- Technical Issues
After the team’s excellent take on The Walking Dead, all eyes were on a blossoming Telltale Games, who had been swept from an under the radar status and transformed into a major force in video game storytelling. Their next undertaking would be announced as an interpretation of the popular Fables graphic novel series, and would be known as The Wolf Among Us. A dramatic shift from setting of their previous title, The Wolf Among Us hoped to keep that same fire alive for the episodic story telling genre that Telltale had since solidified their position as king of. What we were given was a series that feels at home in video game format, and while not as powerful as The Walking Dead, is able to keep up that same level of writing and involving storytelling that made us love Telltale’s style.
Taking after the Fables series of graphic novels, the game places us deep within the ecosystem of New York City to the secretive Fabletown, an area delegated to centuries old fairy tale characters known as fables. These folks run the gambit as all of the most well known, to the lesser known, such as Beauty and the Beast, and Snow White. However, things aren’t as graceful and majestic as those tales hint at, as all of the turmoils of modern day life affect these people as they struggle to stay hidden from the rest of the world. The story surrounds Bigby, also known as the Big Bad Wolf, who acts as Fabletown’s sheriff, and has a bad reputation.
The Wolf Among Us is largely a narrative experience. The focus here is on story and communication between characters rather than a streamlined gameplay set up of any kind. This means that most of the time here is spent going through dialogue, with a lot of the perks being able to decide what Bigby says in pretty impressive detail. During each triggered discussion, players will be offered four options of various emotional inflection. Some answers illicit more anger, which I call default in a game where the player is seemingly encouraged to be as brutish as possible, as well as friendlier and more neutral responses, followed by the option to stay entirely silent. How you react to each prompted dialogue choice in the allotted time will change how characters interact with you in the future.
While the game hints at the idea that each dialog has a grand influence on the entire game narrative, this is unfortunately (and not surprisingly) a gross overstatement. While the game’s clearly marked large decisions have a noticeable impact on the following narrative, minute to minute conversation has little to no impact. Upon playing through with different play styles, it became evident that decisions such as striking a character during an investigation changed little more than having my brutality brought up in a future argument. This can be shocking and effective, surely, but with how minute this influence is, The Wolf Among Us is really a game to enjoy for the journey, which starts off incredibly strong, and slowly works its way down to a more traditional quality experience.
The dialogue’s effectiveness is supported largely in part by the game’s excellent writing, a trait that this series brings forward from the The Walking Dead. In a vast majority of cases, I felt that even though I was playing a character with his own background and persona, unlike TWD‘s Lee, I could still make the choices that made most sense with how I would react. While Bigby is given the stigma of being this terrible individual with a terrible past (laid out clearly as his acts in well known fairy tales), it was surprisingly easy to go a route far from a hotheaded psychopath. This was easy to overlook as you placed yourself as an analog represented by Bigby, but became more difficult when the game actively challenges your behavior to support its own characterization of him.
Outside of the behavior, the game has built in quick-time event action sequences that constitute some of the most exciting and engaging parts of the game. These always encompass combat scenes in which Bigby uses his unorthodox strength. Compared to a title like The Walking Dead, confrontations here are much more rewarding. Comprising of simple actions that mirror the movements that Bigby makes, it’s impressive how involved in the action Telltale manages to make the player feel with such limited interaction. These modes act like a channel for the emotional rage the game can build up.
In fact, The Wolf Among Us is quite good at eliciting emotional responses through it’s psuedo-noire storyline. Many of the game’s characters can bring out feelings of worry, anger and anxiety. While these states never personally matched up to other story-driven games, the ones here are not slouches by any means. While the stories surround eras old fairy tales, the stories within are very human, and contain pretty obvious representations of real-world human problems. All in all, the stories momentum makes sense as these people are forced into a modern world, haunted by their own style of immortality.
What strikes this game negatively is a ridiculous lack of polish. Running the PS3 version, I saw more stuttering, freezing and slow-down than The Walking Dead. The game runs pretty terribly on my TV connected box, and while I cannot attest to the workings of the other versions of the game, I can speak to frequent freezing between scene cuts, and impressively long loading times. The game’s exceptionally pleasing opening sequence wasn’t even free from skipping and lag. It is hard not to feel that some of the moment to moment tension of the game was negatively affected by the game’s lack of stability. But much like other game’s produced by Telltale, these issues are not enough to take away from great writing and character development.
The game’s cell-shaded comic book art style looks more polished than ever before in The Wolf Among Us. Whilesome animations remain a little bizarre, the game largely retains its look as a comic book in motion that might have been harder to pull off if it had any greater graphical fidelity. The heavy shading both reflects the darker themes of the story, as well as giving it that signature look that gives it a feeling very similar to the graphic novels from which it came. The music is well made for enticing a mysterious response from the player. A lot of the songs are deep and whispy electronic hums that add tension and haze to where it best fits the story, and actively aids in the development of Bigby and Snow White’s story.
Telltale Games have struck gold again with The Wolf Among Us. While the game doesn’t dig nearly as deep as The Walking Dead on most levels, what it does offer is an engaging and well-written story based on a fascinating graphic novel. For those looking to get into Telltale’s adventures but were put off from the narrative focus therein, you won’t find much solace here, but it is a bit more successful in achieving that mix of action and narrative. The Wolf Among Us is a great indicator as to why episodic storytelling in games is still pretty relevant, despite the genre moving to the sidelines. For one of the stronger titles of this year, Fables fan, Telltale fan, or gamer looking to try something different, this is a good place to start.