This post was authored by Alissa McAloon.
The Big Bad Wolf may not be the worst thing waiting out in the dark. For the residents of Fabletown, he may be the only thing keeping true monsters at bay. Episode 1 of Telltale’s episodic adventure The Wolf Among Us introduced us to one Mr. Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown and a man keen to leave his ‘big bad past’ in the story books. That episode, entitled Faith, saw Bigby fall headlong into a murder investigation and left players with one hell of a cliffhanger. Smoke And Mirrors picks up right where the first episode left off and follows Bigby as he tries to track down the bad guy all while trying to fight the darkness within himself.
Episode 2 is identical to Episode 1 in all technical aspects. The Wolf Among Us plays like a modern cross between a visual novel and a point and click adventure. Players take control of the Wolf himself and guide Bigby throughout environments and discover items and clues to progress the story forward. Icons distinguish any item players can interact with. Not everything clickable is relevant to the case at hand, but each item provides the world with personality and depth. Anyone like myself who wants to explore every aspect of a room before progressing in the story may find themselves a little frustrated here. While many objects in a scene are able to be interacted with, some will automatically trigger story progression and force you to leave a scene. Moving on after finding that crucial clue makes sense, but I missed out on interacting with interesting objects once or twice during this episode. With autosaves and no way to go really go backwards in an episode without starting over, this can really hinder the want to explore a scene.
At its core, The Wolf Among Us is a game about storytelling, decision, and consequence. Like other Telltale episodic games, players are given near full control over their protagonist’s personality. Bigby has the potential to play good cop or bad cop, almost literally at times. There are no visible karma points and players are free to flipflop between nice guy and asshole at will, but the people Bigby interacts with will remember how he treated them. Episode 1 saw players making a ton of decisions. Some were clear cut ‘A or B’ choices, others hidden within layers of dialogue. Episode 2 eases up on making decisions and instead points the camera toward consequences. Choices made in Episode 1 were referenced often throughout Smoke and Mirrors. With a tighter focus on the effects of Bigby’s past decisions, the story of The Wolf Among Us quickly becomes something that feels very personalized and interactive in an entirely authentic way.
That’s not to say that Episode 2 didn’t have its own share of decisions to be made. This time around, it seemed like the focus was moved away from the ‘Left or Right’ styled decision and pushed more into dialogue and the development of Bigby’s personality. It becomes clear in this episode that Bigby is struggling between being the man he wants to be and being the wolf he always has been. Several characters bring this up, but even without that, the struggle between violence and civility is apparent. Like offering drugs to an addict, Smoke and Mirrors frequently places Bigby in situations where he can either deny his violent nature or embrace it, for better or for worse. Watching a character struggle against his nature and either win or lose can be a very useful storytelling tool, if used correctly. Smoke and Mirrors does this very well at times, but once or twice the story seems to ignore decisions made by the player and treat Bigby as if he reacted violently, even when he didn’t. Similarly, sometimes characters would say something with a depressed facial expression then snap back to neutral the next frame. This is hardly a major problem, but it was noticeable enough at times to detract from the scene.
If you’re a fan of seeing the statistics of your in-game decisions at the end of the episode, you’re in for a disappointment. Though the ‘Player Choices’ box pops up at the end of the episode, it lacks any statistics on the decisions you made or any percentages on how many players made the same choices as you. I’m adding this as an afterthought only because I hope this is merely a bug, but is is worth mentioning nonetheless.
This episode felt significantly shorter than the previous one. I didn’t clock my experience, but judging by the timestamps on my steam achievements, Smoke and Mirrors took right around an hour and a half to complete. While a shorter experience does suck a little, game length hardly takes away from the quality of this episode. Episodic games can be a little weird in their pacing. Naturally, comparisons will be drawn back to Telltale’s other series The Walking Dead which had a powerful start, amazing second episode, then a dip in action around Episode 3. The Wolf Among Us did things differently, though I’m not yet sure if this is for the better. The pacing in Episode 2 alone seemed to peak early in the experience; the game starts on a narrative climax then slowly wades through falling action for the rest of the episode. Certain plot events spike that action upwards occasionally, but Smoke and Mirrors obviously started strong and just didn’t keep that energy the whole way through.
Smoke and Mirrors simultaneously excelled while falling slightly short. Despite my gripes, I genuinely enjoyed the entire experience, but this episode did not hit the expectations set up by the first episode of The Wolf Among Us. That being said, this it is still a positive addition to what is turning out to be an absolutely fantastic series.
The Wolf Among Us Smoke and Mirrors is out now for PC, Mac, and PS3. The second episode will become available on the Xbox 360 Feb. 5th, then on the iOS app store later that week. No Vita release date has been announced, though the first episode is already available on the handheld.