This review was originally posted on a website I briefly served as Senior Editor, examining these games on then-new gen platforms Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Telltale Games is a unique video game developer in that for every experience they create, it's the story that comes first. They’re not necessarily concerned with making these absolute graphical powerhouses, and they’re also not intending to create a very complicated control system. Instead, they’re focused solely on giving you, the player, a more interactive experience with a drama that unfolds before your very eyes. Objectively, this should generally be a passive experience, but Telltale manages to avoid that by keeping one major, vital element intact through the entire length of their games: choice.
It’s that choice, and that sense of thinking through your decisions as carefully as possible that truly makes Telltale's games standout experiences for players the world over, and The Wolf Among Us is another excellent example of their dedication to narrative, in addition to implanting enough options within a given story to make the game feel like a living, breathing world. Recently, Telltale has ported over some of their most popular recent game experiences from the old gen consoles to the new offerings, and while it may not seem like there’s a very big difference between the releases, the arrival of these great games on the new systems is great news for anyone that has picked one of these systems up, especially if you've never played one of the developer's games before.
Design and Story
If you've ever found yourself playing Telltale’s excellent games based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book series The Walking Dead (as opposed to being based on the AMC TV show of the same name), then you’ll find a lot of familiarity here with the overall narrative format. The source material for this game is a DC Comics series known as Fables, created by writer Bill Willingham and published by DC’s mature readers imprint, Vertigo. This game is actually a prequel to the events of the comic book series, and focuses on the same character that the premiere arc of the comic book series focused on: Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of a community called “Fabletown.” Fabletown is a community that’s actually located within the city limits of New York, and consists of classic fairy tale characters, themselves being the eponymous “Fables,” that govern themselves while living among humans. Non-human Fables need to pay for a spell which makes them look human, or be sent away to the mysterious “farm.”
Your character, Bigby, is the very same Big Bad Wolf found in several notable fairy tales, like Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. Bigby’s changed a lot since his days of eating grandmothers and blowing down houses, though, reforming himself to become the premiere law enforcement official of Fabletown. Other characters we meet along the way include Snow White, Ichabod Crane, the Woodsman, the Magic Mirror, and Tweedledee & Tweedledum. The crux of the story concerns the murder of a young woman, a Fable, that sends shockwaves through the community since the murder of a Fable is an extraordinarily rare occurrence, especially considering that the evidence points to the perpetrator being a fellow Fable.
Bigby and Snow White, herself an official from Fabletown’s “business office,” are charged with investigating the murder by deputy mayor Ichabod Crane, and are then led on an unsettling and increasingly interesting web of lies, murder, sex, and deceit that will have shocking repercussions for the Fables, and may also expose Bigby’s inner animal he’s tried so hard to cage over the centuries.
The quality of the story is very high, easily matching the efforts of The Walking Dead games, while also creatively exploring the dark side of the fairy tales that so many of us heard as children. Bigby is a compelling protagonist, with a dark side he doesn’t always want out in the open. As you’ll see when playing, though, you’re in complete control of becoming more man than beast, or letting the Big Bad Wolf out of his cage.
The overall aesthetic design of the game is gorgeous, and while this can’t exactly be called a graphical darling of the Xbox One or PS4, its beauty extends to its overall simplicity. Lines are dark and bold, colors vibrantly pop, but the image is perfectly counter-balanced with moody darkness in all the right places. Character designs themselves are exaggerated, but not in any fashion that draws attention to itself. The people are, after all, former princes, princesses, kings, queens, and strongmen, so their human forms conform to the idealized that seems in-step with the original conceptions of their characters. There’s also an odd air of realism to the overall designs, in that this is a story that is effectively told from the ground level.
Environments are grimy and dreary, which at first might seem incongruous given the characters that populate the story, but when you’re playing the game it's perfectly in-step with the tone presented. It also represents the mythology of the old fairy tales and the comic book series its primarily based upon very well, and actually stands as a canonical entry in the lives of the characters depicted in the Vertigo series.
The actual gameplay of The Wolf Among Us isn’t something that can be critiqued conventionally when compared with other third-person perspective games, because the true star of the experience is the narrative. The gameplay likely can’t be described as challenging, per se, but anyone that’s played either this release or the Walking Dead games will likely tell you that this makes Telltale’s games very far from “bad.” Quite the opposite of bad, in fact.
When you’re actively investigating, each point of interest within the game map is highlighted for you to find, but in some cases it may also be easy to miss something. You may also have an item in your inventory that you can then apply to a situation that doesn’t have an obvious solution. Combat in the game is a mixture of quicktime events (or “QTE’s”) requiring a deft button press or continuous tap, along with maneuvering your cursor in a tense situation to find an object or throw a decisive hit in a specific place on your opponent’s body, or in the environment.
The biggest element of the gameplay, though, as previously alluded to, is choice. The game actively tailors itself based on the choices that you make, and your choices have consequences over the events of the story as well as the lives of the other characters. While you generally only have a limited amount of time to make a decision, that decision could have repercussions on both the immediate events ahead of you, as well as how the rest of the story will play out further down the road. You may also have difficulty getting information from some characters at different points in the story if you made a previous decision that upset or scared them.
Because of the time limit, the story moves at a great pace, though, and it also creates a pretty palpable sense of suspense since you sometimes have to make the best out of a bad situation very quickly. Making a poor decision in that time, though, could prove disastrous for either you or another character, so don’t be too surprised if you find yourself to be a nervous wreck after a particularly intense moment in the story plays itself out. Rarely have I played a Telltale game and come away without breathing a little too hard on at least one occasion, and The Wolf Among Us was no exception.
If you’ve yet to play a Telltale game series to completion and aren’t exactly into curling up in the fetal position and crying yourself to sleep when taking in an emotionally turbulent story (as can definitely happen while playing The Walking Dead), then The Wolf Among Us may be the game for you. There are still some taxing character and narrative elements, but everything combines into another standout experience from Telltale Games, and one that easily stands side-by-side with their other memorable releases like Walking Dead or 2011's Back to the Future.
The stories in these games have a great degree of narrative weight to them, which certainly helps in telling a compelling story, but the most important factor of that storytelling is a ground-level degree of relatability that's granted via choice. You’ll immensely enjoy learning about Bigby and the characters that populate his world, and chances are you’ll easily find yourself immersed in a story that, frankly, I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. It really does speak for itself, though, and makes you an active participant in matters that feel important to the characters.
The Wolf Among Us is yet another feather in the cap for Telltale Games, and with new releases coming from the developer in the form of other beloved franchises (like Game of Thrones), chances are that like me, you won’t be able to wait and see what they’ll come up with next.