For people with a love of narrative driven games there have been a lot of disappointments in the past year. One in particular – Beyond: Two Souls – was such a spectacular failure that it cast doubt over the whole genre. If a big budget title driven by an auteur could go so wrong, would other successful developers also fail this year? In other words, would Telltale Games fail to build upon the success of their Walking Dead franchise with their new release, The Wolf Among Us?
No, it’s great.
Oh, you want more. Well, it has great characters. A great story. You’re a detective who’s also a wolf. What, keep talking? Ok, but only if you go buy it then come back here. You can keep reading this while its downloading.
Back? Ok, so here’s a bit more.
The Wolf Among Us is based in the Fables universe, set up by a series of comics by Vertigo/DC. In this universe, the “Fables” are famous characters from folklore, and they have all fled their own world to come and stay in New York. Some can pass for human (Snow White, TweedleDum and TweedleDee) while others need to pay for expensive “glamours” to appear human or they’ll revert to their monster/animal form (Grendel, Mr Toad). It’s a great way to tell tales of crime, drama and supernatural conflict, and the themes explored are mature and complex. These are supernatural characters from stories we all know, but the situations they experience allow the authors to explore real world issues, like wealth inequality, social stigma, the bureaucratic nature of Government and the justice system. Weighty stuff indeed, but there’s also the occasional fist fight between trolls and werewolves to keep the pace up.
You play as the very cleverly named Bigby Wolf (do you get it?). In the previous world you were someone to be feared, but here in New York you’re starting over. You’re the sheriff of the Fables, and as such it’s your job to keep order and make sure no one is attracting unwanted attention amongst the population of non-magical people (mundies).
It’s a great character to play as, rich with storytelling potential. Everyone already has an opinion on Bigby. He was the bad ass in the other world, and plenty of the Fables have reasons to hate him. Now he’s trying to put it all behind him and to be fair and honest with them all. He’s trying to redeem himself, and it’s a hard road for him to walk.
Bigby is voiced by Adam Harrington who does a great job of portraying a stereotypical world-weary detective wearing a mask of civility over his animistic rage. Bigby is constantly pushing down the beast, and you can hear it in his gravelly, growling tones. Everything else in the world is conspiring to push him over the edge, and if Walking Dead is a series about dangers from within your group, The Wolf Among Us is about the danger within Bigby. Your main sidekick, the officious-but-warmhearted Snow White is a mirror onto which your monstrous nature is reflected, and at key choices you will see her react with sympathy, disappointment or outright revulsion. Just like in The Walking Dead, there are consequence to your actions, and the dilemnas you face will always result in some guilt on your conscience, no matter what you chose.
The gameplay in The Wolf Among is pretty close to a point and click game, but there are quick time events during action scenes and you also have full control of your characters movement around the world. On the PS3 version I played you move with one stick and control the cursor with the other, and context sensitive actions appear on the cursor, each activated with a different face button. It might sound confusing, bu in practice it works brilliantly and is the most intuitive system I’ve seen in a game like this.
And while the game plays well, it looks and sounds even better. It’s hard to make a game look completely unique, but I can’t think of anything else that really looks like The Wolf Among Us. Certainly it slightly resembles The Walking Dead, but the bright block shading and coloured lighting really give it a very different aesthetic. It’s beautiful, and the noir-ish comicbook atmosphere of the visuals is matched only by the soundtrack, which is pitch perfect. Really, I can’t recommend it enough. Just listen:
The Wolf Among Us is on it’s third episode now, and playing through all three in one sitting, I was blown away. I think if I’d played each episode as it arrived I wouldn’t be as immersed in the story now. As it stands, I cannot wait for the next one. I want to solve the murders. I want to see what happens next. I want to spend more time in this world.
The humour. The action. The story. It all works. Sure, the quick time events aren’t great, and they are poorly explained. You could go further and say the action lacks repercussion, with too many of the Fables possessing miraculous healing powers. Even then though, this is a game where no one is safe, and there’s no way everyone gets to the end of this story with their head still on their shoulders.
Any episode of The Wolf Among Us is a perfect night of gaming. Play it in the wee hours with the lights out, the neon of the city lighting up your empty room and soak up the atmosphere, then let the perfect soundtrack and intriguing storyline take you to another place entirely.