Review: The Wolf Among Us – Episode 1: Faith (PC)

e1coverThe Wolf Among Us – Episode 1: Faith
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 10/11/2013

I’d honestly not been paying attention enough to realize there was a new game out from Telltale set in another comic book property. While I’ve been aware of Fables for awhile now, I’ve not had a chance to get into it at all, so I’m going in cold after enjoying the hell out of The Walking Dead, and my expectations are high. Now, I do think this episode in particular plays out more like an interactive movie than an actual adventure title, even more than The Walking Dead did, but at the same time they give you control in those crucial moments, and even let you explore a little bit when it counts, and it feels like the story line for The Wolf Among Us is going to be just as strong as the one they laid out for The Walking Dead. I’m pumped to see where they’re going with this fairy tale noir in the next four episodes. Let’s take a look.

The game starts out with Bigby Wolf, also known as the Big Bad Wolf, heading in to respond to a call. As the Sheriff of Fabletown where the Fables, fairy tale characters living in our world, live, it’s his job to keep order and investigate the wrongdoings of, and done to, Fables living there. He stumbles on the Woodsman, a man with a magical axe, and someone he’s never gotten along with since the Red Riding Hood incident, beating a woman, a prostitute, and takes exception. He deals with it the best he can, which ends up with him crushing the car of the Fable who alerted him to the problem, Toad, which doesn’t earn him any favors. Things get worse when one of the three pigs shows up at his apartment outside of the farm he’s supposed to be living on.

2013-10-18_00035The Fables have a deal in place where the mundanes can’t know about them, and they’re supposed to use glamours, spells that make them appear human, to keep what they really are in check. These are expensive however, and Colin, the pig in question, keeps sneaking off the farm, which is where the Fables who can’t afford a glamour stay. Bigby’s problems get deeper as the woman who he saved turns up dead on the steps of the building the Fables current leader, Ichabod Crane, works out of, with her head cut clean off. This is where Bigby gets some help from none other than Snow White, and the two begin investigating the murder using the Magic Mirror, clues based around the victim’s identity and a few trips that lead to even more problems for our Big Bad Wolf.

While I do like the whole murder mystery going on, as well as the urban fantasy feel, which I admit I’m a sucker for, the characters and the dialogue are equally fun in this. Bigby has the option of being a complete jerk or being a little gruff but nice, but for years he was the Big Bad Wolf before he was Sheriff, and a lot of the people who he ends up dealing with really don’t like him much because of his past. While we don’t get to go into Snow White’s background so much, it’s obvious she sees something else in Bigby over anyone else, especially if you’re not a complete ass to her. Ichabod is about what you expect if you’ve ever read the original Sleepy Hollow story instead of what you might see in the TV show. The Woodsman wasn’t what I expected at all, along with Toad and a few others. It all adds up to some compelling characters that work right along with the noir urban fantasy murder mystery, and I loved every minute.

2013-10-20_00063Visually, I think this game is running on the same engine as The Walking Dead, but I do think there’s been a little more care put into this one over the other. While they could get away with The Walking Dead being a bit more bland, the color palette here and use of shadows fit right in with what I’ve seen from the comics. While they use cel-shading, it’s not the jagged edged lines we saw in their previous outing to make it look more like the source, but a more clean, refined look that makes everything pop on screen and leads to some really amazing visuals that look like something you’d see out of a comic, especially with their choice of camera angles. The animation isn’t quite as jerky as it was in The Walking Dead, and the expressions they’ve managed to get out of several of the characters have an animated quality to them that really capture the moment. Telltale has done a great job with the quality on this one on the visual end.

The voice actors in this really nailed it. Bigby has this great, gravelly and gruff sound to him that not only fits the character but the type of story they’re trying to tell just about perfectly. Just like with The Walking Dead, I think they’ve pretty much nailed who they needed to get for which performances, and it all just works really well with the dialogue. The music is pretty decent, although to be honest, I only really noticed it during the end credits and during the intro, loading and menu screens. I was too involved to really notice it by focusing on what characters were saying. So in that end of things it does its job, just like the ambient sounds and the action sounds as well.

2013-10-20_00087The game does control fairly well when you’re given actual controls to use beyond dialogue. This isn’t a criticism, it’s just that The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead are both built around characters and dialogue and less on puzzles, so they play less like adventure titles and more like an adventure and virtual film hybrid. That’s not a bad thing at all, just don’t expect a lot of heavy gaming in this. Now, experience in the past with Telltale Games on my PC has taught me to not use my keyboard and stick to a 360 controller. I’m looking at you Jurassic Park. So I’ve only really played this with a 360 controller and it worked great. The up and down on the d-pad cycles through your inventory. The left analog stick moves your character, while the right analog stick moves the targeting reticule on screen. Conversation choices and other assigned actions are handled by the A, X, Y and B buttons. If you don’t have the option to see selectable objects turned on, the left trigger shows them and also triggers some fight actions. The right trigger lets you run and also fires off other combat actions, depending on what’s up on the screen.

The game is basically set up in two modes for gameplay as far as it goes. You have your conversation and exploration, and interactive cutscenes. The conversations consist of a back and forth where you have a short amount of time to choose what Bigby is going to say or do in that moment. There are a few conversations where you have no time limit to make your choices, but this go around, those are few and far between. The conversations do seem to change how other characters react to Bigby, especially if he dishes out some violence as a retort, and these also decide where you’re going next, which can actually mean the life or death of some characters. In exploration you have a few options as you move around, between picking things up right away or looking at them, or even asking another character questions about them directly. Now, the interactive cutscenes are a few steps above simple quick time events, which is something I really despise in video games. Where in The Walking Dead this usually meant certain death when you screwed up, Bigby can take a few hits and it won’t kill you, which is a blessing. Usually, instead of just hitting a key button at the right time, you have the option to hit a single button to imitate the struggle over an item or to push someone off you, hitting the analog stick in a certain direction to dodge incoming attacks or tossed objects, and last is using your other analog stick to aim for the highlighted body part before you pull the trigger. These are a bit better, as there’s a variety of things for you to hit, and it feels like you have more control as opposed to just hitting a random button as things pop up.

2013-10-21_00096They’ve put a neat bit into the game here that I’ll compare a bit to the Codex from Mass Effect with the Book of Fables, with entries in it that give a more in depth look at the Fables world. You gain entries simply by playing the game, but like all games with choices in them, its entries depend on choices you’ve made, to the point where you’ll have to play through at least one chapter twice in the first episode to get all the entries in the Book of Fables unlocked, but also to get all the Achievements here, as getting all the entries is tied into Achievements on Steam. So right there, if you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll be playing through parts of this twice. Add onto that some interesting consequences for several actions throughout this episode and I’m already going to be playing through just to see what else is going to happen to these characters and what kind of differences they’ve put into later episodes. One choice in the middle will already determine whether one character lives or dies, or even if you can save them.

There’s a good blend between investigation and simple dialogue here. Even if you’re only interested in running through each episode one time, you’re looking at about ten hours for everything, if the two hour run time for my single playthrough holds true. If you’re going for everything though, you’re looking at closer to twenty if you have to run through each episode a few times to get all the results. Considering most triple A action titles out there run around ten hours, the price for this versus those is quite different, considering it runs for twenty-five dollars for the season pass, which is beyond reasonable. The Steam version, which I received for review, is season pass only, so you can’t get episodes piecemeal like you could with The Walking Dead on the consoles.

2013-10-21_00131While this is based on yet another property Telltale has licensed, taking something existing and putting a new spin on it in a different area seems to be Telltale’s strong suit. Set twenty years before the comics take place, they have some room to maneuver and do their own thing, like they did with The Walking Dead by setting it with a different set of characters from the comics but still having a bit of bleed-over. I’m not familiar with the Fables comic itself, but I do like that they’re telling their own tales with these characters and crafting it around what their game engine can do. It makes it seem more interesting and not a simple paint job over what they’d done previously with other licenses.

At two hours a run, it’s a little hard to gauge how addictive the game really is, but honestly, the only thing that pried me away from it was real-life obligations when I was playing through. It’s a fun and engrossing ride while you’re playing, and I was really wishing I could just jump into the next episode to see what happens next to the Fables characters. Expect to lose two hours when you sit down to play and wonder where they went, as it flows really fast. With the success of The Walking Dead, Telltale set a pretty high bar, and there are people who have heard word of mouth that didn’t like the zombie theme but were intrigued enough to pull the trigger on the Fables universe instead. They’ve got a great thing going with their licensed titles and have picked a couple of good ones that work amazingly well with the way they’ve chosen to tell their stories. The word of mouth, coupled with the fact the game lives up to what I’ve seen as hype around it, says to me that Telltale has another hit series on their hands.

2013-10-21_00122I’ve been raving about the game, but there were a few issues. There were a few moments where the game had to think about what I’d chosen before, and there was this awkwardly long pause in a few places before the next line was uttered, which killed the pacing of the scenes a little bit. Nothing truly awful, but something I noticed. Some of the dialogue didn’t quite match up to what I had Bigby say in the moment, but I could only count one or two instances of this, and while it seemed a bit awkward, it could still have worked out that way as it’s not wildly out of left field for their responses, but it kind of took me out a little bit. I do have to commend them for getting rid of the loading problem I had with The Walking Dead. The first trip through a scene, there would be a bit of a stutter, and there’s absolutely none of that here. The Wolf Among Us loads fairly fast on my gaming rig and plays solidly. Whatever they changed to get rid of the loading stutter worked, and I hope they keep it up. It’s very welcome.

Short Attention Span Summary
The Wolf Among Us takes everything Telltale learned and did with The Walking Dead and refines it down, giving you enough interaction that it’s still a game you have an effect on, while still telling an intriguing noir style murder mystery set in the Fables universe. The lead, the former Big Bad Wolf, known as Bigby, has a violent past, and him having to deal with the people he’s wronged as a peacekeeper leads to some great moments. They’ve done this in a way that you won’t be entirely lost if you’ve not read the Fables comics and set it before those books even start. The game engine seems a bit more refined and less error filled that the last time I fired up The Walking Dead. The pacing is great, the story works well for the type of game it is and within the engine limitations, and Telltale have done a great job breathing life into the world and characters outside of the comic book page. If you liked The Walking Dead or Fables, this is sure to please, and even if you just like adventure titles you should give it a shot. It’s going to be a long few months for the next episode I think. Time to get another playthrough with different choices in.

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