Telltale's The Wolf Among Us has more than a few things in common with the developer's previous game, The Walking Dead. It's episodic in nature, based on a beloved comic book series, presented in distinct visual style, and focused more on character interaction than big action sequences. It is also slap-your-face brilliant, offering a community of heroes, villains and things in between, all just trying to make it through the day as best they can.
The Wolf Among Us is based on the Fables series of graphic novels, which star characters from every fairy story, myth, or legend you've ever heard. Hundreds of years ago, these Fables, as they're known, fled their Homelands and hid here, in our world. Fearful of revealing their true identities to us "mundys," they instead keep very fiercely to themselves, tucked away in a corner of New York. Bigby Wolf – he of the huffing and puffing and blowing houses down – acts as Sheriff of Fabletown, attempting to keep the peace in a community where the normal rules don't quite apply. Seriously, what is the appropriate way to deal with Beauty and the Beast having a marital squabble? Can you really blame Toad (from The Wind in the Willows) for not wanting to stay confined to the upstate farm where all non-human-looking Fables must go?
"Faith," the first chapter of The Wolf Among Us, walks right up to this house of misfits and drops a corpse on the front step.
Bigby is a very physical animal, so expect to get into a few fights during your investigation by way of quick-time-events. The controls for these scenes start off a little awkward, as it's not immediately clear what you're supposed to be doing. (Hint: The thumbstick symbol is for the left thumbstick, the reticule symbol is for the right thumbstick.) It's also not always obvious whether or not you've done the move correctly, but there's enough wiggle room in the scenes for you to screw up a few times and still have things end up they way they're meant to. During a brawl with the Woodsman (the very same guy who rescued Little Red Riding Hood back in the day), I wasn't entirely sure if getting thrown across the room was the result of me nailing the control prompt or missing it, but the fight ended with me as victor, so apparently I got enough of the QTE's right. There are only a handful of these events sprinkled throughout "Faith," but you'll have mastered them before the end of the two-hour episode.
The quick-time-events allow for some high-adrenaline sequences, but waiting for the on-screen prompt means you have to take your eyes off the gorgeous animation. The Wolf Among Us is glorious in its super-saturated colors and thick black lines, evoking graphic novels without being a blatant copy/paste of the art style. Pretty as it is, though, Wolf Among Us is all about the voice acting. Making human characters into people is great, and all, but when you can make it feel totally normal to be conversing with a talking toad, you've really done something ... well, magical. A scene where Bigby discusses his life choices with an enormous talking pig – one of the Three Little Pigs, no less – should be utterly ridiculous, but thanks to the commitment of the voice actors, it's really quite poignant.
In addition to his unique occupational hazards, Bigby has more than a few personal demons following him around. He's got plenty of history with the Fables, all of it bad, and despite the fact that everyone was granted immunity when they fled the Homelands, Fables live a long time and they're not prone to forgiveness. Unable to escape the lingering effects of giving in to his true nature, Bigby nevertheless has a clear desire to do right by Fabletown, which makes him a fascinating protagonist for Wolf Among Us. Even in The Walking Dead, it was pretty easy to pick a morality for Lee and stick to it, but it's not so clear-cut with Bigby.
"Faith" is the perfect beginning to a new adventure from Telltale, effortlessly pulling you in and making you invested in protecting these curious creatures from our storybooks. Bigby isn't your ordinary lawman, but there's nobody else you'd want on this case.
One last thing, fellow Fables fans, regarding the ending, which I beg you not to spoil: According to Telltale, "We are working with Bill Willingham, and yes, it is canon." You may now begin freaking out.
This review is based on the Xbox Live Arcade version of The Wolf Among Us, provided by Telltale Games. The PC and XBLA versions will be released on October 11, 2013. A PSN release is slated for October 15.
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