Wot I Think: The Wolf Among Us Episode 3

By Alec Meer on April 10th, 2014 at 3:00 pm.

The third chapter of Telltale’s adventure game adaptation of the ‘what if fairy tales were real and lived in New York?’ comic Fables was released on Tuesday. I played it on Wednesday. I then published an article about it on Thursday. I might play it again on Friday. Here’s why.

Ah, that’s much better. After such a strong start – for me, the most compelling Telltale opener yet – The Wolf Among Us hit lengthy and mysterious delays, followed by a disappointingly perfunctory episode 2. It left me wondering if the series was playing for time, but now it has had that time. Fortunately, it seems to have paid off. Longer, with many more decisions, a stronger sense of consequence and a wise focus on character development above melodrama, this series can once again be said to be a wolf rather than a poodle.

OK, episode two spoilers below. I’m sorry about that, though it seems to me odd that anyone who hadn’t played previous instalments would want to read about the third. I will steer clear of spoilers for this new episode though. Oh, the below also presumes familiarity with the story and characters so far.

Much of this episode is focused more on the aftermath to the big reveals of the last one, rather than pushing the plot forwards too much. Holly and the ever-angry denizens of the Trip-Trap are mourning for the dead Lily and suspicious of Bigby’s intentions, while Snow White needs to be informed of Crane’s icky activities, as well as having to assume more authority in his wake.

Thus, much of what you, as Bigby, have to deal with is either mollifying or aggravating assorted wounded souls in order to dig up more information about who’s really behind the murders. There are powerful moments to be had in the many choices to be sympathetic or brusque, forever weighing up the need to be human against the need to extract information. There’s no more powerful words in any Telltale game than ‘NPC X will remember that’, and there are several deft moments here where seeing that message and knowing the ill it bodes is a sickening punch to the gut.

There’s also a decent gag revolving around one character not remembering something. Generally though, the mood of episode 3 is blacker than midnight in a disused coal mine on a sunless planet, and while the pounding sense of dread and tension can be overwhelming, it’s affectingly rather than oppressively so.

While I found myself annoyed by the long-standing Telltale tic of a summarised dialogue option turning out to be very different when Bigby speaks it aloud (e.g. when he’s asked if a part of him enjoys all the chaos and intrigue, picking ‘of course not’ results in him swearing and shouting in outrage, and the questioner miserably dropping the subject entirely), there’s enough character tics, big and small, in there to endorse the idea that he’s forever barely keeping a lid on his lupine rage. I think I would prefer a stronger hint that saying something apparently innocuous is going to result in him kicking off, though – there is an element of strategy to these games, in terms of keeping preferred NPCs sweet, and while half the fun is the surprise of various outcomes, more control over my own attitude would be welcome.

After some time spent dealing with Holly and Snow’s responses to recent events, the second half of a relatively long episode gets back to detective work. While it does suffer from this series’ ongoing problem of forever second-guessing plot beats and twists long before Bigby works it out himself, there are some big decisions to be made which appear to actively close off some lines of investigation. For this first time so far this series, I want to go back and play this episode again and make different choices, just to see what I missed.

However, the final act features heavy plot railroading and has me suspecting that this series may ultimately play out like The Walking Dead did, which was to finish with those choices we’d so agonised over only very lightly affecting a prescribed outcome. Knowing that everything has to tie up with the status quo at the start of the Fables comics doesn’t help there, although I suppose it’s still possible Telltale will throw a curveball at us and spin off into a completely new continuity.

That’s something to worry about in the future, however. One thing that does trouble me right now is that the main characters never seem to countenance even the possibility that anyone they meet or see incriminating photos of might be subject to the ‘Glamour’ magical disguises, which have been a major plot device several times already. Sure, Bigby’s closer to Marty Hart than Rust Cohle, but his (and his chums’) enforced ignorance in this regard is increasingly frustrating me.

The series has got the old ‘why doesn’t anyone in horror and thriller movies just call for help on their mobile phone?’ problem, and so far it’s opted to just pretend glamours don’t exist when it wants them out of the picture, rather than deploy the magical equivalent of ‘the battery’s dead’ or ‘there’s no signal here.’ I do hope there’s something to establish clear rules in later episodes, because right now I have no reason to believe anyone is who they appear to be.

Quibbles, eh? An inevitable consequence, perhaps, for a game that’s far more about word than deed. In any case, bar this growing bugbear and an oddly jumpy, hectic quality to some of the later scenes, A Crooked Mile puts The Wolf Among Us absolutely back on track. There’s probably the same amount of environment recycling as last time, but there’s enough new stuff too, and enough new intrigue, that it isn’t screamingly obvious here. I’m perhaps not quite as in love with this series as I was after episode 1, but I badly want to find out what happens next, and I badly want to play episode 3 again to see what I might have missed.

The Wolf Among Us Episode 3: A Crooked Mile is out now, but only available as part of a season pass.

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20 Comments »

  1. altum videtur says:

    “more control over my own attitude would be welcome.”

    Wow thats profound bruv

    Anyways. Intentionally or not that sentence kind of highlights both the core conflict of WOLFAMONGOUS and basic human nature.
    What a fecking disgrace.

  2. Premium User Badge daphne says:

    I’d be interested to hear about those closed lines of investigation — I didn’t get that feeling of missing anything at all, and it was very easy to imagine how the alternate order of investigation would have played out to be the same at the end, especially because, as you say, the final part is railroaded.

    SPOILERS!!!!!

    I went Crane > Tweedle > Trip Trap (or w/e that bar is called)

    • Ehlii says:

      I believe that, depending on how long you spend in each area, you don’t actually get the chance to visit all of them.

      • wilerson says:

        SPOILERS
        If I understood correctly, Blackbeard will always go either to the Tweedle’s or to Crane’s, whichever you don’t, and destroy any evidence you might find there. If you go to either one of these first, then go to the other second, you won’t spend as much time in the second, giving you time to go to the Trip Trap third. So, you’ll always be able to investigate the Trip Trap and one of the other places, but not the other.

  3. Premium User Badge amateurviking says:

    it seems to me odd that anyone who hadn’t played previous instalments would want to read about the third.

    Genuinely? I like to read good criticism. And I enjoy your writing. Have some positive vibes:

    +vibe+

    • silentdan says:

      Although you might not feel the same way, the vast, vast majority of people find that prior knowledge of the plot can diminish, or “spoil”, their appreciation of a story. TWAU hangs pretty much everything on its story, so it makes sense that most people would prefer not to know too much about the episode before playing it.

      • Premium User Badge amateurviking says:

        Oh I agree about the spoilers (I haven’t read the article as a result). I just meant that I’m happy to read Alec’s write-o-thinks(tm) irrespective of the subject matter. Same reason I read The Flare Path every week despite having no intention to sim it up to the max any time soon (although Tim and Graham’s writing about OMSI 2 were so evocative that I’m tempted to have a go).

  4. Snow Mandalorian says:

    Would anyone else be okay with The Wolf Among us being an animated show instead of a game? I really dug episode 1, but most of the time I simply wanted to put down the controller and let the story just unfold on its own rather than pretend that I had any kind of meaningful control of the character and/or the way the story plays out.

    If you’re going to make a series like this barely a game at all, and pretty much railroad every choice to end up with the same consequence, why not just give us a cinematic option instead? I really like the atmosphere of the game. The music, the voice acting, it all gives it a grittier and darker atmosphere than the comics themselves have. Telltale has done a tremendous job world-building, but I just can’t get over the fact that I’m not really *playing* anything, I’m passively *watching* what they’ve created for us. And that’s good! Because it’s all rather well done! Just don’t call it a game, or at least give those of us who don’t find the “gamey” portions fun at all a cinematic mode where we can just lay down and enjoy it like we would a show.

    • Volcanu says:

      I actually have similar feelings with the Walking Dead, albeit I would like to make the choices – like a choose-your-own adventure book by Ian Livingstone.

      I feel the gamey bits are never very satisfying or fun and find myself just wanting to get to the next bit of dialogue/plot development.

    • Ehlii says:

      This is the most common criticism against TellTale’s recent adventure games, and I guess it depends on how willing to suspend disbelief you are.

      I’d say you’re approaching the game from the wrong angle. The entire point is that you’re forced to make difficult decisions under time pressure. *That* is the gameplay. The worry, fear, confusion and uncertainty you feel in dialogue and when making decisions is the core mechanic at play here. Whether the conclusion is the same or not is irrelevant, because it’s the journey that matters in this case. This holds both for the walking dead (season 1), where a lot of this tension in decision making is amplified by the need to care for Clementine, and for the wolf among us, where you constantly are made to feel like the ‘big bad wolf’ is just under the surface and you’re struggling to find this balance.

      That’s why I don’t feel any of these games would work with a ‘cinematic’ mode. Sure, they’d be fine, but they wouldn’t be anything special, and this would come at the cost of losing the tension and emotional connection that the player makes to the world.

      Again, as I said, this all depends on how much you can suspend your disbelief. If you can put yourself into this world, in the place of these characters, I feel like you’d probably enjoy these games the way they were intended. Otherwise, it might just not be for you.

      • Snow Mandalorian says:

        I guess my problem is that the bit of meta-game knowledge that I have, knowing that my choices are an illusion, prevent me from getting into it as intended.

        Couple the illusory nature of the choices with the fact that there’s hardly any *game* here, that the illusory choices *are the meat and bones* of the game, and you’re left underwhelmed.

        I’m just honestly flabbergasted that Telltale keeps repeating the same bs, that your choices affect the story in meaningful ways, despite our knowing the contrary, and have known it for a while. It’s just dishonest. If they didn’t claim their games are meaningful story generators, rather than an on-rails narrative, then I’d be less inclined to be as harsh.

        It’s the fact that they promote the game as being something it isn’t, and the knowledge that the game has a rather shallow core, that disappoints me. If it had a cinematic mode I’d be fine with it not pretending to be something it isn’t.

      • danijami23 says:

        You know, it’s sort of funny. It’s like telltale are trying to amalgamate japanese story games with point and click adventures. Which I suppose is kind of redundant; I would have greatly preferred to just have been part of the story’s gradual unfolding, at least then I wouldn’t have to deal with the ghastly QTEs everywhere.

    • AngusPrune says:

      I had the same thought. I enjoyed the hell out of episode 3, and the series as a whole so far, it’s going a long way to making up for how disappointing the Walking Dead is this time around. However, they do seem to have stripped away most of the game-y things about the game. I can’t complain though, wandering around clicking things on things is not really why I buy these games.

  5. engion3 says:

    Niceeee, loved episode 2

  6. Laurentius says:

    SPOILERY

    When it works, it works but when pace drops it doesn’t work at all as a decent crime story, in good crime story you have to at least try to cover or explain why detective don’t do some obvious things. Here Wolf completly droping investigation about first murder when second body is ridiculous. There were tons of people to be questioned and cross-examined about Faith but Bigby comletly forgot about it, he’s coming as an bloddy idiot.

    • bleeters says:

      To be fair, the majority of this episode revolved around tracking down and catching one specific person who all signed pointed to being involved, based on their only lead at the time as to where he might be a couple of hours from now. He can only do so much at once.

  7. MichaelGC says:

    I would have been interested to read this without having yet played any of them, as I’m waiting to see how the whole series pans out – I’d prefer not to get all involved in the story only to find they masseffect the ending, or something.

    Anyway, sounds as though things are moving in the right direction, so I’ll look forward to reading the first few paragraphs of the Ep. 4 WYT!

  8. Premium User Badge Jackablade says:

    Hey maybe someone can clarify this for me.

    Without getting too spoilery, what exactly does Bluebeard do as part of the Fable law enforcement? I’m never quite sure whether on a professional level at least, I’m supposed to be working along side him despite him being A. allegedly untrustworthy, B. historically a mass murdering psychopath and C. a jerk. It was probably spelled out somewhere along the line and I’ve just forgotten about it.

    • Snow Mandalorian says:

      This answer is based on the comics:

      Bluebeard doesn’t really work for Fabletown’s law enforcement. In fact, Fabletown’s law enforcement *just is* Bigsby Wolf. Whenever trouble arises and they need some tough men to help along, they usually contact Bluebeard, Prince Charming, and a few others to help out. Bluebeard is basically there to help because he’s a tough dude. He’s also the richest person in Fabletown, having had the opportunity to hoard loads of treasure from the home lands and taking it with him to fabletown.

      And don’t forget, Bigsby himself was a mass murderer before coming to fabletown!

  9. noodlecake says:

    ‘why doesn’t anyone in horror and thriller movies just call for help on their mobile phone?’

    I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be set in the 80s. I wasn’t sure at first but there are no flat screen TVs, ipods, mobile phonesd and there is a character who has a really huge boombox that he’s protective of.

    I really enjoyed this chapter. The best one so far.