Review: The Wolf Among Us: Episode 1 shows a glimpse of the beast within
This isn’t the sweet, happy-ending fairy tale you think you know.
Telltale Games is hot off its success with the first season of The Walking Dead, and it’s chosen to mold another prominent comic book property into a video game: DC and Vertigo’s Fables series. The comic has been in print since 2002, or one year before The Walking Dead dropped its first zombie onto the page. Fans are going to be watching this series just as closely.
The Wolf Among Us (out now for PC, Mac, Xbox Live Arcade, and PlayStation Network) begins with “Faith,” an episode that attempts to set the emotional groundwork for the next four episodes. Players control Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown and the reformed Big Bad Wolf. He’s in charge of keeping the storybook residents of the secret community in check, from badgering Mr. Toad about maintaining his glamour (the magic that disguises the more eccentric Fables as humans) to wrestling with the belligerent Woodsman.
This is a mature series, and while it may contain the stuff of children’s stories, it's not for children. The excessive profanity of the opening scene makes that clear. As one of the more unpopular members of Fabletown, Bigby gets to sort out grudges. He did a lot of bad for a long time, and now he’s trying to rewrite his story.
Yet his dark history with the other characters — like one of the three little pigs, Colin, and the Woodsman who saved Little Red Riding Hood — is still obvious and never quite what you’d expect from the PG versions of these famous tales. The complexity of these relationships enriches the writing and makes everyone look a little bit dirty. For a murder mystery, that’s exactly the kind of guilt you want. Someone out there is killing Fables.
Like The Walking Dead before it, The Wolf Among Us depends on player choice to shape the story, and the end of the game reveals how your decisions compare to those made overall — a nice returning feature that connects players in ways beyond speculation over the story.
The interface works well enough, adapting a point-and-click style to consoles. Circles appear over objects in the environment, and as you drag the right stick to them, the options around the circle correspond in color and position to the controller’s face buttons.
However, some of the presentation is clumsy. Dialogue options only appear for so long, running on a timer of varying length (like in The Walking Dead). What most players will either accept or hate are the shoulder-button prompts (as opposed to standard quick-time events, or QTAs) during action scenes, like fist fights. Line up one red circle with the other and then press the button shown (the right or left trigger on the Xbox 360) to carry out the action. You'll have to coordinate this movement as best you can, but it’s sloppy, and the game seems to lazily account for that. Push the right stick haphazardly in the correct direction, and you’re (sometimes) good.
The Wolf Among Us also suffers from frame-rate problems (at least on the Xbox 360 version) that only worsen as the game goes on.
Even with bright, spot-on comic book graphics that give even the dullest, dirtiest scenes flair, the slow pace and moderate level of emotional investment in “Faith” do little to forgive its issues. I like the characters, but their vulgarity keeps them somewhat at bay, though Telltale creates scenes that show glimpses of their humanity. This is especially so with Bigby, who verges between good and evil and does so at the player’s discretion. There are moments where he shows his affection for Snow (as in White) or takes intimidation and violence — his former namesakes — too far, or chooses to step away. The Wolf Among Us toys with the beast as much as it does the notion of redemption.
But it’s only getting started.