By Alec Meer on May 28th, 2014 at 5:00 pm.
The fourth part of Telltale’s inadvertently long-running adaptation of fairy-tales-in-modern-New-York comic Fables was released yesterday. As, like its predecessors, it can only be bought as part of a season pack, part of me questions the wisdom of writing it up individually, but hey, I’ve started so I’ll finish. I do avoid largely spoilers below, but it’s going to be pretty nonsensical if you’ve not played the series so far.
Everything’s going in the right direction now. This is the episode of Telltale’s fairy tale noir adventure where the brooding atmosphere of menace and distrust is fully backed up by events and implications. While, to a significant degree, the overly-obviously-titled ‘In Sheep’s Clothing’ is a retread of prior episodes’ structure, it’s finally moving away from questions and onto answers, as well as capitalising on some character relationships which had been either lightly sketched or outright abandoned since the first episode. With the net tightening – whether around the perpetrator or around our heroes remains an open question – there’s a real sense that people are in danger, and that I might be the one to bring doom to their door.
While this episode features a now-mandatory, quicktime event-led scene of lupine combat and a dilemma around which of two leads to explore first, at its heart it’s about choosing where your loyalties ultimately lie, and what kind of a hero you want to be. There are opportunities to settle old scores, and equally there are opportunities to bury very particular hatchets – and not necessarily in the back of someone’s skull, for a change.
There are a couple of gruffly touching scenes here (if you choose to play them that way), and some real catharsis too: I dearly hope that some of the apparent supporting cast resolutions are just that, and that we aren’t in for more convenient moral flip-flopping come the finale.
And yes, there are answers and reveals. Some are relatively obvious, and I think it’s fair to say that no rugs are pulled from under our feet. The plot seems to be heading in one direction, but I suppose a final act twist is still a possibility – right now though, it looks as though Wolf Among Us will fit very neatly into established Fables canon. It’s probably just a question of whose else’s blood gets spilt on the way there.
All that said, a couple of perceived hints have led me to heap new suspicion on previously-trusted characters. I suspect it’s just my paranoia at play, but part of me is still braced for another Glamour-derived upsetter.
In retrospect, there’s just as much railroading here as in any other episode, including the lacklustre part 2, but somehow it seems to matter less. A pounding sense of urgency and dread means any aimless wandering and poking at furniture would seem absurd. I do think it’s a great shame that episode 1’s promise of true detective work has been largely abandoned – since then, you pretty much find everything you need to whatever you do, there’s just more or less shouting and punching en route. Still, Wolf Among Us has by now firmly established itself as more of a cinematic endeavour than an investigative one.
The ongoing choice of attitude – helpful, surly or brutal – adds enough of a skein of interactivity and unpredictability that I’m OK with that. To some degree, one has to accept what these games are, not rail in vain about what they might have been. The Wolf Among Us wants to tell me a story, and it also wants to watch me react to that story. I’m very much enjoying that, especially with the heightened darkness of this chapter (it’s no less comic book than before, but the grey-area supporting cast have moved away from wonkily-accented caricature and into something a little more nuanced and unsettling) and the new sense that things are lurching towards resolution.
Speaking of Wolf Among Us’ consciously filmic inclinations, I have a couple of long-standing gripes I want to get off my chest. The Telltale games have consistently failed to include either surround sound (it’s even resistant to the upmixing thingy on my Soundblaster card) or decent anti-aliasing. There’s some bargain basement AA in there, but it’s barely doing anything. I accept that these are perhaps issues only for a minority, but they trouble me because they’re bringing down what’s otherwise such a well-presented show, and games which clearly pride sound and vision highly (even over and above True Videogame, if you listen to the ever-moaners).
When a game as lovely-looking as this is cursed by distracting jaggies and men with zig-zagging faces, or when it’s denied the atmospheric boon of rear speaker rainfall and clear centre dialogue, it’s just a damned shame, you know? I’m far too ignorant about the technical side of such things to make lazy claims about how easy this stuff would be to implement, but I do see indie games with rather less apparent resources managing to do better than this. More to the point, it’s been this way in Telltale games for such a long time now that I’m worried it’s simply an oversight no-one’s thought to do anything about.
I digress, at too much length. Let’s return to the light by saying that I think this is the best episode yet, despite being a little on the short side, and despite having repetition at its foundation it does a bloody good job of both concealing it and dragging me deeper into the game’s murky world. I know that I’m being sheep-herded to a fairly fixed conclusion, and I’m now enjoying the neon snarl of the ride enough to be entirely comfortable with that.
The Wolf Among Us episode 4: In Sheep’s Clothing is out now, but can only be bought as part of a season pack.