I enjoyed The Walking Dead
not just because of the impressive game mechanics or the powerful dialogue but also because I was an avid reader of Robert Kirkman's
series and I was deep into AMC's
small screen adaptation of it. I wondered if not reading Fables
may be a handicap when firing up The Wolf Among Us.
I needn't have worried however, as The Wolf Among Us
is a prequel and assumes no prior knowledge of the series to get lost in its twisted, shadowy plots. I had no idea this was based on a comic series at all when starting the game (the shame!) but this didn't reduce my enjoyment of it one iota.
As the game opens, the first thing that strikes you is the art. It plays like a moving graphic novel, the characters set in thick outlines with hard expressions, and chiaroscuro like shadow play flickering across the walls gives an immediate sense of mystery with a smokey, film noir edge. Based on my previous encounters with Snow White and Beauty and the Beast, I hadn't expected something so adult, so dark, so bitter.
We play as Bigby Wolf, who, after giving up his old life of tormenting young girls in hoods and feuding with the Woodsman, has decided to turn over a new leaf and is tasked with keeping the peace in Fabletown. Fabletown is an eerie place, resembling a forgotten downtown New York, and is full of characters from your childhood fairytales. These characters must stay hidden from the 'Mundies' (you and me) in order to carry on living where they do, and they use a magic wand known as 'glamour' in order to appear 'human' and not raise any alarms. Certain events in the story lead to some of these characters showing their true colours however, and it's Bigby's job to stay cool and keep everyone else from exposing the true nature of fabletown. When you factor in a few residual character feuds from their homeland, this is no easy task.
Bigby's first encounter is from The Wind in the Willow's Toad who, due to lack of funding (or laziness) is out of glamour. Straight off the bat we're prompted with some dialogue options which see Bigby either chastising Toad or offering his sympathy and understanding – and so we're introduced to the narrative mechanic many Walking Dead players will be so familiar with. But this somehow feels more realistic, more intense, and I found myself even more invested in the fate of Fabletown's characters. It's hard to believe there could be more on the line than life and death in the face of a zombie apocalypse, but The Wolf Among Us pulls it off.
More characters keep appearing and add to the drama. We encounter a weeping Beauty fleeing an apartment and later Beast, who asks for your assistance in finding her. We can choose to help either of them, or stay out of it all together and each decision affects the outcome of the episode. Our decisions also carry on to subsequent episodes, which makes The Wolf Among Us a long term investment and worthy competition to Telltale Games' previous release. Sleepy Hollow's Ichabod Crane is the rather insensitive and self-absorbed mayor of Fable Town and Snow White his personal assistant, who eventually ends up aiding Bigby in his investigations to find the culprit behind a ghastly murder. And so our tale begins...
Saying more would be a spoiler, but you get the idea. As with every story however, there are two sides to this tale. While the narrative and character design cannot be faulted, there are one or two niggles. Loading times are rather excessive and the framerate does jump about rather a lot during cut scenes and some character interactions. This isn't enough to ruin the immersion and shouldn't discourage you from downloading a copy, but it's something that does slowly grind if you're easily bothered by that kind of thing. It's perhaps more noticeable during the 'quick time' active events where the game periodically stops to load between punches or jerks slightly when giving chase to a suspect, though these parts of the game are still excellently implemented in my opinion.
All in all, this a must play for those partial to a slow burning, intense adventure game. If you've had experience of Telltale Games' previous releases (most notably the rebirth of Lucas Art's Sam n' Max and Monkey Island) then you'll know what you're letting yourself in for. While these latest releases aren't heavy on puzzles, the narrative will leave you clutching your controller as the credits roll.