Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Wolf Among Us Episode One: Faith

Published and developed by Telltale Games
Based on the comic series Fables created by Bill Willingham
Played on Xbox 360

     As great as The Walking Dead was, I was a bit skeptical about The Wolf Among Us, simply because taking Walking Dead's choices and throwing it on Fables didn't seem like it would work. After all, Fables has been less about hard choices and more about grand schemes. And yet, to my surprise, Faith immediately shows how Wolf Among Us can combine this gameplay with a new look at the Fables world.
     Taking place before the comic series, The Wolf Among Us has you playing as Bigby Wolf (Adam Harrington), the sheriff of Fabletown. When a woman ends up dead on the doorstep of the elite apartment building The Woodlands, it's up to Bigby and Snow White (Erin Yvette) to figure out who she was and who killed her.
     Don't worry if you don't know Fabletown from Storybrooke, or anything about Fables in general. The basic premise you need to know is just that all the people and creatures from fables and fairy tales used to live in their own lands, but now they're hiding out in New York City. Not only is it helpfully summarized at the start of the episode, each new Fable you meet gives you an entry in the Book of Fables that tells you who they are. The game is made to be friendly both to newcomers and long-time fans, with plenty of classic characters mixed together with all-new ones. This does come with the problem that people who have read even just the first arc of Fables know who's expendable and who's not.
     This doesn't hurt the game's story, though. And tonally, Fables shows once again how it can branch out by taking on more of a noir-ish feel. The cel-shaded graphics are covered in darkness and shadow. The bright coloring of the comics is replaced with poorly-lit rooms and bars. It gives the game a completely different atmosphere from the comics, and it also shows the difference of the choices here compared to Walking Dead. You're not deciding who survives or who eats. You're deciding where to investigate first, who to question, who you suspect is the murderer. It's a great feeling, and as before, the choice system makes even simple conversations intense as you decide whether you're playing good cop or big, bad wolf.
     The game does have a couple problems that pop up in this episode. For one, on the 360 version, there's a lot of loading and some lag. Nothing game-breaking or anything, it can just be disappointing to have to wait for a while between scenes. There's also the fact that the Telltale engine badly needs an update. It still looks good graphically, but the animations are old. Bigby's tie-straightening is clearly pulled from Sam in Sam & Max, and a look from a bartender gave me deja vu from the many female characters she resembles. Even just a change in art style would help make the engine feel fresh again, instead of borderline punishing Telltale fans.

     A few hiccups don't hurt a solid start to a new series. Telltale has finally perfected the “interactive movie” style of gameplay, and it's everything we knew it could be.

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