In October, 2013, Telltale introduced us to a fictional world so unlike their previous work, The Walking Dead, that many of us were understandably cautious as to whether Telltale could continue their running success with a second series. Titled, The Wolf Among Us, this new series was to be based on a Vertigo comic books series called “Fables”. The narrative concept was absolutely perfect for this style of game, and optimistically, we went in with high expectations. To clarify the premise, players were put into the shoes of Bigby Wolf, a “Fable” better known by his real name: “The Big Bad Wolf”. Essentially, Bigby is the sheriff of Fabletown, and during the course of the first episode, players were dragged into a noir inspired murder mystery. It was gritty, violent, and exciting; portraying an almost Sin City interpretation of The Brothers Grim. Needless to say, this concept resonated really well with us!
The interesting thing about The Wolf Among Us is that despite the fact that it shares an almost identical design with other Telltale games, it never once felt over-familiar or tired. It’s clear that the developers created these games in such a way that the narrative primarily drives the experience while the gameplay mostly serves as a way to progress the story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s engaging, but it’s not really what you’re going to remember about each episode. In truth, it’s questionable how well this approach will hold up once there are four active series. However, it functions well enough for the time being; with minor improvements seen between each season of the previous games. The only disadvantage to this approach is that the entire experience relies heavily on the narrative, so If an episode falls flat, there is not much else the player can take away from the experience. The first episode was highlighted by its shocking cliffhanger, so the question remains: can Telltale deliver with Episode 2?
The answer to that question is kind of a mixed bag, and it’s likely going to come down to the expectations of each player. The awkward thing about Episode 2 is that it’s mostly there to provide a build up for subsequent episodes; now that the premise has already been established. The problem, however, is that the events in this episode, in my opinion, pursue the route of “interesting” rather than “exciting”; meaning less action and more exploration. Arguably, it was the thrills of the first episode that differentiated it from the slow-paced emotional ransom of The Walking Dead, so it kind of felt like it was in an awkward spot, especially as Bigby’s emotional growth towards the end of the first episode is somewhat undermined to make room for a new “twist” in the narrative. The direction of the episode itself will prove interesting for those keen to solve the mystery, but those thirsting for more action might walk away feeling a little unsatisfied; especially as this episode appears to be shorter than the first as well.
It’s worth noting that this episode does introduce some interesting characters, such as “Jack Horner”, “The Little Mermaid” & “Georgie Porgie”; all of which work especially well, and compliment the already stellar cast of characters. And in saying that, Bigby’s encounter with George is likely what redeems this episode the most as it is filled with lots of humour, and action that empowers the player with fun decision making, and an opportunity to let loose a little bit. I think more than anything though, Bigby himself felt a little wooden. His dialogue options often felt very black and white, falling into two very stereotypical positions: he’s either the bad guy trying to redeem himself, or he’s being bad because it’s inherently in his nature; neither of which felt entirely genuine. I expected that a specific event in episode one would his moment of rebirth, for better or worse. However, once this development was rendered inert, his motivation for change doesn’t work as well, and that was disappointing.
With that being said, I still think this episode finds it’s success by further establishing the lore of the universe, and exploring the darker side of what it means to be a Fable living in the mundane world. The writers aren’t afraid to pursue darker topics such as substance abuse, prostitution, and voyeurism. As Bigby’s hunt takes him deeper into the underbelly of their society, it’s clear that there are a lot of Fable’s struggling to make it our world; many whom have resorted to desperate measures in order to survive. I think what makes this episode so interesting is the fact that you never truly know what to expect when you combine the elements of crime and magic. There are several moments in this episode that will genuinely surprise, and I expect players will be okay with the direction.
For the purpose of this review, I have been playing The Wolf Among Us on a PS3; which is mostly the same as the other versions of the game apart from the controller. However, it’s worth mentioning that I experienced some serious performance issues this time that I did not come across in the first episode. At times, the game would hang as it tried to load the next scene, or the voice track would keep going while the screen had frozen. More frustratingly, however, were the moments where it hung completely, and I missed several words of dialogue. It’s been said that a patch was being released day one, assuming this issue may be affecting more than just the PS3 version, but I have not seen anything just yet. Don’t get me wrong, the game still looks fantastic, and the soundtrack is as good as ever; but given the regular use of the engine, this sort of thing should not be happening.
At the end of the day, Smoke and Mirrors is an episode that is mostly focused on providing a bridge for subsequent episodes: now that the premise has been established. Admittedly, it lacks the frequent action of the initial outing, which may be disappointing for some fans, but it still does well to develop the lore of the universe and explore the darker side of what it means to be a Fable living in the mundane world. The writers aren’t afraid to approach uncomfortable subjects, and I think for the most part that it will keep players interested enough to continue with the series. The biggest conflict with this episode, in my opinion, is a twist that works well to emphasise the unpredictability of crime and magic, but at the same time renders potential character development inert. Bigby started to feel as if he was being categorised into two stereotypes this episode; neither of which felt genuine or interesting. The writers need to give us reason to empathise with him as the supporting cast cannot be expected to maintain the series. There is still a potential for greatness – Stay tuned for Episode 3!
Note: This article was based on the PS3 version of the game, and provided to us by Telltale Games for the purpose of review.