“From the makers of 2012 game of the year The Walking Dead
This sentence, displayed at the bottom of the game’s Xbox Live Marketplace icon, is a good indication of where Telltale Games is right now. After years of earning respect for raising the profile of the previously written-off adventure genre the developer finally nailed it last year, producing a game that ditched the genre rulebook by focusing squarely on the choices players made within the game world.
With this model now proven, The Wolf Among Us – based on Bill Willingham’s Fables
comic series – is able to tap into an immediately confident groove. Right from the start it feels like the work of an assured, energised developer, one looking to top their crowning achievement. Whether or not this will actually happen is anyone’s guess, but things are off to a promising start.
From the beginning this season is being framed as a murder mystery, set within a community of fairytale characters who have secretly assimilated themselves into New York. Familiarity with the comics would probably be a bonus, but thanks to a strong script and intelligent pacing the world and its characters are well established. Protagonist Bigby Wolf is shaped by the choices you make for him, as Lee Everett was before, and the supporting cast is fleshed out well. Repercussions for your actions play out in a faster, more tangible way than they did in The Walking Dead, and it’s also strongly hinted that they’ll carry over to the other episodes more effectively than they did in that game. Having said that, we hope future instalments ask us to make harder choices. Replaying the first episode of The Walking Dead recently, I was impressed by how close each decision was to dividing players down the line. By contrast, 91% of players picked the same option on the first big choice offered in the first chapter here.
Those expecting a more traditional point and click adventure may leave disappointed. The Wolf Among Us doubles down on its predecessor’s style, and you spend a lot of time in this first episode moving between cut-scenes, your interactions limited to light bouts of waving the cursor over the screen to hunt for objects to interact with. Every now and then you’ll spark a QTE-heavy action cut-scene, which work well enough and play out differently depending on how you perform, although the game doesn’t concern itself with explaining the mechanics of these scenes for the uninitiated.
This first episode is filled with exposition, and while great writing and glorious visuals mean that playing is never a chore, for most of its running time it feels like a solid, gorgeous introduction to a series that we’d be happy to invest in on good faith. But then you hit the final chapter, and things crank right up. The game starts asking you to invest more in its central mystery, and the action beats are made more meaningful by what has come before. The excellent writing amps the tension right up, other characters react to your decisions in intelligent and interesting ways, and the ending all but demands that you buy the season pass.
It’s worth noting that Telltale sent us code for the Xbox 360 version of the game, and we encountered pretty significant choppiness whenever the game transitioned to a new scene. According to our friends playing on PC it runs ‘smooth as butter’, so we’d lean towards that version if you have the choice. In any case, The Wolf Among Us is off to a great start – if it can replicate The Walking Dead’s emotional nuance and stakes going forward, it could turn into something special.