The Wolf Among Us: Episode 4 – In Sheep’s Clothing
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: 05/27/2014
That’s right! Episode 4 is here after only about a month and a half after Episode 3! It seems like Telltale has finally gotten their act together. Of course, it helps that each new episode seems to have less and less adventure style gameplay and more interactive drama. I might need to update the genre category for these reviews…
Anyways, the last episode was all about the mad hunt for Ichabod Crane. It was assumed that he was the killer, but that turned out to be a bit of red herring. Crane is just one cog in the machine that is run by the Crooked Man. The events that lead to his reveal also lead to Bigby getting torn up by a nasty silver bullet. Apparently those can hurt actual wolf people and not just werewolves.
As always with episodic reviews, there will be a lot of copying and pasting done here to save time. It’s not like the presentation and basic mechanics see much if any change between episodes. If you want, check out my reviews for Episode 1, Episode 2, and Episode 3. Stuff copied over from those reviews will be italicized, so 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 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 Four is all about digging into the world of the Crooked Man. You see, nobody but a select few even know to find him, let alone how deep his operation goes. Most of this episode revolves around talking to people to find clues, and discovering a handful of new characters/locations. That isn’t to say there isn’t any action however. In fact, the big fight in this episode is probably my favorite so far, even if it didn’t have much in the way of setup.
While there is a hint of a mad dash to find the killer in this episode, it ultimately feels a tad bit redundant. Most of the big reveals are things you would have likely figured about during the past two episodes. On top of that, the side plots essentially spin their wheels until the big finale. Bluebeard’s part seems to only exist in order to make sure we don’t forget who he is. Likewise, Colin finally shows up again because they want to reinforce some of the social injustices going on. We get it already. Can we just move forward at this point?
This is basically the last bit of setup before the final episode. At this point, the investigation should be over, and the over-the-top action should reach its climax. Let’s hope they manage to deliver, or this whole thing is going to feel anti-climatic.
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.
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 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.
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.
This is probably the shortest episode yet, as most of the scenes are brief conversations with not a whole lot in the way of meaningful actions. Of the big choices you make, none of them seem to matter much. Perhaps the subplot involving sending people to The Farm might get somewhere in the final episode. I hope so, otherwise they’ve wasted too much time on it. I’ve certainly enjoyed my trek through Fabletown so far, but I’m going to need a lot more than this for the overall experience to be something memorable.
Short Attention Span Summary
Episode 4 is kind of a step back. It feels like its on rails, and has very few important decisions to make. Even the ones you do make alter your overall path only slightly. The plot here is about digging into the underworld, which kind of feels like what we’ve been doing all along anyway. I hope this isn’t a sign of the series losing its steam, but rather just them setting us up for some major action in the upcoming finale. Either way, I look forward to the inevitable release of Episode 5.
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