Hot off the heels of last years The Walking Dead video game developer Telltale Games is no longer thought of as a creator of hit or miss adventure games, instead they’re regarded highly as some of the best storytellers in the industry. Their finely crafted adventure set in the post apocalyptic universe of acclaimed comic series The Walking Dead raised eyebrows in a positive way, far surpassing any and all expectations thanks to some incredible emotional depth and a focus on meaningful player choice driven narrative. As evidenced by a mass of game of the year nominations the episodic title as a whole is widely regarded as one of last years best games. Now suspenseful eyes have been cast on their latest comic book conquest, a canonical prequel to the world of Bill Willingham’s Vertigo published Fables series.
Unlike its spiritual predecessor The Wolf Among Us isn’t a grim tale of survival in a grey desolate wasteland, instead it’s a noir story of murder and investigation set in New York city, with a fantastical twist. More specifically the game is set in a borough known aptly as Fabletown – an area inhabited by exiled Fairy Tale creatures whom are drawn from a collection of classic stories. Players assume the role of sheriff Bigby Wolf the man responsible for keeping the existence of Fables living in the city a secret it’s human inhabitants. Overall times are bleak for the legends as most endure lives of squalor and hardship, some even turn to prostitution or other shady professions to get by in their cruel adopted world. Bigby’s job isn’t an easy one, once known as the Big Bad Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood infamy the reformed villain desperately pursues his new path in an attempt at redemption, all the whilst trying to protect those who both despise and fear him.
The Fables borough of New York is strangely compelling, effortlessly conjuring up feelings of the noir detective genre it strives to be part of. Buzzing neon signs cling to walls outside of sleazy joints whose vibrant colours explode illuminating the streets with a special kind of brightly lit misery. Each of the iconic characters are visually faithful to their story book counterparts; small touches in appearance like Snow Whites blouse being decorated with snowflakes demonstrate the care and deserved respect Telltale has given the cast. These little touches add a layer of welcome reference hunting during exploration. Presented with the comic book style visuals popularised by its predecessor characters can look distracting for the first little while, though you’ll soon adjust, more exotic models however, look stiff and relatively poor in comparison to the rest of the cast.
Survival was the name of the game in The Walking Dead and choices heavily reflected that core objective with decisions often boiling down to being selfish or selfless; brave or smart. The Wolf Among takes the same choice based tools but utilizes them in a unique way, preventing it from becoming a tired imitation. Moral choices are as integral to the experience as ever and, poor selections can still have unexpected repercussions in the future. This time decisions orbit the core of how to tackle tough investigative situations, weighing up the best options for case progression versus Bigby demonstrating a more caring side toward the community that distains him. Decisions are genuinely difficult and rightly so, most choices in conversation are taken against the clock to spur genuine reaction, whilst one or two stumpers kindly give players time to consider their approach – not that it makes the painful choices any easier.
Where The Wolf Among Us undoubtedly surpasses it’s older sibling is in it’s well choreographed brawling sequences, that still highlights choice whilst the adrenaline’s pumping. Similar to the Walking Dead Wolf Among Us utilises a system of highlighting the selected area then pressing the corresponding button to pull of aggressive actions in the scripted sequences. Unlike Walking Dead these sequences feel much more fluid and aggressive instead of stiff and tension inducing. Whilst both serve their purposes well The Wolf Among Us action segments have players feel much more involved and feels genuinely more fun. The element of choice during fistycuffs feels awesome too, smash them off the sink or maybe bash your victim off a wall? It’s up to the player – even if in a panic they simply hit the closest object. The sections might be few but they’re certainly highlights.
Disappointingly kinks in Telltales current engine still remain as Wolf Among Us regularly hits a few minor hiccups. On the bright side there’s nothing gamebreaking here, on Playstation 3 there was never any need to reset the console but, on a few occasions there were minor framerate dips. The most persistent issue that remains from Walking Dead is the jarring pause that seems to punctuate the end of certain conversations, it’s not enough to ruin the game by any stretch but, it’s just enough to be noticeable and pull players out of the experience. It’s a little annoying that after so much success with the games Telltale still hasn’t figured out how to resolve a few niggling technical issues.
The Wolf Among Us chosen route of noir murder mystery is an interesting one. It’s tale is intriguing with a few twists even in this relatively short two hour scene setting introduction to the world. Player’s who’ve never even heard of Fables need not fear as Telltale does a reasonable job of easing players into the bizarre universe. Keeping in tune with the comic book aesthetic of the Walking Dead was a wise idea that combined with it’s own brand of mesmerising neon makes The Wolf Among Us a uniquely pretty game. The level of choice here is great showing great potential that proves it’s ability to live up to The Walking Dead. Aside from a few niggling faults there’s very little bad to say. Fans of the Walking Dead, Noir or murder mystery would do we ll to check out this first episode of the intriguing world of Fables.