Telltale Games pretty much secured their place in video game history with last year’s The Walking Dead, an episodic set of ‘adventure’ style games based on Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels. And while we wait for Season 2, Telltale have since cut their teeth on another comic-book adaptation with The Wolf Among Us, a series based on the Fables comics by Bill Willingham.
For those of you not in the know, the comics revolve around the titular Fables: characters from various nursery rhymes, children’s tales and other stories who have been banished from their Homelands and now eke out a living in a run-down area of present-day New York among the ‘Mundies’ (everyday people), with the game taking place some ten years before the events of the comics. In the Wolf Among Us you are cast as Sheriff Bigby Wolf- aka the Big Bad Wolf- who attempts to keep order among this tight-knit community, or in his own words, stop them from killing each other. But when a Fable is murdered and their severed head left on the front porch of the Woodlands apartment complex where many other Fables live, his job suddenly becomes a lot more complicated. And with this having the style of an old-fashioned noir mystery, the investigation isn't as straightforward as you might initially think.
For those of you who played TWD, the basics of TWAU are basically identical- you move through the environment with the left stick and move your cursor with the right stick, hovering it over areas of interest in the environment and selecting what option to use with the face buttons. However, the UI used here is somewhat more subtle than it was in TWD, and the general style of the gameplay is much more on an investigative slant rather investigating the environment and solving puzzles (in this first episode at least)- there is a murder afoot, after all.
The conversation system remains largely the same though for this story of ‘choice and consequence’. While talking with characters, you have several options with which to respond to questions or remarks, and what you say to them may sometimes have immediate consequences, or affect events further down the line, and even across future episodes. But whereas in TWD it was generally possible to have good/bad responses from Lee Everett, Bigby is a much more direct character- his past reputation as the Big Bad Wolf is well known among the other residents of Fabletown, so many of them are fearful or even openly hostile towards him, and he can either try and smooth things over, or be just as hostile in response. Unlike TWD, things aren't as clear-cut anymore, and you have to negotiate several shades of grey in order to keep people on your good side. Though the choices don’t seem to make much of a difference here, this is only episode one of five- chances are we will see more noticeable consequences down the line.
And there are times when sometimes words aren't enough. There are two major fights in Episode One, and both of them show off the series’ brutal and bloody style, playing on the concept that Fables are (very) hard to hill. The action scenes generally rely on you having decent reflexes, relying on a mixture of stick movements to avoid attacks and quickly highlighting points of interest in the environment to dish out damage, and they certainly give you an adrenaline shot to contrast the slower paced investigation work- the episode’s first fight happens within five minutes and ends with an apartment being torn apart as you and your opponent are tossed this way and that, while the episode’s final brawl involves staying one step ahead as your opponent bears down on you.
In terms of graphics design, TWAU has a similar cel-shaded look to TWD, though it has a much bright colour palette consisting of shades of blue and purple, contrasted with bright yellow halos to represent New York city at night, and fits in better with the game’s noir-ish feel, as do the designs of the characters- Bigby himself represents the classic rough-edged, chain-smoking noir investigator with permanent chin stubble and furrowed expression- who becomes a lot hairier when he lets the wolf out- while his nemesis the Woodsman has been reduced from a hero to a drunken shell of his former self, foul-mouthed Mr Toad (of Toad Hall) is now reduced to slum lord of a run-down tenement block , trying to afford the necessary spells to remain hidden from prying eyes and look out for his son and Sleepy Hollows’ Ichabod Crane acts as Fabletown’s deputy mayor- with a propensity for treating others like dirt. Unfortunately though, some of the short-comings from TWD transfer over here, in particular the times when the frame-rate stutters or even just freezes up as you switch between scene transitions or even loading the next part of a conversation. It isn't a game breaker, but the odd full-on freeze (at least on the PS3 version) is, necessitating a reset. Sound design is similarly strong, with some nicely written but sparse background music and strong voice acting from the cast involved.
Of course, this being a downloadable title there’s only a couple hours of game play here, but there are four more episodes to come. And for an introduction to a new series, ‘Faith’ makes a hell of a first impression.