that require you to do anything other than click on things to observe them, as the game isn’t really about that. There’s no challenge of attaching a rubber chicken to a pulley because the game doesn’t ever want you to get stuck, it wants you to progress, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a significant input. The game focuses on choice, and that’s shown through occasional binary choices (who to chase, who to visit first) but much more often through conversation choices. At any time in a conversation you could be asked to choose out of four options to respond and you have around five seconds to pick, if you don’t choose anything you don’t say anything. Everything is paid attention to by the other characters, including silence, so you always feel responsible for the way they react afterwards. Of course some of the choice is an illusion, we’ll all be driven down the same basic storyline and visit most of the same places. That being said there are already some huge differences in my games compared to other peoples’ so at least some of the decisions carry a fair bit of weight behind them. One of the criticisms of ‘The Walking Dead’ was how little many of your decisions mattered, so hopefully Telltale will be addressing that this time around.
The first episode is definitely world-building and trying to establish what’s going on and what we’re going to be facing over the rest of the season. That being said there’s still plenty of action and drama, with evidence of strong character development given how much we care about them by the end of the episode. It’ll make you laugh and pull on your heartstrings in equal measure without ever feeling sentimental. This is an incredibly strong start to a season and we can’t wait for the next episode.