EPISODE ONE : FIRST IMPRESSIONS
The review is as spoiler free as possible. It may contain some mild spoilers for those who have read Fables, and for those who haven’t I guess they aren’t really spoilers then.
When I had first heard of a Fables game from Telltale Games I admit that I was a bit hesitant. Over the years I haven’t been a huge fan of Telltale’s adventure games, and then when The Walking Dead games was released I further lost interest. Yes, I’m one of those few people that didn’t really enjoy the little of The Walking Dead that I played. Maybe I’ll go back to it one day since the first episode is now free on most devices and consoles, but that’s neither here nor there. I lost interest because I wasn’t that keen of the games controls, or its art direction. So what changed from The Walking Dead to their new Fables episodic adventure series The Wolf Among Us?
To be honest I’m not entirely sure, but I am glad that I took the plunge and downloaded the first episode. Based on Bill Willingham’s Vertigo series Fables, The Wolf Among Us features characters from legend and folklore, forced out of their homelands by war, are settled in modern-day New York City. They live in a residential complex they like to call Fabletown, but there are other fables (as they’re called) that live spread through out the city. Some people might think it’s like ABC’s Once Upon a Time series, but Fables has been around a lot longer and was actually slated for development at ABC before they decided to Disneyfy it into what the show is today.
You play as Fabletown’s sheriff, Bigby Wolf, who’s called in to solve a murder that created an buzz around Fabletown that’s sure to get worse before it gets better. The Wolf Among Us is a bloody and brutal crime thriller that incorporates every cliched character you can think of, but it works so well. It’s complete with run down neighborhoods and corresponding dive bars filled with cigarette smoke lite by the neon lights found in pulp novels. Like the comics, this game does a brilliant job of pairing childhood fictions with grim grown-up realities. The characters are what brings the game to life and gives it the edge it needs to succeed.
Despite the reservations I mentioned earlier in regards to The Walking Dead game, this game has exceeded all of my expectations. Telltale knows what they’re doing when it comes to storytelling, and The Wolf Among Us is fine proof of that. The split second decisions players are faced with often cause a moral dilemma on how to handle a situation. The moral dilemma is made all the worse by time limits, and your actions can have a profound effect on their outcome. Players familiar with the Mass Effect franchise will recognize the in-depth conversation trees that are present, but unlike Mass Effect, the actions here are permanent and will decide the course of the game on a more organic level.
The story is considered canon, but readers will notice that it takes place before the events of the comics, making it an ideal entry point for both newcomers and long-time fans. A nice bonus feature is the ability to unlock character bios that will help players unfamiliar with the world of Fables to get familiar with the characters and their place within the Fables universe. Thankfully the writers at Telltale have crafted the story so finely that players unfamiliar with the world of Fables will have no problem understanding who’s who and what’s going on. Readers of the series will enjoy seeing the characters come to life, and appreciate the cameos, but at the same time might find the events at the end of the first chapter to be someone underwhelming since they know how the comics progress. It changes something from an “oh crap” moment to a “hmm, wonder how they will fix that” moment. The voicing of the characters can be a little jarring as well. I know I had a completely different sound for Bigby when I read the comic, yet it was still fitting to the games character.
Playing as Bigby was a surprisingly positive experience. Bigby is an established character I already know, and making the choices I did at times conflicted with my vision of him from the comics, but at the same time it fell into a narrative that I felt appropriate for the character. It felt totally in line with Bigby’s character to be knocking heads against bathroom sinks, kicking in doors, and telling people to fuck off. It felt good to unload on the “bad guys” while watching Bigby awkwardly deal with women, from Faith to Snow White. You could easily tell that Bigby has a heart of gold when it matters, but he can kick into serious ass kicking when needed.
Perhaps the thing that impressed me the most was the art direction. Telltale took a page from the Fables comic, but added in their own twist to it. Bigby looked like Bigby, but a little more lifelike. I liked the dark tones used and felt that it really lent to the story they’re telling.From the bright neon lights illuminating the midnight hour, to the run down apartments, everything felt like it was coming straight out of a pulp noir novel. And it suited the story perfectly. Kudos to Telltales art department, they really knocked it out of the park. Same goes for the voice acting as well, they really brought the characters to life.
The Wolf Among Us is solid stuff so far. Granted that we’ve only had the chance to play the first episode of five, but this is an excellent couple of hours with a lot of promise ahead. If you like a good hard-boiled crime drama wrapped into an adventure game then I’d highly recommend taking this one for a spin. I can’t wait for episode two to come out.
The Wolf Among Us is available on PC, Mac,PS3 and XBox 360. It will be released on the PS4 and XBox One later in 2014.