I loved the first season of Telltale Gamesâ€™ The Walking Dead. My only concern with all the accolades it received last year was that it didnâ€™t get enough - it should have won every award available. In my controversial opinion, The Walking Dead did a much, much better job with the whole â€śfather-daughter relationship forged in a zombie apocalypseâ€ť narrative than The Last of Us (both games centred on the paternal relationship between an adult man and a young girl brought together by circumstance.) I was so enraptured by the game (as was my girlfriend), that we named our new kitten Clementine after one of the gameâ€™s main characters.
In light of that, and considering my penchant for fairy tales, I was more than a little bit excited when Telltale announced The Wolf Among Us, based on Bill Willinghamâ€™s Fables comic book series. And Iâ€™m pleased to report that the excitement was justified: Telltale have delivered (almost) flawlessly.
If youâ€™re not familiar with Fables, the ongoing series follows the exploits of various fairy tale, folklore, and literature characters (the titular Fables) who have been displaced from their Homelands and now live in Fabletown, a secret community in New York..
Donâ€™t worry if youâ€™re new to the series though, as Wolf is a prequel, taking place 20 years before the comics. The reformed Big Bad Wolf, now known as Bigby Wolf, serves as Fabletownâ€™s sheriff; this, combined with his chequered past, means he is not the communityâ€™s most popular resident. His job gets all the more difficult when he finds a dead Fable on his doorstep - the first Fabletown murder in years.
If you enjoyed The Walking Dead, thereâ€™s every chance that youâ€™ll like Wolf, as it more or less plays the same. At its core, it is a point and click adventure game, tasking you to talk to other characters and investigate points of interest in order to progress the story.
What separates Wolf (and The Walking Dead before it) from its peers is its emphasis on player involvement in the narrative through conversation options. These arenâ€™t black and white, Paragon or Renegade type dialogue choices, either. Responses are are incredibly varied, morally ambiguous, and very organic and believable. On top of that, they have a huge effect on how the story plays out, with your choices affecting major plot points and other charactersâ€™ interactions with Bigby.
Telltaleâ€™s games are among the few that I feel use Quick Time Events (QTE; button presses during cutscenes to make them more interactive) to good effect, and this is as true in Wolf as in any other. Itâ€™s hard to give examples without heading into spoiler territory, so youâ€™ll just have to trust me: this game uses QTEs sparingly, but when theyâ€™re there, they do a fantastic job of putting you in Bigbyâ€™s shoes and letting you experience what heâ€™s going through.
Thatâ€™s not to say that Wolf doesnâ€™t introduce anything new - a few little tweaks make the overall experience much more fluid and enjoyable. You can now walk faster by holding down R2, making exploration less of a chore, and the more action-like scenes feel much more intuitive and user friendly than in The Walking Dead. Thereâ€™s a new collectible element in the Book of Fables, with entries that you collect through progression giving you some background to the cast; however, most of these are obtained automatically and donâ€™t need to be searched for.
As good as this dialogue driven gameplay is, itâ€™s nothing without interesting, well written characters and an engaging plot. Telltale proved that theyâ€™re the game industryâ€™s top dog in this regard with The Walking Dead, using the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse to tell one of the most moving, heart wrenching, human stories ever witnessed in a game.
The Wolf Among Us proves that Telltaleâ€™s previous venture was no fluke. As a murder mystery, the plot on offer is very different to The Walking Dead. Emotional relationships are much more subtle without the stresses of a zombie apocalypse bringing everyoneâ€™s feelings to the surface, and there isnâ€™t any obvious moral anchor to guide your choices, like The Walking Dead had in Clementine. If anything, this makes Wolf even better, with weightier moral dilemmas and less clear-cut interpersonal relationships to navigate.
Itâ€™s only the first episode, but Faith does a fantastic job of setting up the series, introducing the characters, and offering a glimpse at some of the conflicts, both internal and external, that characters will face.
While The Walking Dead was a gorgeous looking game, it was a bit rough around the edges at times, but everything looks a lot more polished in Wolf. It uses a similar cel-shaded, motion comic-like aesthetic, but itâ€™s much more refined this time around. The visual style is more in line with the Fables comics, with the contrast of bright neons and dark shadows setting up a rather imposing tone. In a game like this, where characterisation and emotions are central, lifelike facial expressions are critical. This is hard to pull off, but Telltale have nailed it perfectly. Coupled with brilliant voice acting and natural, expertly written dialogue, Wolf features some of the most lifelike, believeable characters Iâ€™ve seen in a game.
Any game will have its flaws, of course, and in Wolf, these mostly come down to mechanical glitches. There is a lot of slowdown when the game is autosaving (which is often), and I had the game freeze on me once. Still, these â€śTelltale problemsâ€ť (just about every Telltale game has been plagued by similar issues) are a long way from ruining the experience, which has more than lived up to expectations.
Telltale have proved yet again that theyâ€™re the big dog when it comes to licensed adventure games and emotionally-charged, gripping, character-driven narratives.
Now my girlfriend and I just need a puppy called Bigby.