New York City in the 1980s was a miserable place, and from the first few moments of The Wolf Among Us you can feel it. Even worse than the sticky heat of the city is the plight of the Fables, famous characters that appear in stories like Snow White or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, exiled from their Homeland and forced to live among human “mundies”. Placing storybook characters in a modern city is a neat enough premise, but it’s the simple and elegant investigative storytelling that makes the first episode of this five-part series a joy to explore.
It’s up to you playing as Bigby Wolf to keep the Fables from being discovered, and to keep them from hurting themselves too much. The former Big Bad Wolf, Sherriff Bigby embodies the noir detective with a dark past and a heart of gold, but his character fortunately never strays too far into hard-boiled cliché. Well, he does drink quite a bit, and smokes cigarettes constantly, true to type but he’s got one of the Three Pigs sleeping at his apartment, which isn’t. And when the pig calls Bigby out on his lone wolf demeanor, it’s extremely apt.
Similar to the last time Telltale brought a comic book to life, each facet of the production excels. The art style is similar to the Fables comics on which the game is based and the cell-shaded look contrasted with bright purples and yellows makes for a visually appealing universe. The sound design and music are expertly rendered to fade into the background, yet are as instrumental in conveying the flavor and feel of Fabletown as the excellent voice-acting. Adam Harrington in particular succeeds in bringing Bigby to life, but there’s not an actor out of place in the cast.
You play Wolf Among Us in a third person view, controlling Bigby as he moves around a very controlled set of scenes and locations. True to other point-and-click adventures, there’s stuff to investigate, and you can click on an object to pick it up or get a canned response from Bigby as he looks at some detail. The game shines when Bigby talks with the denizens of Fabletown, and choosing your responses feels like a normal conversational flow instead of the artificial looping of questions and answers in a dialogue tree. Silence is also an option; sometimes it’s better for Bigby to keep his big mouth shut.
Even better, the UI by default lets you know when something you’ve said or done will have an impact later in the story. You could turn this off for immersion’s sake, but reinforcing how the player’s actions are important is very engaging on its own. In a conversation with a character, the UI pops up a message when you catch them in a lie for example and you can use that to leverage a response later on. Much of what happens in this first episode feels like it could come up as the story progresses in later installments, and so this introduction is successful in making you anticipate episode two.
Beyond the mechanics of the conversations, the writing in Wolf Among Us is just superb, full of jokes, clever storybook references and dramatic wit. The writers know when to “show” and not just “tell”. The script excellently gets across the required information of the setting without feeling like overt exposition. You figure out quickly when Bigby answers a call from Toad (from Wind in the Willows fame) that a glamour spell keeps most of the other-worldly nature of the Fables invisible to mundies. After a lengthy, viscious brawl with the Woodsman, you learn Fables are notoriously hard to kill.
There are a few sequences like the brawl where action takes over and the simple clicking or key-mashing prompts could be seen as glorified quick time events, but they are used effectively. If you fail to press the right key, sometimes the action continues with consequences of failure, but more often than not a kill screen is shown. The input needed from you is fudgy enough for the possibility of failure to be very slim, so the sequences increase the story’s pacing without breaking it down through frustrating or repeated defeat.
Of course, Wolf Among Us being a detective story at its core, a Fable is killed somehow , and Bigby must find out what happened before the situation gets out of control. The mystery introduced in this first episode is a solid one, with multiple suspects forming a memorable police lineup: Tweedledee, Bluebeard, Prince Lawrence, and the Woodsman. Who done it? Even as the Wolf Among Us makes you ask the question, you get a sense of deeper machinations going on among the storybook characters stuck in New York City.
The only downfall of this first episode of The Wolf Among Us is its length – you can play through it in less than two hours. Like the Fables, you are forced to live in this fantastic world, but you don’t want the story to end.
Bottom Line: An amazing introduction to the Fables setting, the first episode of The Wolf Among Us absorbs you fully into the character of Bigby Wolf through excellent writing and forcing the player to make engaging choices.
Recommendation: Buy the first installment if you like cliffhangers, or wait until all five are released to dive headlong into the full story. Either way, play The Wolf Among Us. You won’t regret it.[rating=5]
This review is based on the PC version of the game.