The Wolf Among Us drops you into the world of Bill Willingham’s acclaimed Fables series as Bigby Wolf, the Sheriff of Fabletown. Despite being in dire need of a shave and having something of a wild streak in him, Bigby isn’t a bad guy. Of course solving crimes within a secret society of fairy tale characters you once terrorized as the Big Bad Wolf could turn anyone to the bottle, or a raging beast.
Fables centers around a community of folkloric characters forced to live out their secret lives in New York as they endure the pains of our harsh reality. Those who don’t already possess a human appearance must shell out for an expensive glamour spell to conceal their true form or face being shipped off to an undesirable location called ‘The Farm’ upstate. Having read the first few volumes of the comic this was all familiar ground for me, but easing a newcomer into the setting could make for a rough transition if not handled correctly. Luckily Telltale manages to pull off one of the finest jobs of immersion into an established universe I’ve ever seen.
After a few opening lines of text and a gorgeously rendered intro pulled right from the pages of some pulp detective comic, we are given control of Bigby and the episode begins. If you haven’t read the comics never fear, you’re given just the right amount of knowledge in hand to get a handle on things while keeping enough unknowns in place to turn up a wonderful surprise at every twist and turn. By their very nature first episodes tend to busy themselves with heavy-handed world building and information dumps, but instead we are finessed through a series of subtle dialogue and soft gestures that key us into the way things are in the world of Fables while simultaneously advancing the plot.
Unlike the Walking Dead’s protagonist Lee Everett, Bigby Wolf seems to be less of an empty vessel for players to mold through their choices. As a well-defined character with an equally strong personality and plight established, we already have a good sense of where Bigby stands. Decisions still hold weight and keep us referring to our moral compass frequently, but it often feels like choosing between doing the right thing or doing the right thing like a bad ass. There are still plenty of tough calls to make, yet every decision doesn’t manage to carry that weight of life or death hanging in the balance like it did in a zombie apocalypse. Repercussions for our actions in a series like this can be hard to interpret in the early episodes and seem inconsequential. However, receiving the obligatory notification of “he won’t forget that” when I break a bottle over a characters head is definitely not the kind of clarification I need.
Mechanically I enjoyed my time with the first episode of Wolf Among Us considerably more than with its Walking Dead counterpart. Interaction with the environment has received significant polish and navigating feels more fluid this time around. Quick time events also make a return in The Wolf Among Us; an insipid game mechanic of which I am a loud and regular opponent to. When a game tells me ‘press X now to not die’ it’s insulting my intelligence and even worse, my hand-eye coordination. The visual displays during these sequences were excellent, but the onscreen queues were so conspicuous that it ended up distracting me from the action. My interest in how the story would be impacted by these moments always prevailed, ultimately eclipsing my distaste for the quick time event feature. Another thing worth noting is how these interactive action sequences felt as though failure might be treated as a potential outcome rather than with a prompt to try again. If that suspect I pursued over rooftops and through back alleyways managed to get away, or that rumble with the Woodsman got me beaten to a pulp instead of the other way around the story might have progressed differently. Whether there’s some truth to this angle or it’s just a crackpot theory of mine is irrelevant because it felt that way every time.
While some might cry foul that there are no true puzzles to speak of I felt the pacing was on point for the opening episode of any new series. By clearing away the brick-wall puzzles we’re all so accustomed to getting hung up on in point-and-click adventures the episode was able to flow from one scene to the next and focus its attention on story and character development instead. Any other time I would be in the camp of naysayers shouting “Where’s the game play?” but with the Telltale pedigree for storytelling, I’m more than happy to submerge myself in the world and enjoy the adventure. Knowing every choice I made impacted the outcome of the story; solving crime scenes and deciding which urgent matters would be my priority really got me feeling like a proper gumshoe.
Overall The Wolf Among Us is a deliciously authentic romp through Mr. Willingham’s fantastical world. If you’ve read the comics you’ll appreciate seeing the Fables universe come to life with all its little nods to longtime followers and if you haven’t it makes for a wonderfully entrancing introduction to the series. The story is gripping, the dialogue tight and the art comes across like a living, breathing comic book. It’s never felt so good to be the Big Bad Wolf.