By Alec Meer on July 11th, 2014 at 11:00 am.
Well, how to do this without spoilers? “In the final episode of the first season of Telltale’s adaptation of/prequel to comic series Fables, the current storyline is concluded semi-satisfactorily and there are more quick-time events than usual.” There you go, we’re done here.
Fine. FINE. You want more? Fine.
This is a much more action-heavy chapter, featuring both a boss fight (which eventually plunges into dramatic and agreeable absurdity) and a car chase, plus the option to kill a fair few supporting cast members. Between that are some extended being-talked-at-scenes, leading up to an awkward kangaroo court moment that I felt relied too heavily on characters’ attitudes lurching arbitrarily, and made them all seem like feckless dunderheads for it.
Still, Cry Wolf maintains the tension and nastiness that has typified this largely great miniseries, doing a particularly good job of creating visually unsettling characters and a constant, gnawing doubt about whether what appears to be the right thing is really anything of the sort. I’m not fan of quicktime events in general, but they were well-judged and not too punitive here, and a move to more action did seem appropriate for a climactic episode. A drama’s final act so often depends upon a sense that everything might fall apart in the last moments, after all.
I also very much appreciate that it strives to make its ultimate villain be one who fights with softly-spoken rhetoric rather than fists/talons/axes/creepy mirror-magic, even if the options to call out blatant flaws in some of that rhetoric are maddeningly absent.
While the major denouement does offer a critical choice about what sort of character you want Bigby to be, it is also very much determined to follow its own twisting path (again, with the supporting cast’s opinions flip-flopping wildly in order to create artificial tension) and I found the lack of logical responses in some instances distracting.
For instance, pointing out that the character in question has repeatedly tried to have Bigby killed in plain sight prompts the blasé claim that it was “a misunderstanding”, which is not challenged further. Haven’t we all accidentally ordered a murder at least once or twice, eh? I know, I know – never look for perfect logic in the brazenly fantastical, but this was a lynchpin scene that unfortunately felt forced.
This has long been the key challenge these games face – they want to offer choice, but they also want to tell a story, and the tension between those dual goals is extreme. We saw it in, to name but one, Mass Effect 3 too – the writers’ conception of a fitting conclusion sitting ill with the players’ desired resolution to what they’d felt was their own personal story.
This doesn’t hand-wave anything away with space-magic at least, and most importantly it allows you to wind things up being the sort of Bigby you’ve consistently been – the big bad wolf, the hard-bitten lawman, or a little bit of both. None of them quite solve anything, and that it entirely appropriate for this setting, and the grudging alliances that Fabletown is built upon.
Looking back at the series as a whole, it remains the Telltale tale I’ve most connected with, but I don’t think it’s truly lived up to the promise of that first episode. Detective work fell by the wayside all too soon, too many of the supporting cast seem like dumbos who change their minds at the drop of a hat (the court scene put me in mind of one of Springfield’s angry pitchfork-wielding mobs) and – something I appreciate is wholly subjective – the ultimate whodunnit seemed a touch unsatisfying.
Perhaps Transparently Nasty People Inevitably Do Nasty Things was always the moral of the tale, but one thing I’ve missed is excited guessing as to who did what and when, why it couldn’t have been him because he was there, why she seems shifty and everything else that watching too many episodes of Columbo has taught me.
The thing is, this wasn’t a detective story. It was fantasy melodrama. The Wolf Among Us has a great setting, great tone, great music and at least a couple of great characters, and while there’s been a great deal of unmet potential, it’s a series I’ve really enjoyed. The sombre tone and bleak neon styling kept it high in my affections even when logic and flow were more troublesome. If it comes back – as a couple of post-denouement stings suggests it might – perhaps it will take a bigger shot at being a monster-tinged police procedural, but at least I’ll be more prepared for it not to be.
It’s important to note that I haven’t seen all the outcomes, though I have researched most of those I’ve missed. I am strongly tempted to play the whole series through again, behaving very differently (i.e. like a massive great prick) and then think more upon the series as a whole. It has been a good series, though I wish it had been able to aim higher.
The Wolf Among Us Episode 5: Cry Wolf is out now, but only available as part of a full season pass.