When it starts, Telltale’s “The Wolf Among Us” can feel a lot like its fellow companion “A Game of Thrones: A Telltale Series”. They are both episodic, adventure games where player choices will have large consequences through out the game. But as “The Wolf Among Us” played on through, it set itself apart increasingly from fellow games in the genre. Which is a good thing.
“The Wolf Among Us” is based on the popular Fables comics which details the lives of fairy tale characters who were forced out of their homeland into the mean streets of New York City. Living in a small community called Fabletown, life is hard for the characters and they must use spells called glamours to disguise themselves as human. But glamours are expensive, crime is rampant and Fabletown is not safe anymore. Enter Mr. Bigby Wolf.
Given a second chance, Mr. Wolf is now the sheriff of Fabletown and also who you play as. And right from the get go, you get served up two, fleshed out murders to solve. With Snow White as your partner, you set out across Fabletown, interrogating and occasionally beating up bad guys left and right.
The world of Fabletown is grim. From the trash cans spilling out into the streets to the seedy bars and strip clubs littering the alleys, everything is dark and shady. The whole world of Fabletown has a certain look that at once sets you on edge. Glaring neon contrasts with pitch dark shadows. Stray trails of smoke appear and disappear from and into nowhere. Even the characters are bitter, and grim. They all carry a certain gritty, street-wise air that makes it apparent from the first scene that life isn’t easy. It’s not an easy look to pull of course but Telltale studios does it surprisingly well, mimicking a comic book style to pay homage to the source material. Cel-shaded graphics are rampant throughout here and it works surprisingly well.
But the look and feel of “The Wolf Among Us” isn’t all that’s great about it. The writing itself shines. Videogames are beginning to transition now from mindless pastimes to means of storytelling and even art. Screenwriters are now very important suddenly to game studios. “The Wolf Among Us” dazzles in this regard. Crisp dialogue and a fascinating murder mystery make for an enthralling experience. True, some of the characters blurt out some lines that sound vague and very blunt sometimes, especially our partner Snow White but all the characters are marvelously sketched out. Tying in their previous lives in the homelands to their troubles and worries in the present, Telltale studios has done a thorough job of making the characters seem very real with real problems. When you see even Beauty and the Beast going through marital and financial problems, you realize that this game isn’t going to hold itself back on the reality checks. Not even fairytales endings are immune to the bitter truths of a 21st century reality.
But the main point of difference “The Wolf Among Us” has with “Game of Thrones” is its plot and theme. Where “Game of Thrones” lost the plot completely following around the 3rd episode, “The Wolf Among Us” stays focused and clear. The player choices, which incidentally started to become irrelevant in “A Game of Thrones” as the game progressed, come increasingly into play and several revelations in the murder are dependent on the player’s previous choices. Because of their gravity, even little choices start to play on your mind and I found myself debating even minute details for several moments. And the ending card of each episode where your choices are broken down gives you a kick too, knowing that you picked just like everyone else who played the game or maybe went against the stream.
By the end of the fifth episode, the two murders get solved satisfactorily but even with rooting out the criminal, fighting off his minions and rounding him up, the game doesn’t rest. It still insists on you making choices and the criminal’s punishment is left up to you. With Fabletown floundering, its citizens distraught and divided between the Haves and Have-Nots, this decision is anything but easy. Not to mention, several compelling arguments for and against mercy, democracy and forgiveness really tearing you up. But it’s not just at the end of the game these themes play up. These murders aren’t just murders, they’re also stark reminders of the difference between the upper and lower echelons of society and the corrupt government that rules Fabletown. Each episode makes you wonder whether the upper class citizens, whom as the sheriff you are a part of, could have prevented the murders by being more generous towards and observant of the lower class citizens. Needless to say, this is a very relevant conundrum to today’s world and the fact that a videogame with fictional characters had me debating whether to blame crime on the direct culprit or the ones who caused it indirectly is certainly amazing.
The Wolf Among Us starts its narrative, for it is a story as much as it is a game, strong and ends even stronger. It throws social issues, damaged characters and its fair share of gore in the player’s faces and by doing so, holds us spellbound. It holds a mirror up to society today and it forces you to figure a few things out about yourself too, which is no mean feat when it comes to video games. And when it ends on a cliffhanger as it does here, possible to leave room for a second season, it closes out the game it customary Telltale fashion: haunting.