“Imagine if you could not only read a comic book, but experience it with fully animated and beautifully cell shaded characters? Where you can guide their fate by making ‘well informed’ decisions and bare witness to the consequences that follow!”
That’s at least how I imagined the dev team at Telltale Games pitched the idea to transform the graphic novel series Fables into a “choose your own adventure” game. Well… Telltale is known for this type of licensed adventure game so it was probably more like “Hey, let’s make a game about Fables” and they all agreed.
I’ve never actually read the Fables comics but the concept has always intrigued me. The idea of fairytale creatures being forced out of their realm and having to blend into modern society by disguising themselves as humans is super fascinating and makes for a great story!
So when I saw that I was going to be getting the game for free as a part of the Xbox One Games with Gold in April 2016 I was super excited!! I’ve had my eye on it for a while but could never pull the trigger. The only other Telltale game I’ve played up to that point was The Walking Dead and although it was great, it kinda left me apathetic towards Telltale’s brand of adventure games.
And there the game sat in my Installed Game list for over a year, tempting me to play it and occasionally succeeding. I started it a couple of times, once by myself and once with my wife but we never made it any further than the first chapter. Fooling ourselves that we would pick it back up some day.
But it must have been fate that I would be writing about the game on this blog! For I found a fully sealed physical copy of it at the local thrift store. Begging me to buy it! Begging for us to play it!
So we did.
Looking at the cover art for The Wolf Among Us, it definitely screams comic book. As a comic book and manga fan it’s what drew me to the game. The fact that it was actually based on a graphic novel series by DC was just the icing on the cake.
I can’t speak to how well the art style imitates the comics themselves. Looking at images of the comic for comparison, I can tell artists employed their own “Telltale” spin on the design but they more than channeled the comic book feel. The aesthetics from the dark outlines to the deep black shadows do really hit the mark!
My only issue with it was how they portrayed the main character in his “wolf-man” form. He kind of emits a Teen Wolf vibe and don’t get me wrong I love that movie, but I was hoping Bigby would look a little bigger and lot badder. I guess it’s fitting since the game is based in 80’s.
The back cover does little else to draw you in that the cover art hasn’t already. Touting a hard-boiled thriller where your choices matter!!! Listen synopsis people, you had me at “Can you contain the beast within?”.
The beautiful look and feel continues as you boot up the game and are presented with a great intro showcasing Telltale’s expertise in cell shaded graphics. It’s really too bad they didn’t put as much effort into their character model animations. The clunky and artificial animations sometimes pull you out of the immersion the dialog and story try so hard to keep. Then you’re drawn back in by how expertly crafted and gorgeously rendered the graphics are.
I’ll admit, it’s a love hate relationship with Telltale games and their graphics. But generally that’s not what you’re here for.
Choices and story are Telltale’s nom de plume and with The Wolf Among Us they delivered on both fronts.
In most situations you are given a variety of choices that will have either significant or barely noticeable consequences throughout the game. These will alter how characters perceive you or can change how specific scenarios play out.
One interesting feature that Telltale employs is that each of your choices are timed. Making you think fast, choose on instinct and more than likely make ill-informed decisions. I personally like to try and make choices that I could see myself making in those situations, colored by where I feel the character’s moral compass lies.
Not having the time to analyze the situation and determine the best response make your choices all the more impactful. This also makes it feel like they have more control over how your character is portrayed and how they develop throughout the story.
One complaint I do have about this system is the fact that you don’t really ever know if your choices are making a difference. There are definitely situations where your choices will lead you down one path versus another, but for the most part it goes unnoticed other than the small notification you are given in the corner of the screen. You’ll get notified when someone “Will remember that” or “Noticed you didn’t agree with them” but what does that mean?! I’m sure there are systems at play, but if I’m perfectly honest, I don’t see them.
Truthfully that’s what makes these games entertaining though. The fact that the story is so dynamic and can be controlled by how you react and interact makes you want to come back and play it again. Seeing how different choices can alter outcomes.
No dynamic story is complete though without strong plot threads that tie everything together.
On the surface The Wolf Among Us is a noir murder mystery about fantastical creatures slumming it in 1980’s New York City. Each of them scraping by while being dragged through the dirt by both their inner government (who you, Bigby Wolf, work for) and a drug slinging, prostitute pimping, crime lord known as the Crooked Man.
Deep down, this game also comments on social injustice, discrimination, governmental corruption and poverty. It certainly doesn’t shy away from suggesting that the combination of all of these things almost always creates a toxic and oppressive environment forcing many of the Fable citizens to fall victim to a less than dazzling lifestyle.
Luckily, our main protagonist, Mr. Bigby, is here to take a BITE outta crime! Or maybe blow it’s house down.
The story as a whole was fun and intriguing starting with a bang but slowing petering out with a puff of smoke. It definitely kept me interested throughout by introducing new twists and new characters but ultimately left me feeling indifferent in the end.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it left room for the story to be expanded with a sequel. Telltale has confirmed a second season but who knows when we’ll see that. If they do actually follow through,it should hopefully make up for the gaping hole in my soul that can only be filled with more Fables lore.
There is one thing I’ve discovered about playing Telltale games though or any game of it’s ilk. If you can, play it with a friend, your significant other or your local superstore cashier, whoever you can!
Although it is presented as a single player game, sharing the experience with others, arguing about what choices to make and discussing that “end of episode” cliff hanger is half the fun!!
Highly recommended if you can play it this way!!