Inside Pulse 12

Review: The Wolf Among Us – Episode 2: Smoke and Mirrors (PC)

e2coverThe Wolf Among Us – Episode 2: Smoke and Mirrors
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 02/04/2014

The Wolf Among Us came out of nowhere for me last year and hit me right away with how great the story-telling was. I could see that what they’d done with The Walking Dead was being applied, with a few differences, to a new property and I loved it.  Episode 2 is here and while I enjoyed it there were a few things that weren’t as strong with it as the first. But it’s still a decent entry and you can tell there’s something bigger building up to what’s going on.  How does the second entry of Bigby Wolf and friends pan out? Bear in mind as this is episodic, many of the thing I wrote in my review for episode 1 hold here and are presented in italics. Let’s take a look.

Story wise I don’t think this episode is as strong as the first.  There’s some decent story-telling but this feels like a set-up episode for something further down the line. While Bigby’s investigation gets a few new leads overall, it doesn’t feel like much is going on but it is needed so we do know some of the background for later.  The choices you make are less about morality and whether or not you want to play Bigby as a total thug or someone who’s just out to solve a crime the only way he knows how and it just doesn’t quite have the same punch this time. Well, at least until the end of the episode anyway.  I’m not going to spoil how the episode ends but in talking about the story a few key moments are going to get spoiled a bit so go ahead and skip the next paragraph at this point if you don’t want to be spoiled about much of anything. 

2014-02-09_00037Bigby’s first big choice from the last episode rears its head with who you have tied up for questioning, Tweedle or the Huntsman. From there you’re given your first taste of brutality or playing the good cop to get your information before Snow shows up. Yeah, the Snow who’s supposed to be dead. Turns out the head that was found wasn’t hers but was someone under a glamor and they’ve found the matching body. Snow’s concerned about the way Bigby went about doing the interrogation. You can go either way with her about how you handled it before the pair of you get more information about where the neck-down portion of the body was discovered. From there the investigation isn’t as choice driven as the first episode and a bit more linear but how you handle the different portions of the investigation is very much up to you. Bigby either comes across as a concerned country sheriff or a thug depending on how you want to play it, but as with Snow’s apparent death from before, things have upped as far as the ante goes so I could see Bigby going that route. It’s not out of character but the choices aren’t as nuanced as they were in the first episode so it doesn’t have the same impact with the player. It still works well to tell the story; it just has a different feel to it.

While this game appears to be running the same game engine as The Walking Dead, the two games couldn’t be any more different in terms of visuals.  Where the Walking Dead went for the look of the comic book including the jagged lines coming off their cel-shaded characters and a bland and dark color palette, Wolf Among Us has a great contrast between the light and dark, uses clean lines on their characters for the cel-shading, makes good use of lighting and throws around color liberally that really sets the tone for each separate space you visit in the game and differentiates them easily between one another and definitely affects not only the mood but the situation as well.  It’s refreshing and apart from an interesting story involving the Fables, I really do think that visually this is one of the games that just pops for me just because they’re not going for completely dark and gritty. 

2014-02-09_00080The lead voice actors from The Walking Dead Season One return here as different characters but their voices are pretty unmistakable. They do a great job, one in a similar role and the other in a very different one.  The returning actors from the previous episode continue with their great job and really sell what’s going on no matter what options you pick as Bigby. I noticed the music more this go around, mainly trying to listen for it a bit more than I did my first time through the first episode. Either way you look at it audibly there’s some good stuff going on here.

The 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. 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.

2014-02-09_00285The 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.

They’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 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.

2014-02-09_00357There’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.

While 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.

2014-02-09_00456At 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.

I’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. The Wolf Among Us loads fairly fast on my gaming rig and plays solidly. There was one scene where I think it took far too long for different reactions to resolve where you can go one way or another several times. If you don’t go for the more intimidating and brutal options, the pause just seems unnatural and overlong, but at the same time it almost works as Bigby just being intimidating. It’s a minor quibble as the scene after gets you right back into the groove.

Short Attention Span Summary
While it doesn’t quite pack the same punch of the first episode of The Wolf Among Us, Episode 2 does continue the story and introduce a few new wrinkles into the initial investigation and the second murder, but the choices don’t feel as weighted and angle more towards being a complete bastard and just being intimidating rather than having any real moral choice. It’s clear from the start and the way people react to you that some of your choices definitely have consequences. As a middle entry in a five episode arc it’s solid, just not as big a whammy as the first episode was and definitely still worth checking out and even playing through to get your good and bad boy options cleared through.

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