Without getting too flowery with my language, the first episode of Telltale’s latest adventure game vehicle is very… very good.
I don’t have a lot of exposure to the world of Fables. Not a lot of people do. In January of 2013 the monthly comic book sold just about 15k copies. So I’ll provide to you as much as I know. Fables is a book written by Bill Willingham (colored by Mark Buckingham and others) about the characters of legend taking on living life together in the real, present day world. This world of myth comes with everything you would expect. Magic axes, magic mirrors, magic potions and flying monkeys… the monkeys are probably magic too. The Wolf Among Us centers around Bigby Wolf; the hardboiled and scruffy Sheriff of ‘Fabletown’ who also happens to be the Big Bad Wolf. First thing you have to do while in control of Bigby is pay a visit to The Woodsman at his apartment.
Yes, The Woodsman who saved Little Red Riding Hood from the Big Bad Wolf.
You may be tempted to think that the game tries to skate by on that kind of novelty alone. It’s interesting on the face of it. What would happen if the Big Bad Wolf has to save a girl from The Woodsman in modern day New York? An obvious subversion. Luckily, the game provides more than just a superficial reversal of the long established tropes.
The best way I can describe the characters is ‘lived in’. There is a heavy history between everyone you meet and the best part is that most of the time you don’t get to find out about it. You’re left after a conversation between Bigby Wolf and someone else feeling like an invader. Like you shouldn’t have listened in. These people live their lives regardless of the events you witness and seem guaranteed to continue after you quit. Presenting something so seemingly deep is quite a feat of writing. It’s aided by the comic come to life artwork that you should now expect from Telltale (with notably less hitches than The Walking Dead) and a soundtrack that rises above the grit and history below it. In fact, this is the first time in a Telltale game that I’ve really just sat and listened to the music. And not the EDM you’ve come to expect either.
Most people, if pressed, would name the action sequences as the worst part of previous Telltale games. With good reason too. The Wolf Among Us, however, has managed to avoid this criticism by giving you prompts that make sense and really suck you into the action. Oh, and there’s loads of action in this first episode. The action is paced by scenes of investigation and conversation that are no less intriguing. You’re playing the Big Bad Wolf as Sheriff; so if you feel like you’re playing a Sam Spade adventure made into a game, then you’d be forgiven.
The Wolf Among Us has big shoes to fill. The Walking Dead was a game that sent reverberations throughout gaming and ended up taking quite a few Game of the Year awards in its wake. I didn’t expect Telltale to follow up with anything near as well realized or compelling.
Make no mistake, The Wolf Among Us has me by the throat tighter than The Walking Dead did in it’s first episode. I will have a lot to say about everything that takes place in this first episode once all is said and done and while there are a few issues (Bigby’s voice actor may want to take it down a notch) I cannot think of a way this series could have better started.
If they keep this up, Telltale may just be onto something magical.