Telltale Games jumped rather suddenly into the public perception last year with the release of the episodic, story-driven, point-and-click adventure The Walking Dead. This has put them into the rather unenviable position of having a lot of pressure on them to keep up the same high standards that were seen in The Walking Dead, a game which won many Game of the Year awards. Well, they say “stick with what you know” and Telltale are taking that pretty literally with their development of The Wolf Among Us: an episodic, story-driven, point-and-click adventure. Like with The Walking Dead, Telltale will be releasing the five episodes one by one and so only the first is available at the moment, with the second to be released at a later date.
The similarities don’t stop there either. The Wolf Among Us is, like The Walking Dead, an adaptation of a popular comic book series called Fables. Fables, and thus by extension The Wolf Among Us, is set in the modern world with the major difference that fairy-tale characters exist side-by-side the normal human beings (called “mundies” for “mundane” in the canon) in a sort of Harry Potter style of things where the main driving purpose of some of the major characters is to keep the mundies from ever discovering the hidden and secret world of the fairy tales using a magic called Glamours (which disguise the individuals as human). Set in the streets of New York many of the fairy-tale characters live in poverty and in slums and many have suffered greatly with their relocation from fairy tales into the real world. It’s a dark, gritty and overall depressing world.
The Wolf Among Us (and I believe most of the Fables comics themselves) focus on the protagonist of the Big Bad Wolf (called Bigby Wolf, and I’m ashamed at how long it took me to get the relevance of “Bigby”). He’s made changes since he tried to chow down on Red Riding Hood and is now the sheriff of Fabletown, which means he’s the one in charge of making sure that the various fairy-tale characters are not discovered by the mundies and in making sure that they don’t kill each other over old grudges. A large part of the story seems to be focused around Bigby’s attempts at earning redemption for his brutal, murderous past.
The graphics of the game are very much reminiscent of The Walking Dead game, the same style of realistically drawn comic-book characters and backdrops. Convincing and impressive animations and lighting combines with thick black outlines and sharp contrasts. It’s a style I liked in The Walking Dead and it’s a style I like even more now. In The Wolf Among Us, if anything, the style seems to lean even more towards cartoon-y than in The Walking Dead, but whether this was just me or whether that is actually the case I’m not quite sure.
Equally, the gameplay is more of the same stuff as well. There are sections involving exploring small locations, interacting with various environmental “clues” and speaking to various individuals. There are then quick action sequences comprised of quick time events, the major difference now is that they involve clicking with the mouse and WASD and not just the rapid tapping of Q from The Walking Dead. The best part of the game remains the interaction with other characters though. Dialogue is composed of about 30% constant, unchangeable lines and 70% dialogue of the player’s choosing. The dialogue has timers set on your choices so that you are given anything from nearly a minute to a scant few seconds in which you must make your decision of what to say. Like in The Walking Dead, the dialogue is some of the best I’ve ever experienced in a game. By putting time constraints on your choices the player is forced to make on the fly decisions again and again in quick succession (just like in a real conversation) and so you feel incredibly engaged in every single interaction, from brief chats to full on conversations. The time constraints also provide it with the ebb and flow of a real dialogue so that you don’t just end up standing there for minutes on end, making awkward eye contact. And if you don’t choose anything in time then you will end up saying nothing at all, which could have as profound effects as saying something inspirational.
The other major part of the game is that it involves decision making. Decisions on what you say and how you interact with various people will change the way they see you and interact with you at later times and small little decisions made during a small idle chat could easily come back to haunt you at a later episode. Alongside these small and constantly made decisions there are several (two in this first chapter) major, important decisions which will dramatically change and affect the whole story of the game as a whole.
The major decisions, like the dialogue, are placed under time constraints. As I’ve said, the time constraints force the player to make decisions as they go along, it means you can’t simply alt-tab to a walkthrough to see the best choice to make. Thus I will say that these decisions are (on the first play-through at least) always extremely honest. In games like Mass Effect, for example, I would often make my choice based around what worked best for the character I had in mind (i.e. Shepard was constantly the best of the best, better even). In The Wolf Among Us, you don’t have time to make decisions like that and so each choice is more the instant snap-decision that the player might make if he were in Bigby’s situation. It’s a truly excellent system.
Naturally with a majority focus on decisions and dialogue there is a lot of emphasis in The Wolf Among Us on the story and the writing, well rather conveniently that’s exactly what Telltale does best. The characters are all well written and believable, for all that they are walking talking fairy tales, each with their own grim and sad backstory (because what gritty real world tale isn’t full of depressing and upsetting backgrounds?). Also, the voice acting is equally fantastic and carries the plot off with flair. Overall, outstanding.
I should clarify before I go any further: yes, this does sound an awful lot like The Walking Dead. To deny that would be to lie. If you liked The Walking Dead then you will like this, that just goes without saying. With The Walking Dead, Telltale was piggybacking on the success of the TV show to get their game to a broader audience. Frankly they could have called it “The Shambling Corpses” or “The Running Infected” and it would have been exactly the same game (minus perhaps a few small tiny references). It’s a zombie apocalypse, it’s been so done to death the old zombie games are now coming back as zombies themselves. I honestly haven’t got anything against them utilising the brand’s success to further their own, it brought them to my attention and has given them free reign to pursue more varied topics. The Wolf Among Us is exactly the sort of thing I mean, Fables is without question a more obscure comic book series (although I understand it is quite well known) and it’s setting is far more unique (and therefore interesting, I find) than The Walking Dead could ever be.
That said though there are a few things which I feel I ought to nit-pick here. First up is just how similar the game is to The Walking Dead in terms of style, gameplay and aesthetic. It’s still amazing, don’t get me wrong there, the only thing that’s worth saying is that it’s no longer the innovative and exciting thing it was last year. As well as this, I understand from the RPS “Wot I Think” that the game actually draws heavily on both dialogue and storyline from the first story arc in the comic books. It uses the same characters, where The Walking Dead had entirely new and independent characters (which is why it could have been any zombie apocalypse world ever made). While, again, I don’t really have any issue with this because they both have to make the characters work as game characters rather than comic-book ones (which they have succeeded at spectacularly) and they also have to introduce lots of new story arcs and twists to fit the player’s decisions. All that said, it still feels like it’s a mite cheating to simply take well established characters and stories and throw them into a game and expect the same level of praise for them as for completely new and novel characters. Just a thought.
The one final thing which bothers me a little about The Wolf Among Us is that there seems to be less of it. It was constantly moving forward from sequence to sequence so there wasn’t ever really any time to sit back and appreciate the world you were in. One thing I remember from the first episode of The Walking Dead was the part in a shop where you got to take the time to speak to every individual character and get to know them a bit, slowly build up a picture of the world in your mind. And while there was a fair amount of character interaction in the game I still feel that there ought to have been more with some of the backing characters, characters like Beauty, Beast and Snow White who we see for short snippets but don’t really get to know.
All in all though, it’s good. Really rather good. I won’t be providing a rating, nor will I be reviewing each individual chapter (I’ve learnt from my mistake when reviewing The Raven), until I have completed the whole game. It hasn’t been announced when the next chapters will be released but I would imagine it will be a case of once every month or so. If you want to know whether The Wolf Among Us is for you then you should know that you will life it if you like any of the following: Fables, The Walking Dead, story-driven focused games or excellently written plots. And as I enjoy the last three of those I will conclude that I did indeed enjoy the first chapter.