Following on from the success of 2012’s critically acclaimed episodic series The Walking Dead, adventure game aficionados Telltale Games have turned to another comic book franchise as the premise for their latest offering.
Based on the DC-published Fables series by Bill Willingham, the Wolf Among Us is set in Fabletown, the New York City home to a secret community of fairytale characters who have been exiled from their homelands.
Through the use of an expensive magic spell, Glamour, they have been able to take on more human forms and thus protect their community from being discovered by the mundane (‘mundie’) world. Those who are unable to pay for the spell or undergo the transformation live in the ominous-sounding “Farm” in upstate New York.
In the game, which like previous Telltale titles is to be released in five two-hour episodes, players assume the titular role of the Big Bad Wolf – now known as Bigby – a largely reformed character far removed from the days of Little Red Riding Hood and destroying pigs’ houses. Bigby is the sheriff of Fabletown, whose job is to protect the community’s residents from each other and the outside world.
Right from the start of Episode 1: Faith, players find themselves embroiled in drama, crime and gruesome goings-on, with Bigby turning detective, teaming up with Snow White against a film noir backdrop to try to restore order in the city and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The gritty, mysterious nature of the Wolf Among Us is seemingly at odds with the fantastical worlds depicted in the source fairytales, but it’s this juxtaposition that creates so much intrigue and breathes new life into the formerly two-dimensional characters featured in the game. While the respective fairytales each character is from serve as their backstory, there’s no Happily Ever After ending about life in the dystopian Fabletown.
Aesthetically, the game’s heavily stylised cel-shaded graphics look like they could’ve been taken out the pages of a comic book. Vibrant colours and lighting contrast with deep shadows to help create a sort-of neon noir atmosphere, with the soundtrack adding to this with a mix of ambient sounds, foreboding strings and ‘80s synth in equal measure.
Fans of The Walking Dead will immediately feel right at home here, as The Wolf Among Us is based upon the same principles of narrative-heavy gameplay and rich storytelling; indeed, it often feels as though gamers are playing through an interactive novel rather than a typical video game. The familiar gameplay consists of branching dialogue choices, point-and-click style exploration and quick time event-based action and combat situations.
The primary focus here, like The Walking Dead, are the branching conversations Bigby has with other characters, with each face button on the controller being assigned to a particular choice. Each of these choices has a knock-on effect on both the current scene and Bigby’s personality and his relationships with the residents of Fabletown. Whether you play as the reformed, nice guy or live up to Bigby’s fearsome past as the Big Bad Wolf is entirely up to you.
Some decisions, such as which location to investigate or which characters to interrogate have a wider impact on the narrative of the game, although it remains to be seen to what extent the overall storyline can be manipulated or whether it’s a fairly linear affair in the grand scheme of things; which was one of the few criticisms leveled at The Walking Dead.
Thanks to an onscreen timer, players are forced into making quick choices; promoting decision-making based on instinct rather than over-analysing each situation before them. Fail to make a decision and Bigby will resort to silence, often alienating other characters in the process.
Similarly, failure to hit an onscreen command in a timely fashion during a QTE combat set-piece will result in Bigby being severely injured; though mercifully, rather than immediately triggering a game over screen as with The Walking Dead, the scene will instead continue to play out down a slightly different path, but with the same end result; giving players at least one more chance to get things right.
Real human emotions and characteristics are evident in the residents of Fabletown, who are brought to life by some terrific voice acting from a stellar cast (led by Adam Harrington and featuring Melissa Hutchinson, the voice of Clementine in The Walking Dead). Many of the characters featured in episode one are struggling to adjust to mundane life outside of their home worlds; alcoholism and prostitution are but two themes explored in episode one, further subverting the archetypal fairytale character.
With Faith clocking in at just less than two hours, it’s hard to get a feel for how The Wolf Among Us’ story will play out as a whole over the remaining episodes; particularly with one major twist taking place towards the end of Faith feeling somewhat premature. Telltale have certainly laid extremely strong foundations here on which to build, though.