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Review

The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2 - Smoke and Mirrors Review

  • Game release: October 11, 2013
  • Reviewed:
    Robert Handlery on Google+

    Double, double toil and trouble.

    There's a beast lurking inside all of us, but the creature sheriff Bigby harbors is difficult to keep silent. In The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2 - Smoke and Mirrors, you determine just how sharp Bigby's claws can dig, whether you're dealing with a mouthy murder suspect, a cowering child, or a jealous husband who sniffs wrongdoing in the smoky air.

    In Fabletown, Bigby's former identity as the Big Bad Wolf is an open secret, but it's hardly the only one. The fables that live there--Ichabod Crane, Mr. Toad, and Little Jack Horner, to name a few--need to keep their identities a secret from the mundane masses, and thus reach out to each other when they hit hard times. Episode 1's harrowing finale plunged this episodic adventure game's story into the kind of darkness that encourages even the strongest of us to seek comfort--but it's also in the darkness that it's easiest for evil to hide. Smoke and Mirrors is an apt title for a story in which you can't always believe what you see, and don't always find refuge where you look.

    Bigby is no one's buddy.

    If you played Episode 1, you likely have a good idea of who Bigby is. At least, I know who my Bigby is: a steel-fisted, impatient bastard who shows little restraint when cornered, but is fiercely protective of Fabletown's most vulnerable residents. As the episode led me through its story beats, I often had the chance to express both sympathy and savagery, and I admit I took some inner delight when pummeling a sickening suspect until he cried for mercy, all while an approving Bluebeard looked on with perverse pleasure. When I got to my knees to speak to a diminutive witness later on, my heart filled with compassion, and I pledged to myself to find the jackass responsible for the tumult.

    It was when jealousy intruded on my ongoing investigation that I realized how attached to Bigby I'd become. I was angry at the assumptions my accuser was making, annoyed that my time was being wasted, and concerned for the innocent witness watching a volatile confrontation unfold. I let out my inner wolf, and found the same catharsis in it that Bigby did. Perhaps my own demons linger more closely to the surface than I imagined.

    Smoke and Mirrors is an apt title for a story in which you can't always believe what you see, and don't always find refuge where you look.

    I'm sorry that I can't be more specific; explaining the details would dull the story's bite. Besides, as you navigate your way through Smoke and Mirrors' multiple crime scenes, events may play out differently. I appreciated how the game acknowledged my previous choices in its details, however. A smashed wall and a missing limb were sober visual reminders of past (mis)deeds that made me more mindful of the barbarian I could be, and some fables' looks of apprehension demonstrated lingering fears over a previous outburst. The characters in The Wolf Among Us aren't highly detailed, but their faces express grief and anger with just the right amount of melodrama to fit the game's noir tone. The atmosphere is possibly the series' greatest triumph. Had the game not taken itself so seriously, its depictions of potty-mouthed amphibians and sadistic warlords might have been more groan-worthy than glorious. Yet the heaving soundtrack, the spot-on voice acting, and the violet skies keep the fantasy grounded. These characters are no longer living a fairy tale.

    Time to open a can of whoop-ass.

    Nonetheless, Smoke and Mirrors occasionally feels like it's spinning its wheels. There are few of the quick-time button events that gave the first episode such tension, and the stakes aren't as high. As a result, the game simmers but never quite boils over, and I was left wishing for more chances to sic myself on a foe as threatening as the Woodsman. As it is, dealing with Smoke and Mirrors' relatively harmless lowlifes doesn't have the same appeal as chasing the smoother criminals, even when they deserve a smack in the mouth now and again. Much of the time, you're left investigating crime scenes and interrogating fables, which can lead to some minor but noticeable idiosyncrasies. I was struck several times by how Bigby's tone of voice changed from one line to the next, betraying how several branches of questioning might still lead to the same line of recorded dialogue. I was also so distracted by a plot point mentioned out of the blue that I had to go back and watch that portion again to make sure I wasn't out of my mind, and indeed, a character delivered a line that appeared to match a different dialogue branch than the one I'd chosen.

    Ultimately, Smoke and Mirrors feels like a necessary bridge spanning the impactful first episode and the events portrayed in the episode three preview that concludes this episode. It smolders more than it burns, though in some sense, that's an appropriate trajectory for Bigby's ongoing investigation. There's a moment when Bigby lights a cigar and contemplates his next step. That's exactly where The Wolf Among Us stands now: percolating and pondering before the next punch to the gut.

    The Good
    Excellent atmosphere makes it easy to buy into the plot and characters
    Top-notch voice acting
    Element of choice helps to invest you in Bigby's story
    The Bad
    Some dialogue inconsistencies
    Lacks some of the first episode's intensity
    7
    Good
    About GameSpot's Reviews
    Other Platform Reviews for The Wolf Among Us

    About the Author

    After playing the first episode of The Wolf Among Us, Kevin VanOrd ran out to purchase multiple volumes of the comic that inspired it. It took him about 90 minutes to complete Smoke and Mirrors.

    Discussion

    82 comments
    Thesuperstar2k
    Thesuperstar2k

    Just completed this episode and I agreed this review. Doesn't have the intense just like the last episode, but it is still good. The only thing I really hate is the frame rate once again I just noticed. Telltale really needs to get together with these issues.


    7/10

    StarsiderSajun
    StarsiderSajun

    Holy hell, I mean I love this series, in fact I love everything Telltale makes. But what in the hell is up with the frame rate issues? It's incredibly distracting when you're trying to play through this for the first time, when the action freezes to swap to another scene it just makes it hard to stay immersed. Is there really no way to fix this? I thought it was just a simple issue of re-installing it but it didn't seem to help.

    C0nv3rsE_VIP
    C0nv3rsE_VIP

    this game resembles alot with the walking dead game

    Thesuperstar2k
    Thesuperstar2k

    Haven't heard of this game or the creator who made Fable before, but it looks pretty interesting.

    Samparksh
    Samparksh

    I totally agree with Kevin.......!!!!! :) ...

    blueinheaven
    blueinheaven

    I remember when we bought 'games' not f***ing 'episodes'.

    wizardboyus
    wizardboyus

    this series is so good! I can't wait for the 3rd episode! one of the few games I'm able to get all my roomies and my gf to get into, debating what choices we should make. Unsurprisingly, they want me to beat the crap out of everyone I see XD

    hitomo
    hitomo

    ' I'd say you're absolutely fine not to see the appeal, and I am grateful that there's so much out there for everyone.'


    Kevin-Jesus-VanOrd


    I dont know if a generalizing, almost generic opinion is so benefical for a reviewer, cause I am not so grateful for all the mediocredity outthere

    warriors30
    warriors30

    I just wanted to say "thanks" to Kevin-V for interacting with the users all the time and answering questions and all that...That's a cool attitude so keep up the good work. 

    As for your review, I think it sucks balls and I completely disagree with you...just kidding. :P

    Diegoctba
    Diegoctba

    Finished and i hated it, terrible narrative, all is dark, sad, tasteless, it's just like True Blood in a game.

    I don't undertand what's the point to make an adventure game, just make a movie or cartoon, so you just watch it and don't need do push any buttons.

    My score: 2/10

    gut_eater
    gut_eater

    In all seriousness, I don't understand why people like these "games" like Walking Dead and this one. I've watched the gameplay and I don't get it. Can someone explain to me what is enticing about watching a full motion anime video with Who Wants to be a Millionaire choices? It's barely one step ahead of the old Dragon's Lair and Space Ace "games" where you push the action button when they tell you or you die.

    iloveyourface
    iloveyourface

    if u think about it we all got wolfs among us. your mom is an episodic adventure. ps4 is better than xbone. tom mcshea used to bully me in highschool. kept muttering swear words into my ear in gym class while doing situps.

    dohp85
    dohp85

    Hey Kev, what's your take on this whole episodic approach to games? I enjoyed The Walking dead more than a lot of games in recent memory, to the point of getting teary-eyed at the end (I'm sure it was just dust or something...yeah) But I've gotta say that perhaps I enjoyed it because I played all the episodes back to back, as I got it after all of them were released. With the Wolf Among Us, I kinda felt disconnected when starting this second episode because the experiences from the first one weren't as fresh in my mind. It came to the point that I really wasn't sure if I was making consistent and coherent choices based on the frist episode... So I guess what I'm starting to feel is that the episodic format can actually be a bit of a damper on a good game/story. What do you think?

    shepowy
    shepowy

    Hi Kevin, I loved Telltale's Walking Dead and what i want to know is can you foresee the game resonating as emotionally by the seasons end as Telltale's last series did?  Or is Wolf Among Us a different beast entirely? (pun intended)

    g1rldraco7
    g1rldraco7

    Great review Kevin. What do you think Bigby will  do to the killer behind all these murders?

    Kevin-V
    Kevin-V moderator staff

    Hey all! I am Kevin VanOrd, the author of this review, and I'll be here in the comments section for the next hour answering any of your questions. Some ideas for questions: "What do you think of Bigby?" "How does the first episode compare to the second?" "Why is bacon so delicious?" "What is your preferred interpretation of quantum mechanics: Copenhagen, or many-worlds?" 

    imtheman2013
    imtheman2013

    Great reivew, Kevin. A quick question: Is reviewing these types of game, episodic series, difficult because there is such little content? And the content present is really story heavy, so avoiding spoilers must get pretty annoying. In your opinion, why don't most publications just review the entire series once every episode is released, instead of episode by episode?

    DigitalDame
    DigitalDame moderator moderatorstaff

    Hey everyone, just letting you know that Kevin is going to be in the comments later today to take your questions. Stop by at 12:00pm PST to hang out with KVO.

    Sarbeth11
    Sarbeth11

    I have had it with TT. First the 6 month wait, and now the huge cluster for 360 owners STILL not being able to play if you made the mistake of buying the season pass. They have gotten the last nickel from me they will ever get.

    Rizer
    Rizer

    It was alright, not as shocking as episode 1, but it was good I guess. Pretty short playtime though.

    WozzaBoi
    WozzaBoi

    Anyone else having problems downloading this with the season pass on Xbox 360? Seems to be a common problem

    naryanrobinson
    naryanrobinson

    His beard looks like he's got bugs crawling all over his face, out of his nose and ears.

    wyshouldi02
    wyshouldi02

    I almost melted in my chair when SNOW fell from the sky. Anyone? No?

    psuedospike
    psuedospike

    I don't like the idea of reviewing Episodes of a game like this and like Broken Age for example.  It's not fair to the overall product that should generally be reviewed as a whole since people tend to pay for episodic games all at once.  Seems pretty dumb giving each episode a different score, then probably a different score for the full game, dontcha think?


    Oh well, Gamespot generally sucks at reviews anyway, so I guess it doesn't matter.

    bimmyzz
    bimmyzz

    i enjoyed this episode, don't care what author has to say, or like

    drswank
    drswank

    Been waiting for this! About time.

    Thesuperstar2k
    Thesuperstar2k

    @StarsiderSajun  


    Agreed. I remember that episode 1 freeze the game so much that I have to start over at that checkpoint. Hate when frame rate comes for this game. >_>

    RobDev
    RobDev

    @blueinheaven  we still buy games. this is just another way of delivering a game. Lets not forget half life 2 came out in "episodes"

    polishfish
    polishfish

    @gut_eater  


    it's a combination of owning the morality of the main character, and just watching high quality TV-worthy entertainment.  the voice acting and script are both great


    think of it like television- it's even called "episode" 2

    Kevin-V
    Kevin-V moderator staff

    @gut_eater  It's a logical extension of old school adventure games, though with most of the puzzle solving replaced with narrative control. In some senses, it is Mass Effect without the shooting and exploration--and to be fair, a lot of people think those two elements are Mass Effect's weakest elements! Games like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us distill the elements of choice into short episodes that are light on gameplay systems and heavy on storytelling. It's less about playing with game mechanics and more about playing a role, almost as if we are actors on a stage. 


    This formula isn't for everyone, and I think that's OK. There's a huge swath of different games we can delight in, from tightly controlled traditional narratives to games that thrive on emergent systems that allow players to craft stories out of gameplay. I'd say you're absolutely fine not to see the appeal, and I am grateful that there's so much out there for everyone.

    Kevin-V
    Kevin-V moderator staff

    @Vidpci  I do think the gap was long enough that some folks felt their investment in the story dwindle. The good news is that episode two is focused on having you mold Bigby, something that's clear from the interrogation at the very beginning of the episode, and then continues when you visit Jack Horner. 


    The rest of your questions are valid. I don't know that Telltale had too much going on--I hate that kind of mind reading, because there are just too many variables in game development for us to know every circumstance. (Tangent: this happens even at GameSpot, when people ask where is such-and-such review, and the answer could be as something as simple as the author getting sick at a bad time. So I tend to not assume to much about what happens at other peoples' workplaces.)


    I don't have any reason to believe that the quality of Telltale's games is going to drop. In fact, given the studio's improvements since Sam & Max, Back to the Future, and Jurassic Park, I'd say they're getting even better. As for asking for money up front, I am not against that idea, presuming that the creator has earned an amount of trust. There's nothing necessarily new about asking for money before a creative work is complete; after all, composers and artists have been receiving commissions for centuries wholly on the basis of skill and reputation. Whenever we spend money, we make certain assumptions. You buy food assuming it will taste good; you go to a movie assuming you will enjoy yourself; you pay your bus fare assuming you will arrive at your destination in one piece. In this case, we assume Telltale will deliver a full season of games, but it's an assumption we have no reason to not trust in. 


    Kickstartered games, on the other hand, are usually asking us for money without generally giving us anything *but* a promise--not even an initial episode. Either way, there's an obvious element of risk. So far, however, I have no reason to think a trusted developer will take advantage of our assumptions and not finish a series you have already bought and paid for. Besides, episodic releases improves cash flow for Telltale, and that, in turn, allows them to keep delivering. It's a fascinating, self-fulfilling mechanism for producing revenue that works for them. 

    g1rldraco7
    g1rldraco7

    @Vidpci  That would be dumb if Bigbby was the killer. i think the headless horseman has something to do with all these since the way the heads are chopped, that's how he kills his victums and YAY Kevin replied to my comment, I feel so happy :3

    Kevin-V
    Kevin-V moderator staff

    @dohp85  I think Telltale has handled episodic content about as well as we could hope for. In part, that's because a developer has more control over the pace of a story-driven experience than it does over freer forms of game expression. Because Telltale can control the story beats and focus the player, it can end episodes on cliffhangers that make the game seem almost like an ongoing television series. 


    The gap between episodes one and two did hurt the second episode, though, because just enough time had passed that the events were slipping away from some peoples' minds. Hopefully, the next gap won't be as long. But even then, I think if a story is strong enough, it can remain with you even if months pass by. I anxiously awaited Sherlock in spite of the long wait time between seasons. If Telltale can keep ramping up the suspense, I don't see why they couldn't keep this episodic structure relevant for some time to come. 

    Kevin-V
    Kevin-V moderator staff

    @shepowy  The two series definitely have their similarities, though there are some key differences. One of the biggest differences is the nature of the main character. I found Lee to be more of a blank slate, whereas Bigby is a hard-nosed asshole, and your decisions simply determine whether he's a kinder, gentler asshole or a violent, impatient asshole--or bits of both. Frankly, I am far more interested in Bigby than I was in Lee, and in that sense, I think some players will actually be more invested in Wolf Among Us than they were in Walking Dead. At least, I *hope* I am not the only one that feels more engaged here than I was by TWD!

    Kevin-V
    Kevin-V moderator staff

    @g1rldraco7  Well, I am trying to tread carefully to avoid spoilers, but I suspect that players will be given the chance to decide how Bigby treats the killer. The way I play Bigby, I would have no problem ripping the killer's head from his/her body and feeding it to Bluebeard (who I don't think, by the way, is involved, even though he is a snobbish lowlife). But who knows--there could be extenuating circumstances that make the killer more empathetic than we first imagine. 

    Kevin-V
    Kevin-V moderator staff

    @Vidpci  Unpopular opinion: I actually like Wolf Among Us more than Walking Dead. Part of that has to do with the universe: I am more interested in the community of Fables than I was in the zombie-overrun real world, and I like playing as Bigby more than I did as Lee. So yes, I think it surely has the potential to be just as important as Walking Dead--and perhaps even more so. 


    In a sense, I do have a weekly show in GameSpot GamePlay, our podcast, so I hope you'll watch and/or subscribe to it! Also, bacon is delicious because it's devoid of anything our bodies find useful, so of course it's tasty. Things that are good for you aren't nearly as delicious!

    millerlight89
    millerlight89

    @Kevin-V  I have one. Why did all the amazing GS staff leave here and go to GB? Ryan (RIP), Brad, Jeff...well we know why Jeff "left."

    Kevin-V
    Kevin-V moderator staff

    @imtheman2013  I don't think it's difficult to review episodic games necessarily, but I think it requires care. I am of the mind that episodes should not only have value in terms of what they bring to the entire story arc, but also whether they are satisfying as a whole. It's not at all unusual, for instance, for television critics to review individual episodes, and in fact, one of my favorite blogs does weekly analyses of The Walking Dead, Mad Men, American Horror Story, Doctor Who, and more. 


    It's more difficult to tiptoe around spoilers, particularly because I am a strong believer in providing specific information to back up the point. When it comes to evaluating story, things get trickier. For instance, if I say an ending sucks, all you can do is trust my unsupported statement, because breaking down why it sucked could reveal too much information. Hopefully I did a decent job explaining what I liked about this episode--and the few things I didn't like--without divulging too much information, while still supporting the point of view. 


    I suppose publications could wait until the full season is finished, but ultimately, I think if a creative work exists, whether it be considered a complete work or one in progress, we should be free to offer our thoughts, dissections, and opinions on it. By "we," I mean all of us. Besides: Telltale is asking for your money up front, and I think that critiquing the episodes as they are released is a valid way of proceeding as a result. 

    Gelugon_baat
    Gelugon_baat

    @RobDev  

    Each episode of Half-Life 2 carried a standalone price tag though - the circumstances are different.

    gut_eater
    gut_eater

    @Kevin-V @gut_eaterThanks for your insight on it Kevin. I guess games like this will just never appeal to me as I'm more of a hands-on player that likes to see my interaction with the game second by second because it gives me more of a sense of immersion or actually being there as opposed to feeling like I'm in a movie theater or watching a DVD.

    Kevin-V
    Kevin-V moderator staff

    @g1rldraco7 @Vidpci  I actually have a theory, but I worry I might get a little to spoilery. It does involve the Headless Horseman, but I don't think the Headless Horseman is the killer--but I DO think that Crane is frightened the Horseman may be in Fabletown. 

    SkytheWiz1
    SkytheWiz1

    @Kevin-V @shepowyI'm with Kevin on this. I enjoyed TWD immensely, and I was -very- skeptical of A Wolf Among Us. I only tried it once the first episode became free on Xbox Live... and as soon as I finished, I purchased the season pass. No hesitation, no needing to sleep on it.

    Chaos_Dante_456
    Chaos_Dante_456

    @gut_eater @Kevin-V  Watching gameplay doesn't really do justice. I wasn't one for these types of games ither or so i though. I gave the Walking Dead demo a shot, and fell in love with it I wanted to see where it would go. I wanted to become Lee I wanted to simulate what kind of decisions i would make in that position.

    wizardboyus
    wizardboyus

    @Kevin-V @g1rldraco7 @Vidpci  I also think it has to do w/ the headless horseman, although it could be Crane trying to copy his would-be killer's techniques to throw the trail off? This game keeps me guessing, just like a noir-film. I love the investigation and interrogation scenes. It's refreshing to see a game putting it's narrative in the forefront, as opposed to something that just supports the gameplay.

    The Wolf Among Us More Info

  • Released
    • iPhone/iPod
    • Macintosh
    • + 6 more
    • PC
    • PlayStation 3
    • PlayStation 4
    • PlayStation Vita
    • Xbox 360
    • Xbox One
    The Wolf Among Us is a five episode series from developer Telltale Games where your every decision can have enormous consequences. As Bigby Wolf , the big bad wolf in human form, you will discover that the brutal, bloody murder of a Fable is just a taste of things to come.
    8.5
    Average User RatingOut of 428 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate The Wolf Among Us
    Developed by:
    Telltale Games,
    Published by:
    Telltale Games, Telltale Inc
    Genres:
    Action, 3D, Adventure, Open-World
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
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