Video Game Review: The Wolf Among Us (PC)

If there’s one thing Telltale Games does well, it’s spinning a good yarn, but just how good is their adaptation of Fables? Read on to find out!twau-banner2

I should preface this review – maybe, all of my reviews – with the explanation that I’m one of those thrifty bastards who, only very rarely, buys a game while it’s still fresh. Because of this most heinous of practices, I’m often not only very late to the party, but by the time I’ve arrived not only has the party ended, but the attendees have died of old age and the venue has crumbled into dust.

Okay, so that’s maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but The Wolf Among Us is one such game, where I really missed the boat. In my defence, I had planned to buy it eventually, but a good friend of mine saved me from the terrible act of parting with money, by buying it for me as a gift. I am eternally grateful.

So, I realise that starting this review, that probably most people are already very familiar with this game, but now I’ve played it too, so damn it all, if I’m a few years late. I’m committed. I’m going to tell you all about it.

The game is set in the Fables universe. For those unfamiliar, Fables is a comic book series created by Bill Willingham and Lan Medina. It’s a world of fairy tale characters living secret lives in New York after fleeing a calamity that has overtaken their Homelands. Now, forced to live in the “real world”, the Fables find themselves struggling to survive. Those who don’t look human enough have to buy “glamours”, spells that make them appear like anyone else. Those who can’t afford the spells, have to live on The Farm, a sanctuary from non-human Fables, where they can live as they please, with one exception – they can never leave.

bigby_wolfOur hero – and the sole playable character – is Bigby Wolf, quite literally the Big Bad Wolf, in human form. He’s the sheriff of “Fabletown”, the name given to the Fable community at large. With a violent history to atone for, he’s distrusted by some and feared by others. Dialogue options let you play him how you please. Is he a changed man, or a monster, barely contained? That’s up to you to decide.

The story begins following a domestic disturbance that you’ve been called in to investigate. The Woodsman, Bigby’s legendary nemesis, is found roughing up a prostitute named Faith. A fight follows, and the Woodsman gets away, and after a few choice words with Faith, you go about your business. Only what follows is something far more grizzly, in the form of Faith’s severed head deposited on the steps of The Woodland, Fabletown’s headquarters.

This sets the stage for a mystery that permeates the series and sets you on the hunt for the truth. Who murdered Faith and why? Was it the Woodsman? Her pimp? Or is there something even more malevolent at play here?

These questions can only be answered with the help of Snow White, Fabletown’s assistant to the deputy mayor. As another body drops and tensions rise, it becomes clear that the crime is affecting everyone. It’s up to you to set things straight.

snow_whiteThe Wolf Among Us tells a dark and surprisingly mature story about fantastical characters engaging in very real struggles. Fear and poverty are entrenched in the lives of the Fables, forcing many to make difficult choices in order to survive.

Choices are exactly what this game is about. Like Telltale’s previous release, The Walking Dead, the game puts you in a multitude of situations where your decisions will have real consequences on the setting. These consequences are rarely anything of massive proportions – you won’t branch off into a different story entirely, for example – but they will change the way characters interact with you and, in some cases, can mean the difference between life and death.

There’s no real warning when a choice might occur, though there is the option to pause the game by pressing the spacebar, for those who prefer time to think. Not all of them seems massively consequential, and I found them to be far less dividing than those in The Walking Dead, but each episode ends with a summary of your decision making and a percentage of players who chose the same as you.

That last point adds a social element to the game. It’s fun to talk about your experiences with friends and discuss the reasoning behind your individual choices.

As for other elements of gameplay, the game is severely lacking. There’s a few moments that harken back to the traditional point-and-click adventure game genre, with items to pick up and clues to find, but these are easy to miss and unless they’re required for progression in a specific scene, can easily be ignored. There are no real puzzles in the game, that I recall. It is, in essence, an interactive movie.

But being an interactive movie is not a bad thing, especially when it’s done this well. The game is a roller-coaster ride, hurtling you through its set-pieces at breakneck speed and immersing you in the world and the struggles of its inhabitants.

twau-interactivity

There is, technically, combat in the game, though it comprises entirely of following prompts on the screen and pressing the right button at the right time. It’s basically just allowing you to interact with the scripted actions of the character, and it’s sometimes used in creative ways to allow you to choose between targets or objects in your surroundings. Do you choose to go for the closest enemy, or the one further away who’s pulling out a gun?

The game has a clear idea of what it wants you to do and there really isn’t any room for anything else, such as exploring. Every so often you’ll receive notes on characters and the setting and if you find them all there’s even an achievement tied to it, but other than giving you background information, they aren’t anything special and with a few exceptions, they’re all fairly easy to find without actual effort.

One thing I must point out in defence of the lacking of more traditional game mechanics, is the abundance of story-based games that have attempted and failed terribly to incorporate combat or other forms of interactivity into their setup. Take Dreamfall, the sequel to one of my favourite games, The Longest Journey, and in spite of a compelling storyline, you’ll note some very ugly combat mechanics and pointless fetch style quests that only really serve to slow the experience down. These are absent in The Wolf Among Us, as they have been in other Telltale Games, and I can’t really say I missed them.

The playtime for each episode is roughly an hour, which is roughly the length of time one might expect from an episode of a television serial. Given the high standards of writing, acting, and the incredible musical score – mysterious, melancholy, and very distinct – it could in fact be compared quite easily to a tv mini-series and put a great many of them to shame.

Visually, the game takes its cues from the comics. Its style is similar to that used in The Walking Dead, but also has its own flare which is consistent throughout the episodes. Where TWD is dark and gritty, TWAU is bright and has a taste of the film noir about it.

gorgie

Having not read the Fables comics previous to playing the game, I can’t really say how faithful an adaptation it is, but it’s easy to tell from the way in which the game was so painstakingly crafted that the creators are very invested in what they’re doing. It feels like a labour of love and carries the same high standards evident in so many Telltale Games. Oh, and there’s an advert for the comics at the end, which I thought was a really nice touch.

There are rumours that a sequel is in the works, though I haven’t been able to find too much about it. If that’s true, and it should come to pass, well, you can rest assured, I won’t be waiting two years to pick up this time!

…Unless I’m skint, that is.

Specifications:
Price: $24.99
Players: Single-player
Platform: PC, Mac

Links:
Metacritic: http://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/the-wolf-among-us
Official Website: https://www.telltalegames.com/thewolfamongus/
Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wolf_Among_Us

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