Developed by Telltale Games. Published by Telltale Games. Released July 8, 2014. Available on PC (reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360.
The last episode of Telltale’s adventure game series based on the Fables comic may not be the last you play.
It’s a sad fact of any well-loved series – be it TV, books or even games – that they eventually come to an end. Sometimes the moment of conclusion is bittersweet because all you want to do is be in that world for one moment longer. And while the best crafted stories can make you feel a sense of closure, it’s also a sad fact that satisfying endings are supremely difficult to achieve, especially in a game with so many possible choices like The Wolf Among Us. The finale of what is surely just the first series from Telltale in the world created by Bill Willingham does a fine job of closing up the mystery Bigby Wolf has been investigating, but it ends on an ill-advised cliffhanger.
The characters from fairy tales and storybooks live in late 20th Century New York City. The Fables, as they call themselves, have an insular community now led by Deputy Mayor Snow White and Sheriff Bigby Wolf. Fables who don’t appear human must pay for a magic spell called a glamour so humans don’t discover them living among them. The murders of two prostitutes, one of which was glamoured to look like Snow before she died, spur an investigation by the Sheriff. The previous episodes in the series lead up to a confrontation with the Crooked Man and his gang of violent Fables which includes the goons Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Jersey Devil, and Bloody Mary. The setting is well-established through excellent voice-acting and sound design; the background music is simple electronic tones, but it immediately places you in Fabletown.
Playing the Big Bad Wolf is fun because even though he’s reformed his evil ways, there’s always the threat of the monster displaying some well-timed police brutality. Your choices in dialogue range from sarcastic threats to a punch in the face, and the now familiar feedback the game displays lets you know when you’ve made a strong character decision. “Snow will remember that.” And because the game told you, so will you. Being made aware of the branching decisions somehow makes your choices feel more real, more personal. My Bigby Wolf will be different for yours, even though the story is still mostly linear.
Because this is the last episode, the choices you’ve made throughout the series all come to their fruition in a group scene. Most of the characters you’ve met along the way are there, and how you treated them will have repercussions. I felt bad for some of the things I did as Bigby. It’s a rare game that makes you feel guilty.
The finale episode is called “Cry Wolf” and it has a lot more action than the rest of the series. The quick time events guide you through tightly scripted action sequences, such as a fist-fight with the Tweedles or a car chase through the purple streets of New York, but they never feel artificial. Instead, they put you in the role of Bigby through physical tension and stress, making you feel each setback or injury. Truth be told, there’s almost zero threat of failure – I didn’t reach an end screen throughout the whole episode – but you somehow feel it anyway.
There’s a spectacular sequence with Bloody Mary that affected me more than most – the sound effects made me cringe with hatred and fear – and I loved the resolution referenced a part of Bigby’s background we haven’t seen before. “Cry Wolf” verges on uber-macho action movie ridiculousness in how Bigby accomplishes everything in a very tidy way, but it’s hard to argue believability when it comes to storybook characters. He’s the Big Bad Wolf. Of course he can take out a gang of Fable thugs all by himself.
And while the resolution brings the series to a close, and the decisions Bigby makes feel just and final no matter what they are, the writers made a huge mistake in how it ultimately ended. After a quick denouement, the last scene gives a whole bunch of information that could have filled in a lot of the holes in the plot in a satisfying way. That whole detective getting the last puzzle piece he needed bit. Instead, there’s an out-of-place “A-ha!” montage of quotes from the previous episodes as Bigby finally puts all that’s happened in a completely different context. Movies like The Usual Suspects pull off this kind of thing well, but it felt hollow here. Because the story had been so personal, the fact that all my choices and judgments could be invalid felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I had been duped, tricked by someone I trusted.
I respect Telltale for trying something new. As I said before, it’s a rare game to make you feel emotions such as guilt or deceived, but I think it was a poor way to conclude what had otherwise been a completely wonderful series. It all but assures there will be a second series of The Wolf Among Us. While The Walking Dead strongly hinted at more to tell in a different way, the second series of Wolf Among Us will need to resolve what’s happened here before moving on. It should have been a more self-contained story to give it the same weight the rest of the series supported so well.
Bottom Line: The last episode of the series completes the arc of Bigby’s investigation, and you’ll be able to exact some final judgment on the perpetrators, but the resolution stumbles a bit after a spectacular climactic action scene. The whole series is excellent, and the conclusion may make you want to replay it to figure some stuff out you might have missed.
Recommendation: The Wolf Among Us is one of those games that everyone should play through, both to see its successes and its failures.[rating=4]