Review: The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2 – Smoke & Mirrors (Sony PlayStation 3)

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The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2 – Smoke & Mirrors
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 02/04/2014

Well it’s been awhile, but episode two of The Wolf Among Us is finally here. Since playing through the first game, I’ve managed to read quite a bit of the comics. As such, I’ve grown quite fond of a number of these characters. This made the extra wait for this episode harder to bear, especially since season two of The Walking Dead started up in the meantime.

Now, I reviewed the first episode of this series back in October. Rather than write out an entirely new review for this episode, I’ll be copy/pasting a bit from that. Sections that have been copied will be in italics, so you can feel free to skip them if you want.

In the world of Fables, the characters from your favorite fairy tales are all real. While this concept might seem cliché at this point, I assure that Fables was doing it long before shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm. Anyway, those characters are known as Fables, and they’ve moved into a section of New York City known as Fabletown. The key is to keep a low profile so they can live out their lives in peace. Magic spells known as glamours keep the more obvious mystical creatures looking human, while talking animals and such reside in a place known as “The Farm”. The Wolf Among Us focuses on one particular fable. That would be Bigby Wolf. You’ll know him better as the Big Bad Wolf from stories such as Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs. Now in human form, Bigby works as Fabletown’s sheriff. You see, he’s trying to turn his life around, and keeping the peace between other Fables is a way to show his fellows that he’s not the bloodthirsty monster he was before.

“Smoke & Mirrors” continues right where the first episode left off. Bigby Wolf is on the hunt for a a killer. After another body gets discovered, the pressure is on to solve the case before things get too out of hand. Things take more of a procedural bent this time around, as you’ll move to new locations based on evidence found in the previous one. While many of the areas you’ll visit are repeated from the first episode, the game opens up for the second half. Fans of the series will get a kick out of seeing several familiar faces make their video game debut, such as Bluebeard and Jack. In addition, some more new characters make appearances to help flesh out the world.

While the first episode was certainly dark, this episode takes it up a few notches. Between the seedy motel, the makeshift morgue, and the sleazy strip joint, you’ll get to see Fabletown at its worst. While the decisions you’ll make won’t necessarily be life and death this time around, there are still plenty of unnerving choices to make. While the story doesn’t get changed in any significant way, you’ll definitely have a different experience than someone who made different choices. However, you’ll both get the same main points, as the game always comes back to center in order to move the story where it wants it.

Aesthetically, the game is a hit. Neon pastels and dirty streets create a fun version of a late 80′s NYC. Telltale uses a similar style to what they did in TWD to create the appearance of a three-dimensional comic book. The look works, and it is benefited by excellent facial animations that sell the characters in ways that many games wish they could do. The style may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I must say I’m impressed. If you can use cartoon visuals yet create something still so gritty, you deserve some praise.

wausmoke2On the technical side of things, the game fares a little worse. Telltale has still not figured out how to get their games running properly. The framerate is atrocious, and it dips constantly. Even worse, the game skips and pauses with alarming frequency. While this can be somewhat understandable when the game is loading up different scenes depending on your choices, it makes no sense for one of the many scripted scenes that don’t change no matter what you do. However, the skips and pauses happen in both cases. I also had the game completely freeze up on me a couple of times. Seriously. It’s like a running gag with Telltale games. They really need to get around to fixing it.

Aurally, the game works on all levels. The voice actors do great work for even the smallest of parts (of course, some of these parts may grow in future episodes). Bigby has as gruff a voice as you’d expect, even though they didn’t go the obvious route with Steve Blum. The accents, for those that have them, feel natural. The music is heavy on the synthesizers and is delightful. It’s kind of like a classic noir story jazzed up for the eighties. If TT could get the same level of quality with their graphics as they do their audio, there would be few games that could match it.

If you’ve played one of TT’s adventure games before, you’ll be able to jump right in here. In fact, I can’t think of a single difference between this and TWD, except that so far I haven’t had to shoot any guns in third person.
When you’re at a location, you’ll need to walk around to find points to interact with. If you use the right stick to move a cursor over such an area, various actions will become available. Each action is displayed on a wheel that corresponds with the face buttons on the controller. So the bottom action is the cross button, for example. It’s also color coded to make things easier. Thankfully, similar actions are usually kept to the same buttons. You’ll press cross to open doors, triangle to glance over something, etc. Some items can be picked up and used elsewhere, though this mechanic is streamlined. Basically, holding the correct item opens up a prompt somewhere where such a prompt would be missing otherwise.

wausmoke3Perhaps the most important mechanic is conversations. You’ll get to talking with one of the other Fables, and you’ll often have several choices as how to respond. You have a short time to pick an answer, otherwise Bigby will just stay silent. Interestingly enough, silence is as valid an option as any other. While picking certain options can slightly change how things play out, you’re usually just along for the ride here. Big, game changing decisions don’t have a timer, and there only tends to be a couple of options. At the very least, you’ll be able to tell when a choice is such a decision.

As the sheriff, you’re bound to get in a few scrapes here and there. Fight scenes are usually intense and quite lengthy. For the most part, they’re quick time events. However, you’re allowed to fail a few of these prompts without stopping the flow of a story. For example, you might not dodge a punch in time, so you’ll take the hit. While many games would have you restart from there, this game will just let you roll with the punch and keep going. Of course, certain events must be cleared or you’ll have to restart, and even when they give you multiple chances, you can only lose so much before you’re roadkill. Still, this leniency allows for some flexibility in fight scenes.

wausmoke4Episode two differentiates itself by being significantly more linear. That might seem hard to accomplish, but it’s true. There are fewer decisions to made about what order to do things in, and you’re often confined to small room until it’s time to move on. There’s even less stuff lying around to add to the lore. While this results in a tighter, more focused episode, it can make the thing seem more like a visual novel rather than a true adventure game.

This entry is really all about bridging the introduction to the meat the of the series. There’s a lot of setup here, and very little resolution. It’s a solid tale thanks to the interesting characters, but is worth playing if you enjoyed the first episode. It just looks like we’ll have to wait for the series to really drop the hammer.

Short Attention Span Summary

Episode two of The Wolf Among Us is a bit shorter and a bit more linear. It makes up for this with a group of new and interesting characters. While it’s hard to say exactly how the series as a whole is going to turn up, I’d say what we’ve gotten so far is worth the time and money. Let’s just hope that things really start to pick up at the midpoint of this season.

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