Wot I Think: The Wolf Among Us Episode One

By Adam Smith on October 14th, 2013 at 4:00 pm.

How do you follow The Walking Dead? At a slow pace and a safe distance, preferably while soaked in corpse juices and with intestines draped around your neck. Or, in Telltale’s case, the sensible option is to provide more of the same. The Wolf Among Us, adapted from DC Vertigo’s on-going Fables series, is another comic adaptation and, as with The Walking Dead, its creators care more for their characters than for puzzles or challenge. Here’s wot I think of episode one.

My occasionally faulty memory reckons that the puzzles in The Walking Dead faded from episode to episode. Crossing the motel forecourt in episode one didn’t overly tax the brain but it was an extended sequence that required pauses for thought about the immediate consequences of any chosen action. Obstacles in later episodes tended to be solved by looking at every hotspot in a room and then picking a line of dialogue.

The Wolf Among Us continues down this path. Few people would have expected multi-scene puzzles and an overstuffed inventory of nonsense, but it’s important to establish what The Wolf Among Us is. A story, with a few QTE action sequences, dialogue choices that define the future relationships between Bigby and the rest of the cast, and (very) occasional larger choices. I mention all of this not because I want The Wolf Among Us to be something other than what it is but because it’d be unjust of me to spend so much of the week scowling at the Page and Cage show, and making snide comments about the full-screen adverts for Beyond: Two Souls on IMDB, without acknowledging that Telltale’s wolf is barking up a similar tree.

Thankfully, Telltale’s tree is made of sturdy stuff. Whatever the medium, interactive or not, a story with strong writing, engaging characters and decent pacing is a fine thing to explore. As always with Telltale, the license can help or hinder as well, and the studio’s interpretation of Fables is a triumph. Drawing heavily on the first (short) arc of the series, The Wolf Among Us introduces its weird world with confidence and style.

The Fables concept is stupendously obvious, or at least it seems that way to someone who reads a lot of speculative fiction and has been known to spend a working day managing a dark elf sports team. The Fables are characters from fairytales, fiction and folklore who have been cast out of their homelands by the Adversary. Most of them are living out their exile in New York, hidden from the eyes of the mundane world (humans are ‘mundys’) by glamours and other mind-clouding magic. Basic governmental functions assist them in their daily lives but many have struggled to adapt to the city and there are internal conflicts, political and personal.

When I first read the comics, I took the chain-smoking dishevelled Big Bad Wolf in my stride. He looks human, like a cross between Wolverine and Philip Marlowe, and he’s the sheriff of Fabletown and the game’s protagonist here. He conducts his investigations on the mean streets and from his cupboard of an office, its dingy confines set into sharp relief alongside the TARDIS-like meeting room next door, an enormous space containing stacks of legendary artifacts, magically crammed into an apartment block. One of the Three Little Pigs, Colin, occasionally sleeps on the Wolf’s couch, figuring that he’s owed some hospitality considering what happened to his house of straw.

A great part of the pleasure in both the comics and the game is derived from seeing old characters in new roles. Bigby Wolf (geddit?) is immediately relatable but also perhaps the least creative – despite his tendency to transform into his enormous animal form when enraged, he’s more of a borrowing from neo-noir than a reinterpretation of the Wolf. There’s no space or desire for an exploration of the wolf as nature’s red tooth or ferocious lust. Bigby’s past life, as a mass murdering devourer of grannies, becomes his Chinatown. Concealed behind a veil, it’s a dark ‘something’, necessary to his cynicism and rough edges but unexplored.

The Woodsman, Bigby’s old nemesis, is far more interesting and, along with Mr Toad sans Toad Hall, demonstrates Telltale at their best. Both are tragic figures, with a more glorious past behind them, but the writing flickers happily between the serious and the ridiculous. There are moments of exceedingly unpleasant violence right from the opening scene, but they offer more than shock value, helping to unwrap the mysteries as to who these characters really are, and how they are (mal)adjusting to their new lives. In confessional mode, The Woodsman is a key player in the episode’s finest scene, a dive bar conversation that bristles with the threat of violence. Among the threats and machismo, there’s one perfectly delivered gag that not only works as comedic semicolon but also reveals a great deal about his character.

Quality voice acting is necessary for the delivery of such a well-pitched line and the cast are equal to the writing. Even Mr Toad sounds just about as he should – stressed, cocky and downtrodden – rather than being an unbearably twee regional accent accident. Bigby is less gruff than his face and BEING A WOLF suggests he might be, but there’s bite in the voice, even though he rarely loses the hint of good humour that prevents him from being so world-weary that he falls into a coma. I like him and look forward to spending more time in his company.

As a new take on the comics, this is far closer to its inspiration than The Walking Dead. That’s partly because the characters and scenes are mostly drawn directly from the series. Background details are borrowed directly from the books and the recreation of locations is impressive. It’s a shame Telltale don’t allow more time for exploration, particularly as the wealth of allusions and references naturally begs for investigation. The plot, which builds around an ongoing criminal investigation, has powerful forward momentum and there’s little time to stop and take in the sights.

That ties into the main change as compared to The Walking Dead. There are two points in the episode when Bigby must decide between two actions, either delaying the alternative or ignoring it altogether. Whether this leads to a storyline with genuine branches as opposed to The Walking Dead’s subtle differences is impossible to tell for now. Replaying and making different decisions already reveals more than a second playthrough of The Walking Dead ever did though.

My biggest complaint, as a Fables reader, is that this first episode, despite being set before the comics timeline begins, borrows heavily from the first arc. The pairing of Snow White and Bigby to investigate a crime, the introduction of social struggle and even Colin’s couchsurfing – it’s all rather familiar and compounded by the fact that the future of many characters is already known. That said, I’d be interested to see how foreknowledge affects dialogue choices. There are several lines that practically wink at and nudge those in the know.

Still, Bigby fits the role of player character well, being charismatic, recognisable and an investigator, and it’s hard to fault this first episode as an introduction to a complex world. That’s at least partly a result of following the template of those first issues but Telltale do the majority of the work themselves, giving us an intriguing mystery and a Snow White with more personality than a thousand Disney princesses.

Light on challenge, this is the first chapter of a tale well told and it’s probably the most attractive attempt to capture this particular art style in motion that I’ve ever seen. There’s a vibrant almost neon sheen that makes it look quite unique, almost The Walking Dead by way of Hotline Miami at times. Already, there are tasty relationships and plots brewing, and there’s a swagger to the presentation and delivery that feels well-earned.

The Walking Dead used the backdrop of the undead and social collapse to tell a story about survival, parenthood and loss. The choices players made didn’t alter the broad strokes but they did lead to moments that many, myself included, found more personal and touching than they would have been without our input. I’m hoping for more from the big highlighted choices in The Wolf Among Us but even if they lack substance, the Fables are already far more fascinating than zombies and, on this early evidence, Telltale may well find the humanity in this story as well.

The Wolf Among Us: Episode One is out now.

__________________

« | »

, , , , , .

63 Comments »

  1. Severian says:

    As someone who has not read Fables, this actually looks much more interesting to me than The Walking Dead, which regardless of its quality falls in a tired old genre. I’m more likely to play Fables than pick up the comics nowadays.

    • Bradamantium says:

      I’m interested in this one, but a little leery of diving in after The Walking Dead. I could appreciate it on its own merits, but replaying it meant that its much vaunted choices came out as moments that did little more than affect the dressings of the story further down the line than anything meaningful. That and the stock zombie apocalypse characters (the stalwart protagonist, the unfortunate children, the possible allies, and the grumpy pragmatist) didn’t do much for me. The fact that this apparently makes choices a bit more meaningful and has a cast that’s infinitely more interesting even at a glance gives me hope that Telltale might be doing something I’ll enjoy much more here.

      • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

        Meaningful choices and a branching plotline are two entirely different things. The Walking Dead had the first, but not much of the second.

        Shameless self-promotion: I wrote a bit more about this topic on my blog.

    • noodlecake says:

      Not reeeaaaally a tired old genre though is it? There aren’t any games that have the feel of the Walking Dead game. It plays nothing like Monkey Island or Broken Sword.

  2. regi.rock says:

    “Few people would have expected multi-scene puzzles and an overstuffed inventory of nonsense”

    Unless you played any other TellTale game they have ever made aside from Walking Dead.

    I miss the days when TellTale made games.

    • bladedsmoke says:

      I miss the days when people didn’t dismiss great things based on their failure to conform to an arbitrary label.

      (I’m lying. Those days never existed.)

      • Vinraith says:

        The arbitrary label doesn’t matter. Call it a game, don’t call it a game, barely interactive visual comic books just aren’t of interest to many of us.

        Missing the days when a game developer used to make more interactive games seems like a perfectly fair sentiment to express, but I expect there will be the predictable tide of acrimony for daring to suggest that perhaps games and interactivity ought to have something to do with one another.

        Carry on.

        • Kitsunin says:

          I won’t argue with your opinion of games like this one, but the arbitrary label is the point he decided to lean upon. Had he said “I miss the days when Telltale made games that were actually interactive,” he would have been approaching from a reasonable direction, but what he actually said was a slight against the idea that we even call games with relatively little interactivity games, a discussion and argument that is, frankly, useless.

          • Bull0 says:

            Ironically regi.rock has an agenda here, which is why he chose those specific words very carefully. Check out his comments on yesterday’s Sunday Papers.

        • Drake Sigar says:

          Fair enough, but it seems odd to refuse to classify Telltale’s latest works as ‘games’ or describe them as less interactable and pine over their older works. I suppose the latter is true, but when the interaction we’re speaking of is obsessively combing each screen for random objects and then obsessively clicking that object on everything in sight, it doesn’t seem like a great loss. The appeal of point & click adventures was always the quality dialogue.

          • Ernesto25 says:

            I don’t like the old school point and click adventure games but it would be nice to have a little bit more complex puzzles

          • blackmyron says:

            Basically, this. It seems interesting, but I enjoy the style of the Sam & Max or Monkey Island games more.

          • Vinraith says:

            Personally I never much enjoyed adventure games for exactly the reason you express, but for those folks that genuinely enjoyed the old gameplay I still think it’s fair to say “I miss the old gameplay” without having folks jump down your throat. Not that I see you doing that, mind, but it seems like every time this kind of thing comes up you get two very hostile groups: the folks that say “it’s not a game!” and really mean “it has no value/is terrible” and the folks that respond to every criticism as though it were coming from that former group.

            I’ve said before, I don’t know why interactive fiction, art games, and other such “barely interactive” media want to be called games to begin with, since the word carries with it certain expectations that they aren’t trying to meet. I think they’d get a fairer shake if they self-labelled more clearly, but what do I know?

      • Bradamantium says:

        The shorthand that says “this isn’t much of a game” expands into a lot more that points out why some certain thing (TWD, in this case) isn’t so great. I didn’t like it either, because puzzles were plodding affairs all about poking in corners and interacting with things more than any logic. The story was okay, but the choices had no real meaning, and a lot of the subtler emotions got lost in moments that seemed to be saying LOOK, HAVE FEELINGS NOW! a bit too loudly.

    • tsff22 says:

      Well, it certainly didn’t take long for the “TWD ISN’T A REAL GAAAAAME BAAAAAAW” group to arrive. :/

      • dankweir says:

        the story of Bradley is`cool, two weeks ago, my father’s sister also received a 8465 dollar check, working 40 hours per month from home Learn more about this site —–>>

        w­w­w.J­o­B­S­5­3.C­o­M

    • Kitsunin says:

      Bah, I guess I’m just too much of a youngin’, but as good as Telltale’s Sam & Max and Monkey Island were, with really cool moments spattered here and there and quality humor, they still felt more like nostalgia built upon the memories of the good old days of point & clicks (Complete with annoying bits where you wasted time wandering around aimlessly), rather than something really great of their own right.

      On the other hand we have Telltale’s The Walking Dead which was utterly fantastic and The Wolf Among Us which thus far is better than any of their play-oriented games. I’m not saying it’s a better format, but Telltale is clearly far, far better at it, so why in the world shouldn’t they continue where they’ve shown their skill to be?

      Also. What about Jurassic Park: The Game? Ha. Ha…ha…?

    • kalirion says:

      They’re basically a new type of Visual Novel, and those have always been considered games.

      • Risingson says:

        It is a visual novel alright. The problem is that Telltale took this path after the masterpiece in adventuring that was the third season of Sam&Max, a real innovative set of games. And the other problem is that The Walking Dead was much less intelligent and inspiring, in its story, than its previous games. Not because of zombies, but because of the lack of punch in everything and manipulative emotional stuff that seems to work so well with game reviewers – see the case of the awful To The Moon. Infantile stuff sold as mature stuff, again. Rant off.

        • Ernesto25 says:

          Its why i kind of liked Richard and Alice compared to to the moon due to the fact the puzzles (at least to me ) required actual thought (not complicated but thought none the less.

    • The Random One says:

      I don’t. As the excellent people of Ice-Pick Lodge said recently, sometimes the gameplay gets in the way of your game. Their attempts to emulate old point-and-clicks without demanding developer mind-reading are admirable, but ultimately turned the gameplay into busywork. The high points of their adventures were rarely the puzzles, and even then mostly when they subverted the game, the story or themselves in some way. I, for one, am glad they find their footing. And if you don’t like it… I hear The Inner World is very good!

    • Lacero says:

      If it has the same or more interesting decisions than snakes and ladders it’s a game. I don’t like it but that’s the rules.

  3. VCepesh says:

    The only unfortunate aspect of this game for me, is that I’ve finished Fables years ago. And I detest prequels.

    • Dolphan says:

      Fables is still going? Although it did jump the shark some time back.

    • colossalstrikepackage says:

      I tried reading them, but couldn’t finish them. This game on the other hand … seriously, play the first episode. There are … unexpected twists.

      • A Dangerous Sloth says:

        Comics aren’t really worth finishing IMO. He starts going to far with his conservative views and literally shoves Israel down your throat at one point. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I like it when people keep politics out of my comics.

        • JRay says:

          I jumped ship at that exact point. When he came right out, in the comics, and said that Fable-town is Israel (and by extension, the evil barbarian hordes of ghouls and goblins are all Arabs/Palestinians/etc), I couldn’t, in good conscience, keep reading.

        • mouton says:

          Jesus Christ, where do you “Fables is right-wing propaganda” people come from? Some kind of breeding pit?

          Israel was mentioned _once_ in the whole series as an example of military tenacity. How does it constitute “shoving down your throat” I will never know.

          • A Dangerous Sloth says:

            It wasn’t just Israel. The whole series has his views placed all over them. At first they are nonexistent, but throughout the series you can see his neo-conservative views in them, slowly becoming more frequent and obvious, until the Israel thing happened. He has even talked about how he is a very political person and his views are going to be put into the comics when he did interviews.

          • mouton says:

            Mind giving examples of his blatant neo-conservatism as evidenced in the comic book series? I would be especially grateful for illustrating the “shoving down the throat” aspect.

          • scatterbrainless says:

            I’m (ignorantly) going to suppose that the neo-con views are more of a meta-textual interpretation, drawing from interviews and other pieces of writing by the author. On the one hand this can be seen as “reading-in” elements that aren’t inherently or necessarily part of the comics, but on the other hand the wider textual existence of an author can’t be strictly partitioned from his work. If this truly troubles me with an author I will generally make the “an author is sometimes not the best interpreter of his/her own work” argument, but that does require you to have a sufficiently strong alternate interpretation to put forward (see someone like Raymond Chandler, or some of Frank Miller’s work as good examples for the application of this stance).

  4. A Dangerous Sloth says:

    Preparing for the flood of “This isn’t a game” comments

    • colossalstrikepackage says:

      Well, as long as they aren’t ‘this is not fun’ comments, I don’t much mind. And this first episode was definitely fun. Seems like TTG are really hitting their stride with mechanics/story/dialogue. Hell, I even replayed the episode to see how different things turn out due to the choices made – and the results were surprising (in a good way).

    • tsff22 says:

      Look a few comments up. Its already happening. Sadly.

    • Shooop says:

      It’s an interactive story.

      But that’s OK because it’s not pretending to be anything else like a game advertising itself as a shooter but having only as much interaction as a DVD menu.

      • pilouuuu says:

        Then it’ll hopefully BE interactive and not ridden of fake decisions and just one ending like The Walking Dead.

    • almostDead says:

      Preparing for the ‘inb4′ smartarses…. Too late.

      Let people have a discussion.

      • almostDead says:

        OMG, I’ve just realised what I’ve done.

        Inb4 INCEPTION.

    • Contrafibularity says:

      You say that as if it’s usually undeserved when people utter those words. Not saying it, however I do perfectly understand many people won’t react well when Prof. Mr. David Cage proclaims whatever he’s working on is the future of videogames when really he means to say future of CGI cutscenes and QTEs. I think you’ll find it is _that_ presumptuousness that tends to bother people.

  5. colossalstrikepackage says:

    Reading this WIT did not fill me with the desire to play them game. Glad I didn’t wait for this, then. This first episode was more fun to play than the Walking Dead was (sans a Clem figure). I though the acting and writing were top notch – and go really well with the art. I’m itching to play the rest of the season …

    In short, TTG have once again taken the base material and improved it. I have really great hopes for this series – I’ve already enjoyed it more than I could have possibly hoped. And the cliff hanger at the end of the episode left me with a huge grin on my face and a tear in my eye. Can’t really ask for more than that in one episode…

    • A Dangerous Sloth says:

      I just hope TTG keeps it up with comic book adaptations. It is really the perfect genre for a lot of comics.

  6. deadly.by.design says:

    The last screenshot:
    Telltale chose Papyrus as the font for scene timestamps? Weird.

    This seems like an interesting game, but I will probably wait for an entire ‘season’ (or whatever) to be available before thinking about a purchase.

  7. Shooop says:

    I think it’s important to note what PC Gamer did – perhaps the biggest difference between this series and The Walking Dead is there’s no one acting as a moral compass.

    Dead had Clementine who you most likely wanted to do the best thing for. No character like that to be found in Wolf. At least not yet, and hopefully never.

    • Nuno Miguel says:

      Well, I wanted to do the best for both Faith and Snow. Way to kick a guy in the nuts!

  8. Yosharian says:

    Walking Dead was a fantastic game, and this looks even better. Really stoked to play this. Where were these games during the summer/September?!

    Speaking of the Walking Dead, does everyone know that the series reopened last night? Can’t fricking wait.

  9. UncleLou says:

    I am a bit shocked (1 hour in) how much better this looks than TWD. Colours, lighting, camera angles are so much better that it feels a lot more, well, professional, and really like a comic brought to life this time around.

  10. phuzz says:

    Does anyone know how well this will run on a non gaming laptop?
    Apparently the Walking Dead ran ok and I’m assuming this is pretty similar, but I’d like to know before I buy it for a mate…
    (alternatively, is there a way to buy it on XBLA as a gift?)

    • kael13 says:

      How ‘non-gaming’ are we talking about here? I imagine anything like an Intel HD3000 will run it fine.

      • phuzz says:

        It’s Win7, so pretty recent, but presumably only integrated graphics. I’ve found a few people saying that Walking Dead runs fine on crappy laptops, and I assume this is using the same engine.

        • klmx says:

          FWIW, the walking dead ran pretty well on my old 13″ MBP which only has a 320m. As long as the listed GPU doesn’t state Intel HD Graphics (which is different from a HD3000) then you’re fine I think.

  11. Scissors says:

    Spoiler: ITS AWESOME

  12. DarkMalice says:

    Never read Fables (not that interested in comics in any sense really if I’m honest).
    I liked TWD.
    This though, this was an amazing, highly entertaining episode and I cannot wait for the rest.

  13. pilouuuu says:

    This game is pure style! I always thought Telltale’s games always looked somewhat cheap, but the mix of The Walking Dead graphics and a sort of 80s comic book style is amazing!

    I’m also glad that there seems to be more choice and consequence this time. Hopefully this time your decisions will really matter and we will have an amazing game that we’ll want to replay to try different paths.

    I always have been a fan of Telltale’s games despite its shortcomings and I’m glad that they finally seem to have found their own style and are doing it right.

  14. PhilKenSebben says:

    Adored this. Much more than TWD. Loving where this is going.

  15. Monkeyshines says:

    I really enjoyed this first episode and am not a big fan of the comics. To be fair, I only read one graphic novel compilation that felt too trite to really continue. After reading American Gods, how could Fable compare?

    I burned out quickly on The Walking Dead comics as well. But Telltale seems to have a knack for bringing something new and refreshing into these universes – at least for someone like me who tasted them and bounced off.

    It’s good, very good. I happily spent two hours in Bigby’s shoes and honestly can’t wait for the next episode.

  16. blackmyron says:

    Because it comes across in almost every interview with him?

    Also, he seems to have strange dislike of Neil Gaiman.

  17. PampleMoose says:

    As someone who hasn’t read Fables, but who has played Episode 1 and who played the Walking Dead, I MUCH prefer this to the the Walking Dead. It looks and sounds so much better, the characters are more interesting, and I just like the hard boiled police feel to it all. I already feel like I’m given a bit of a leash in terms of following leads and forming theories. It’ll be interested to see how the choices pan out, but I already feel like I’m role playing way more than I did in the Walking Dead. I feel like I have a good grasp of who my Bigby is. Now let’s hope it plays out well.

    Incidentally, I realised I would kill for an episodic procedural detective game, with a TWAU kind of pulpy feel and focus on character and genuine drama, but with a Police Quest kind of focus on process. Telltate, buy that PQ license and get onto it!

  18. sleepisthebrotherofdeath says:

    My occasionally faulty memory reckons that the puzzles in The Walking Dead faded from episode to episode. Crossing the motel forecourt in episode one didn’t overly tax the brain but it was an extended sequence that required pauses for thought about the immediate consequences of any chosen action. Obstacles in later episodes tended to be solved by looking at every hotspot in a room and then picking a line of dialogue.

    This is why I never got past episode two. Even though every upon everyone said I had to play it to the end. Couldn’t muster the energy.

  19. WuXeS says:

    Who else saw the title pic and though this must be a sequel to Papers, Please?

  20. MistetQuestionable says:

    I appreciate the Raymond Chandler reference in the article. :B