Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?
After TellTale’s outstanding Walking Dead season, many were sceptical that they could pull off a whole season of the same quality with another high-profile IP. While perhaps not as well know as The Walking Dead thanks to the TV show, the Fables comic book series has been running for a long while and has many dedicated fans. Set in a world where myths have been run out of their homeland and into hiding in New York, it combines gritty mysteries and crime dramas with mythology and folklore. This is a world where Snow White is the government, the woodsman is a depressed alcoholic, the three pigs are heavy smokers and the big bad wolf is the sheriff. Fans of the comics should rejoice as Telltale have managed to do the series justice and then some, it’s a prequel of sorts but ties so neatly into the story while still giving you meaningful choices and introducing new ideas.
The basic set up is that you are Bigby, the big bad wolf of the Three Little Pigs and Red Riding Hood fame, infected with lycanthropy to turn him into a human (at least some of the time), and you need to solve a series of grisly murders in Fabletown, New York while keeping the residents in line and happy. Like the Walking Dead series it’s a simply point and click style adventure that involves almost no items, but leans heavily on conversation choices and the occasional quick time event. The story is split over five episodes but all are out now so you can play all the way through if you pick it up. Each episode contains its own narrative arc and summaries at the beginning and end, with just the right amount of content for an evening. That being said it’s very much like buying a boxset of Game of Thrones. They are set up nicely for one episode an evening but many will find it so enthralling they’ll burn through the whole season in one or two settings.
The game has a very different feel to the Walking Dead. Whereas that series is all about the feels, weighing heavily on your emotions and occasionally fear, Wolf Among Us is all about style and mystery. There’s a few emotional moments but it’s much more like a film noir in terms of pace and tone. You’ll be smoking, drinking and trying to stay on the right side of the law yourself as you attempt to work out who’s working things behind the scenes and causing all this trouble. A number of seemingly unrelated problems all work their way into the main plot, with a satisfying conclusion that doesn’t quite pull the rug from under your feet, but gives you a real chance to work things out for yourself.
Like the Walking Dead, choice is partly an illusion. If you’re the type of gamer who only cares about how the content progresses, you will be disappointed as no matter what you choose, most of the content stays the same. You have very little say in who lives or dies and each episode will start and end the same. There are some choices that have larger effects, taking you to different locations, but that’s not really what they’re about. The choices are about creating the character you want to play. You’re never going to make Bigby civilised or smart, but his morality is up to you. The same things might happen no matter what, but your reaction to them and the way you justify them is left up to you. This leads to satisfying arguments later on in the series where you can find yourself seriously undone if you can’t explain why you did the things you did. Being consistent is important, but not for the sake of some meter, but to avoid being a hypocrite. If you’re invested in the story this is where the enjoyment of the game comes from. The world is amazing and beautifully realised, the plot is entertaining, the dialogue is sharp and the music is subtle but effective, but the meat of this game is in making tough decisions and trying to live with them. Your philosophy and ethics will be called into question regularly and most of the decisions are way beyond simple good or evil choices.
Overall this is an excellent work of fiction. There’s a few games that we’d place up there with outstanding works of literature and film and this is one of them. Games need this kind of maturity and craft in order to reach some older audiences and TellTale are proving themselves to be masters of it. In the next year we’ve got more Walking Dead, Borderlands and Game of Thrones seasons to look forward to. We’d be willing to bet that all of them are going to be worth your time and money. If you care about style and plot in gaming at all, you owe it to yourself to play this.