Developer: Telltale Games | Publisher: Telltale Games | Played On: Xbox 360 | Release Date: October 11, 2013 | Price: $4.99 | ESRB: Mature [Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco]
Adapting established franchises to another medium is never an easy endeavor. There’s a high level of care needed in balancing loyalty to the story and tone of the series, and the incorporation of new ideas that gives the adaption a voice of its own. Video games have a mixed history with IP adaptations, but Telltale Games have found their own formula to making it successful, as their latest game clearly demonstrates.
The Wolf Among Us follows Bigby Wolf, reformed villain and sheriff of Fabletown. Centuries ago fairy tale characters fled their homelands to escape an evil presence, finding their way to the modern world and taking refuge in New York City. Those who were human stayed in a closed community in one part of the city, and those who are unable to afford glamour—magic that helps them look human—are sent to the Farm.
This third-person adventure game is set twenty years before the Fable comics by Bill Willingham, and is meant to serve as canon to the series—though how officially is still up to Vertigo publishing. Nonetheless Telltale took great care with this property, making sure to create a story that would be believable in the world of Fables (given how unbelievable the events in Fables can be).
Episode one, titled “Faith,” introduces us to key characters like Snow White, Mr. Toad, and the Woodsman, the latter an advisory Bigby has an ongoing feud with, and someone he beats up within a few minutes of his introduction. As the designated peacekeeper of Fabletown—as loose as the peace part actually is—Bigby is called when there’s trouble, which is how he stumbles upon a murder scene. The fact that the victim happens to be a Fable is of extra concern, since it’s difficult to kill one, leaving Bigby to suspect the killer is one of their own. This launches an investigation, and a thrilling two-hour start to the journey.
Fabletown is not as majestic as you might expect from our childhood fables: they’re living in rundown apartments; quite a few have a dependency on liquor and smoking; and it’s hard to find a happy expression among the bunch. It doesn’t help that you’re the Big Bad Wolf; everyone is constantly reminding Bigby of his past transgressions, but that doesn’t stop him from breaking down doors and asking questions.
Dialogue choices are a majority of the gameplay, but where Lee Everett had to balance relationships in order to survive, Bigby has to prove whether he’s a new man or still the same wolf that ate Little Red Riding Hood and blew some houses down; what the player decides influences how characters react to him. Relationship management is the crutch of the game, so if you happen to piss off one creature they can refuse to cooperate later on. Though there are always other methods Bigby can use to make fairy tales talk.
While you always surveyed your surroundings in The Walking Dead, in The Wolf Among Us it actually functions like proper detective work. Clues give Bigby the ammunition to continue to press his suspects for more information; in fact, ask the right questions and you’re able to catch people in their lies, getting them to confess vital information. These situations are few though; it’s not always necessary to scour every corner—it’s obvious which situations require extensive grilling.
That said, sometimes you have the option to just punch those not cooperating, which is satisfying after running through an entire building to catch an assailant. The Wolf Among Us is much more action-orientated than The Walking Dead; there are more quicktime events involved in brawls and chase sequences that amp up the story in between questioning suspects.
They’re definitely more exhilarating than walking around and picking up random items, but they’re not all that challenging either. It’s not always necessary to move your cursor exactly over the indicated circle or even press the right triggers to nail the hit; a few times I would press the right trigger when it called for the left to test how accurate it needs to be, which I found is not much. Still, it’s great to see Telltale experimenting with combat methods without compromising their game style.
Decision-making becomes a factor beyond just conversations; sometimes two matters are occurring at the same time and you have to decide which to attend to first. There was an instance where I had to choose between questioning a key suspect or attending to a distress call; when I went to see how the two outcomes differ—because you do have the option to see where the other paths lead by creating a new save right at that juncture—there is a significant event I missed because of my original choice. But that’s how criminal investigations go, and it’s up to you to decide what’s more important.
The Wolf Among Us looks fantastic. The characters are not as ruggedly drawn as they are in the comics, but they still have a gritty look to them and embody the source material. The shadow work grants it a noir quality, fitting of a detective drama, as do the contrasting neon and soft color palette. The same smoothness can’t be said for the camera; the angles sometimes work against the player when walking around a room. There are also a few frame rate problems that diminish some intense moments. On the other end, the brooding soundtrack is excellent, but I am a bit disappointed most of the female characters sound about the same.
The interactive nature video games offer allow fans to interact with their favorite comic book properties in an entirely different and engaging way, and Telltale Games is making sure their name is among the established successes. The Wolf Among Us is a fantastic narrative adventure equal to its Walking Dead predecessor. Fables veterans will enjoy seeing Snow White when she was just the assistant to the deputy mayor. For those who have never read Bigby’s ventures, you’re in for a peculiar world full of characters of yore, homicide, and an excessive amount of cigarettes.
+ Story is sure to appease both fans and newcomers
+ Investigative methods are well-fitted to Bigby’s profession and personality
— Action sequences don’t always require precise effort
8 / 10