You smell that? It’s the smell of stale cigarettes, old whiskey, and dried blood. You see it too, don’t you? The neon lights, the trash oozing into the gutter, the haze of subway steam at night. It’s pulpy, it’s noir, it’s a fantastic adaptation of Bill Willingham’s Fables series as presented by Telltale Games. And after finishing up the first chapter of this episodic adventure, all I can tell you is yes: I am afraid of the big bad wolf.
Adapted from DC’s long running comic, The Wolf Among Us stars Bigby Wolf as sheriff of Fabletown, a borough in New York City that has long hidden famous characters of old fables who escaped their original homes long ago in an event titled the “Exodus.” It’s a lot of mythology and though I was pressured to pick up the complete first volume of the comic series, I had no need for any of it coming into the story. Because like all good stories, the true focus here is to introduce our noir-detective hero and then build the world around him. Bloated mythology? I’d say it’s rich and the more you know about fables (actual fairy tales rather than the comic) the better. It’s a compelling world for sure, but the focus begins and remains with Bigby and the gruesome murder investigation he’s thrown into.
Like The Walking Dead, Telltale’s critically acclaimed previous effort, The Wolf Among Us is a mature game. Yet it’s not a game that simply is mature by adding in banned content. It’s a mature game in that it tackles adult stories using fable characters, and the creativity and savvy to do so is outstanding. The Wolf Among Us earns its M-rating with sex, drugs, and brutal, brutal violence; and although mystery may be what sets the game in motion, but the heart-pumping, white-knuckled action sequences is what left the biggest impression on me. There’s blood, there’s action, and there’s a hell of a lot of swearing in this glorious example of the pulp fiction genre.
And this is all the more impressive given Telltale Games’ chosen narrative preference, the point-and-click adventure game. Like The Walking Dead, players click and walk and interact with the world by picking up items and navigating through wonderful text options, all the while the game caters its story to your choices of dialogue and action. You can make Bigby, or at least have him interact with the world, in any way you want. Good cop? Bad cop? No-nonsense violent cop? The options are all there and any variation in between the paradigms of right and wrong seem to also be, not only viable options, but interesting ones as well. I played my sheriff pretty straight-laced but wasted no time getting down to violence should the situation call for it. To have a certain level of control in such a meticulous narrative is something Telltale has mastered.
I, like everyone else in this gaming world, loved The Walking Dead game yet that was mostly due to the game being so great using a creative property I personally found not as interesting. The Wolf Among Us on the other hand has taken a fresh look at the comic and made a game that already trumps Telltale’s previous effort in my heart. The world is far more interesting, and the action so much more intense and, forgive the pun, alive than The Walking Dead that I can’t help but feel Telltale’s zombie game was simply a warm-up.
The biggest worry on their part however seems to be a hesitance to dump the Fables mythos onto new players. The Wolf Among Us doesn’t quite have the sort of mass pop-culture recognition of The Walking Dead and that’s interesting considering how long the series has been running, and how successful shows like Once Upon a Time (another offshoot of the modern fairy tale genre) are doing. There should be no fear on either part of the players who aren’t familiar with the comic book story, or the people at Telltale to jump right into the game. This is partially because the writers over at Telltale are so capable of narrative construction that players both new and old to Bill Willingham’s comic should feel comfortable in experiencing the dark world of The Wolf Among Us.
With The Wolf Among Us Telltale has delivered an experience that, personally for myself, trumps anything else the company has done previously only if because like my first cigarette in high school, it’s rough, it’s cool, and it’s obscenely addictive.
[+Amazingly compelling story][+Action is intense as fights are bloody][+A refreshingly mature title][+Genre fans, eat your heart out, this is a truly fantastic piece of noir fiction][+Nails the mystery atmosphere][+Fantastic soundtrack][-Dialogue tree sometimes unravels in undesired ways][-Waiting for the next episode]