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Review

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

  • Game release: October 11, 2013
  • Reviewed: February 4, 2014
    Robert Handlery on Google+

    Double, double toil and trouble.

    by

    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
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    About the Author

    / Staff

    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.

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