The Wolf Among Us is a new Telltale game, following the formula established with their very successful take on the Walking Dead franchise. Light on traditional puzzles but big on character development and atmosphere, here we have one of the freshest and original adventure games of the year.
I’m not familiar with the Fables graphic novels that this game is based on, but after playing and thoroughly enjoying this first episode, I’m certainly going to go and read up on them. You play as Sheriff Bigby, whose real identity is that of the Big Bad Wolf. You know, the wolf that ate the grandmother of Little Red Riding Hood and who was then killed by the Woodsman. Turns out that the Woodsman really wanted to rob the grandmother and was surprised to find the Wolf there. He only freed the grandmother and filled him up with stones because he thought he might get a reward from Riding Hood. He didn’t.
Without wanting to spoil the plot, all I’m going to say is that it’s a noir style detective story set in the 80’s in New York City. Characters from children’s stories such as Snow White or the Beauty and the Beast have had to flee their homeland and enter our world. Stuck in an unfamiliar place, they’ve got to adapt and scrape out an existence in a pretty unforgiving place, all the while having to keep their real identity secret. Characters that are mythical creatures or have an animal form are forced to either pay top dollar for a spell that grants them a human form or go to the Farm, a place outside the city where they are safe from humans, but have to live a captive life.
One of the joys of playing this game is simply the exploration of the setting and meeting characters you know from you childhood and seeing what became of them in this quite depressing place. Bigby himself is a sheriff, tasked with taking care that other fables (the term for the characters and creatures that came into this world) aren’t exposed to the normal humans (called mundanes, or mundies) and to keep the fables safe from each other. It’s a setting ripe for a lot of tension between characters and drama. It’s all very fresh and enthralling. Even if you haven’t read the comics, you’ll be able to make sense of it all right away if you just follow the dialog and pay attention.
Controlling the character, dialog and especially the fight scenes feel very good playing with a controller. Gameplay isn’t so much about solving puzzles in the traditional sense, so it can feel quite passive on that level. You just need to activate all the hotspots in your current area and soon enough things will move forward. I for one enjoy this approach because it’s wonderful for pacing. You continuously make progress in the story, and the real interactivity comes in the form of the choose-you-own-adventure style prompts anyway. Like in The Walking Dead, there are fight scenes and there are some pretty brutal moments. The QTE’s aren’t bad at all and work in the sense that fights are frantic and exciting to play. You are the Sheriff, so you can always go for a violent approach without it feeling out of character like it would in most other games. This lends itself to replayability – you’ll want to see how things pan out if you’d have attacked a character instead of playing nice for example.
What Telltale has shown here is that they are not afraid to step away from the Walking Dead franchise and to take on a less known one. They are able to bring to life a very different setting while keeping in line with their almost trademark style of story telling, where minor and major decisions help shape the player’s own experience. If this episode is an indicator for what’s to come, I would be very surprised if this isn’t another Game of the Year contender for many gamers out there.