‘Fables’ are among us, or at least they are in The Wolf Among Us, the new episodic adventure game from Telltale Games, the developers behind the multi-award winning The Walking Dead. Fables, you see, are mythical creatures. Snow White, Mr Toad, Little Red Riding Hood et al, hidden from view of the regular ‘mundies’ (that’s humans, to you and me) by witchcraft, and kept in line by the Big Bad Wolf himself, Sheriff Bigby. Dark times are afoot, however, as someone is murdering fables, leaving their severed heads at Bigby’s doorstep. The Wolf Among Us, then, is a detective serial of sorts. As Bigby you investigate these strange goings on, and try to catch your fellow fables in their lies. Of course, this coming from Telltale Games, things aren’t quite that simple. What you say and do, as Bigby, can often have dramatic consequences.
To those who played the fantastic The Walking Dead, the gameplay mechanics and control scheme of The Wolf Among Us will feel immediately familiar. Having said that, here it has been through a not insignificant overhaul. As you move around the neon-noir landscape with the left stick, you use the right stick to focus in on areas of interest. A context specific button tap allows you to look more closely, touch or otherwise engage with these objects. This addition to the gameplay system certainly livens up the exploration sections of the game, and in one particular sequence it proves integral to your progress.
The combat system has also been treated to some fairly substantial upgrades, although these can sometimes be a hindrance. As the rather gruff Sheriff, Bigby often has to let his fists do the talking. Here, a context specific stick push or button tap will allow you to dodge incoming blows, while the right stick and shoulder buttons enable focused attacks. When the system comes together well the combat is enjoyable and flows smoothly. Occasionally, however, the onscreen button prompts are scattered and inconsistent, with barely time for them to register, meaning that at these points you’re essentially flailing. Thankfully, these instances are rare, and the combat is a mostly welcome upgrade from the combat of The Walking Dead.
As you would expect from Telltale Games, The Wolf Among Us is stylish and graphically striking. Taking its design cues from the graphic novel stylings of The Walking Dead, with an added splash of neon, the game is a joy to experience. There’s a touch of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive to the artwork and music, which is welcome and interesting, whilst the adult tone makes for a refreshing slant on fairy tale legends. Like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us is based on a series of graphic novels, and it would certainly seem that Telltale are more than comfortable working with such rich source material.
Sheriff Bigby makes for a solid antihero. Depending on the choices you make he is either a gruff, world-weary yet ultimately decent sort, or a vicious, aggressive tyrant. While he is fascinating in his own right, he is not as immediately sympathetic as Lee in The Walking Dead. There is, of course, plenty of room in gaming for flawed characters and antiheroes (with the emphasis squarely on anti). Here, however, it can be slightly disengaging. Where The Walking Dead worked so brilliantly was with its characters, people you could believe in and feel protective of. By the very nature of itself, The Wolf Among Us is always going to struggle to engage in a similar way, with its cast of mythical fairy tale creatures. Even so, Telltale Games have crafted a fine first episode in what promises to be a fascinating series. Here’s hoping that the episodes to come allow us to connect a bit more with the human side of these fairy tales.