Review: The Wolf Among Us: Episode 3 – A Crooked Mile (Sony PlayStation 3)

waucoverThe Wolf Among Us: Episode 3 – A Crooked Mile
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 04/08/2014

It seems whatever production woes that haunted this game’s release cycle have gone away. The wait between The Wolf Among Us Episode Two and Episode Three in was nearly half the wait between Episode One and Episode Two. That’s fantastic news. It makes me think we’ll actually see the final two episodes before 2015.

Joking aside, feel free to check out my reviews of Episode One and Episode Two if you haven’t read them already. A lot of the material in this review will be copy/pasted from those. Sections that are copied over verbatim will be italicized so you can skip them if you want.

Time to see if the momentum built up by the previous two episodes can carry over, or if this episode is the underachieving middle child of the group.

waumile1In 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 you 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.

Episode Three picks up immediately after the conclusion of Episode Two. With a suspect identified, Bigby is on the clock to find the killer before he can escape. This creates an interesting choice that takes up the bulk of the game’s length. There are three different areas you can choose to investigate, but things differ depending on which ones you visit first and which ones you visit later. For example, checking out the suspect’s apartment first led me to a long and interesting conversation with a would be thief. On a different playthrough, I went somewhere else first. By the time I arrived at the apartment, the thief was long gone and all kinds of evidence was burned in the fireplace. It should be noted, however, that all roads will lead to the same conclusion. I’ve gotten used to it at this point. The fun is in the journey, not the destination.

waumile2What makes this episode interesting is that it sets things up for the conclusion. We finally have an idea of what’s going on, and who’s behind it. However, there seems to be this odd formula they use for each episode. In particular, it’s getting a bit old that Bigby has to transform and get in a big fight at the end of each one. While new locations may be introduced with each episode, a good portion of your time will be spent traipsing along in locations that have appeared in all three games. I’m hoping we see a bigger departure in the next episode.

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 that of The Walking Dead 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 that’s still so gritty, you deserve some praise.

On 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.

waumile3Aurally, 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 who 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 them.

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 X 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 X 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.

Perhaps the most important mechanic is conversations. You’ll get to talking with one of the other Fables, and you’ll often have several choices on 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.

waumile4As 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.

Thankfully, this episode is more in line with the first. There are several points where you’ll be able to look around and explore a bit. The solution to moving forward might simply be to open a drawer and get a key, but you can feel free to examine everything in the room first. The reward is a few extra bits of lore, which honestly helps the game world feel a bit fuller. I also noticed a better attempt was made to give the player a different experience based on different choices. I appreciate that.

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack1-150x150The halfway point of The Wolf Among Us is potentially the strongest episode yet, and a good sign of what’s to come. The series is getting a bit formulaic, but the story is interesting and varied enough to keep you hooked. Let’s hope that Telltale keeps the series going at a brisk pace so we won’t have to wait too long to see how it all pans out.

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