You Probably Should Be Afraid Of This Guy
These days comics have entered a new age (Platinum Age?) and are drifting more and more into other forms of media. From the never-ending stream of Marvel movies (and TV shows now) to more obscure stuff like The Walking Dead and World War Z, Hollywood is mining every property they can get their hands on. But it isn’t just Hollywood… video games based on comics have moved beyond tie-ins and cash-ins to become quality games. They’ve even moved beyond just action games with outstanding adventure games like The Walking Dead from Telltale (to be fair if you go far enough back in time the Questprobe series fits the same mold).
Now, I’ve never read any of DC/Vertigo’s “Fables” comic that was the source for Telltale’s latest episodic adventure The Wolf Among Us, but after playing through Episode 1 I’m thinking of checking it out. For those not familiar with the series it is set in a universe where ~something bad~ has made all the “fables” leave their world and relocate to ours. Most (but not all) of them are able to assume human form and blend in with society, but they also have their own hidden power structure among themselves with their own interactions.
You’ll step into the shoes of Bigby Wolf (aka The Big Bad Wolf… Big B Wolf!) who’s taken this amnesty opportunity of sorts to put his life on a new track. Bigby’s take up the role of sheriff for the fables, but memories are long and most fables recall Bigby as a hothead who wasn’t above tearing other fables to bits and eating them. Thus there is a constant suspicion and resentment in every encounter Bigby has (with the exception of his friend Snow White) that isn’t helped by his hard-boiled, hard-drinking chain-smoking attitude. The story opens with the murder of a fable, something that hasn’t been seen since they shifted to our world, and thus we begin an investigation into just who could be responsible for this heinous act.
I won’t delve into the story any further since the story is a huge part of the reason to come to a Telltale game. But what unfolds over the first episode is a tense and taut thriller that focuses way more on investigation and interaction than any Telltale game to date. They’ve always been driven by narrative either in the form of conversations or simply by character asides as they poke through the inventory. That’s still a huge factor in The Wolf Among Us and you’ll see the same conversation cues we saw in The Walking Dead that let you know when you say something that a character will remember later.
Bigby does more than just talk though. He’s a detective-type of wolf and he’ll pore over every bloodstain, smashed lamp and dropped matchbook to puzzle out the meaning and recreate the events that led to this detritus being strewn about. At times he’ll be asked to name a suspect in the case or choose which scene to visit next and all those choices have consequences that affect the narrative. While you won’t get much resolution to any of your actions over the 2-3 hours you’ll spend on Episode 1 you can see how things are falling into place to push Bigby in new directions as the series goes on. This isn’t quite LA Noire levels of detecting, but it’s certainly deeper than we’ve seen from Telltale so far. You’ll also get that awesome rundown of key decisions you made and how they compare with everyone else who played. Turns out I really AM a monster!
Telltale’s revamped engine has been perfect for creating a comic-book feel in past games and it might shine brighter here than it has anywhere else. The heavy black outlines and rich colors really do make the game feel like it was inked right onto your screen. There are so many amazing little detailed touches in each character and their environments that you’ll catch if you pay attention. As usual the voice acting is fantastic too and the actors seem like they actually care about putting effort into their roles and getting into character. Music cues subtly add to the tension and everything about the presentation feels solid and even the QTE system has been refined to not feel stale at all.
Unfortunately the now unforgivable technical issues continue to mar this game like they have for years now. Telltale may be top notch storytellers, but they might need to think about hiring some more coders. It’s impossible to imagine this game would be pushing PS3 hardware at all, yet the game suffers from crazy hitching and freezing in a most unpleasant way. Usually it won’t happen mid-speech but WAY too often there would be a large delay in between lines of conversation and weird freezes even when you are just wandering around. I also had a hard lock during an autosave and a few other times where I thought it had but then it got going again. When a lot of your game is based around pacing and the delivery of dialogue it’s a pretty egregious flaw.
That flaw is a real shame, because outside of that this is an excellent start to the new series. I found the setting and story to be even more compelling than Walking Dead and I’m very intrigued to see the next episodes. I waited out all 5 episodes being released before I started Walking Dead, but I’m not going to be able to contain myself this time around. Telltale has definitely come into their own as the leading storytellers in the industry.