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.