The Wolf Among Us
PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, iOS, OSX
Fresh on the tails of their highly praised and critically lauded The Walking Dead: S1/S2, Telltale Games has finally finished up their latest episodic opus, The Wolf Among Us. Released on July 8, the final chapter, “Cry Wolf”, closes off the story with a somewhat mixed conclusion, while simultaneously leaving the game open for a possible second season.
Beginning last October, The Wolf Among Us explored the story of dozens of fictional characters based on, and inspired by, popular nursery rhymes, classic fables, and even urban legends. Exiled from their homeland following a sort of nameless cataclysm, the “Fables” live among the humans, disguised by magic, deception or trickery, to blend into their new roles.
Bypassing the unique premise, the game’s central arc revolves around the Big Bad Wolf, reimagined here as a lycanthropic detective going by the name “Bigby Wolf”. However, the wolf has now become a shepherd: elected sheriff of the so-called Fabletown, a sort of Chinatown district of New York, populated by a myriad of mythological entities. While his manly and beastly natures collide within him, he struggles with his position, his humanity and the various political and sociological issues of the community. But that’s just the cusp, as it’s not long before a set of grisly murders puts him to the ultimate test.
The narrative is wide-reaching, sprawling even, and it goes to a lot of deep, dark, and intriguing places. I won’t get further into them here, to avoid spoiling the journey for would-be players, after all, there are other elements worth exploring. The art style, for example, serves as a brilliant bridge between the game, and the Fables series of comics that inspired it. Presented in a gorgeous, often jaw-dropping, cel-shaded style, the games sublime look is a perfect fit for the fantastical neo-noir setting. Furthermore, the voice-acting is generally very well done, orally drawing the player into the plights of The Wolf Among Us‘ various characters.
That leaves the gameplay. Being basically a mish-mash of point-and-click adventures, quick time events, and dialogue choices (with surprisingly wide-ranging effects), The Wolf Among Us is likely to join the annals of Gone Home and The Stanley Parable in the questionably relevant realm of “is it really a game?” Does it matter? This critic certainly doesn’t think so, as expanding the experience, what it can be and what it can mean, seems to be what it’s all about. Is The Wolf Among Us just an interactive storybook? Arguably, yes, but what’s wrong with that? In a medium where stories are so often viewed as simply a shoddy motivation to jump-start a gameplay concept, it’s actually somewhat refreshing to see a set of games being built with the opposite goal.
With that in mind, let’s return to the much-lauded narrative. The first thing I should point out, just to be clear, is that I love this game. With that out of the way, the story does have a few problems, which can be summarized as a mixture of HBO series, True Detective‘s, great set-up/so-so finale crux, and Mass Effect‘s “how much do my choices really matter” conundrum. The fact that the first three parts of The Wolf Among Us‘ five-part series handily dwarf the concluding episodes does not by association make the last two parts “bad” by any stretch, but it does diminish their impact, and arguably sour the proceedings with a questionable twist ending. On the Mass Effect front of gameplay relatability, it’ll be tough for achievement hounds and trophy nuts not to notice that as they rewind the game to make opposite choices, they often find themselves in the same place regardless of their decisions. Whether this hurts the impact of the choice mechanism, particularly as a chance for the player to define their own story, is something that each person must decide for themselves.
Ultimately, these mild flaws do little to hold back The Wolf Among Us from being a striking, invigorating, and highly original work, and with the game finally complete (and inevitably on sale) it’s a satisfying and worthwhile addition to any gamers library.