The Killing, True Detective and The Wolf Among Us? Telltale Games is hoping you’ll think this release is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath.
Set over five episodes you play Bigby Wolf, Sheriff of Fabletown – a ghetto for fairytale characters secretly living amongst New York’s native population. When violent crime befalls the neighbourhood you’re the man tasked with solving the case. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because of the fairytale angle, this one is just for the kids. You’re actually in for as much adult content as en episode of Game of Thrones.
With the help of magic, the residents of Fabletown (known as “the fables”) are able to disguise themselves as regular joes. However, when trouble surfaces they can change into their true forms. This explains why Bigby is the Sheriff: he’s the Big Bad Wolf. The extent to which he lives up to that persona is up to you. You decide what Bigby does and says in response to various plot developments. For example, is it acceptable to torture your lead suspect to get a confession? Should you tear your opponent’s arm off in a bar fight? Does the town’s Mafioso boss deserve a trial? That’s all up to you to decide, and you’ll have to live with the consequences as the narrative changes (slightly) depending on what you do. The issue here is that your choices don’t really have that much significance; try a few different options and you’ll discover that your path is largely predetermined.
The game contains some memorable moments and things get off to an exciting, albeit grizzly, start early on. What could have been a straightforward “whodunnit” is made all the more interesting thanks to the addition of a number of quirky characters who you’ll grow to love, or hate. These include The Woodsman, Snow White and Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Telltale have given these well-known fairytale characters strong personalities of their own making, so don’t expect Snow White to be a needy damsel in distress with a penchant for poisoned apples and seven dwarfs. It’s not a cast of thousands though and the small number of key characters means you develop more of a connection with them.
Other familiar fairytale hallmarks are included such as a magic mirror and a book of fables. The contrast of these traditional elements with strip clubs, organised crime and plenty of ultraviolence makes it really unique and loads of fun to play. The game follows the noir genre so expect lots of cynicism, moral ambiguity and plot twists. There are also quite a few funny moments and I found Bufkin the hard-drinking flying monkey who doubles as a lacklustre librarian especially entertaining.
Visually this title is impressive. It has a comic book look and feel and given the story is based on Bill Willingham’s Fables comic series that is no surprise. Being easy on the eye is important because the nature of the gameplay means you’ll be sitting back and watching quite a bit. Crucially the dialogue is slick and pacy and the combat set pieces are exciting and well timed. As a result the game keeps you engaged with the story and also delivers high octane action that gets the pulse racing. The fight sequences are controlled using quick time events so you’ll need to be on your toes and ready to bash the right buttons at just the right moment. The voice acting is also good and its professionalism helps immerse you in the world Telltale have created. Bigby’s gravelly voice for example feels right and the soundtrack in general does a good job of complementing the game’s dark tone and atmosphere.
For the most part The Wolf Among Us delivers on its ambition: I was gripped and at times cursed high heaven having made what I feared might be the wrong decision. However, as the plot reached its conclusion I felt there just wasn’t a big enough climax. The ending is intended to be a cryptic cliffhanger but I was left thinking it lacked impact. Despite that, the game as a whole is a huge success and as the lines separating cinema, TV and video games get more blurred this is a genre I hope to see more of.
The Wolf Among Us is available for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS Vita and PC. We reviewed the PC version of the game.