Smell like I sound, I’m lost in a crowd
The Wolf Among Us: Episode One—as far as I can tell from a game that is functionally the opening chapter to a long-form piece of fiction—tells the sort of well-written story we’ve come to expect from Telltale Games. Unfortunately, it’s not an altogether interesting one.
Interesting, in this case, refers to a sense of originality. It’s hard to have your attention held by something that’s as thoroughly routine as “Faith,” the first episode of The Wolf Among Us. The major plot beats are instantly recognizable to anyone versed in detective fiction, be that through voracious readings of the classics (The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon—Devil in a Blue Dress, if you’re feeling more contemporary) or an unhealthy addiction to any of the countless crime dramas on television. Worse yet, the pivotal moments in “Faith” are predictable.
Not unlike Telltale’s best-known graphic adventure undertaking, The Walking Dead, things unfold at a solid pace backed by solid dialogue and solid writing, but it’s all very paint-by-numbers as far as detective fiction goes. And while predictability could be arguably quaint in certain storytelling scenarios, for a murder-mystery tale, ratcheting tension till it’s taut is crucial. Predictably cuts suspense down and compromises emotional gravitas and investment. Ultimately, the party responsible for keeping me interested in The Wolf Among Us and keeping things feeling somewhat fresh is its premise. Despite the current deluge of network television shows shamelessly ripping off Fables, its stories of fairytale and folklore characters transplanted into real-world New York are still fascinating.
Fandom for Bill Willingham’s comic book series is certainly not required to appreciate The Wolf Among Us, but it does heighten enjoyment. Due to my familiarity with the source material, I found myself looking forward to meeting more of the cast just to see how Telltale would bring Willingham’s interpretations to life. I mean, we’re talking about the Big Bad Wolf that’s as hard drinkin’, hard fightin’, and committed to chain smoking as Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe.
Love of the lore also helps to spice up the narrative somewhat by positioning this prequel in a fascinating way. Fans will know what the larger series continuity demands of the narrative and be intrigued by the way it zags where they might expect it to zig. At the same time, being shackled to canon means the game can’t meaningfully alter these characters’ established destinies, so all we’re left with are (assumedly) toothless twists and turns. In that respect, The Wolf Among Us, feels like it’s pulling all its punches.
I think, however, these narrative complaints would be made much more tolerable if storytelling weren’t the only thing carrying The Wolf Among Us. As a game, it feels outmoded in the presence of other recent examples of interactive storytelling. Plot points should reveal themselves through player-driven interaction, and there’s only the requisite amount in “Faith.” There’s a serious lack of actual investigation, despite protagonist Bigby Wolf’s status as sheriff and chief mystery-solver of Fabletown. The Wolf Among Us’ opening chapter is a guided experience that’s more about the exploration of dialogue and decisions than being placed in a world worth knowing. That’s not to say that reshaping narrative landscape through your interactions with other characters isn’t compelling. It is. It’s just not enough. Of course, I could change my tune an episode or two down the line when those choices play out in interesting ways. Immediately, however, it feels absent.
The rest of its gameplay consists of quick-time events that, due to absolutely unacceptable performance issues on the Xbox 360 version, were sometimes frustrating to the point of seeming broken. I felt powerless during one physical altercation thanks to a ludicrous framerate drop. At times, The Wolf Among Us chugs along as though it needs to summon every frame from some impossibly distant point located across the galaxy. I’ve seen much more demanding games run considerably better, and I’ve seen titles with a similar sort of playstyle perform just fine. I know you can spin a yarn, Telltale. Now learn how to let the skein unspool without getting caught on every object nearby.
Look, I admit: It’s far too early to judge The Wolf Among Us as a whole. As far as this first episode, “Faith,” goes? I’m just not very impressed. Yet. But I want to be.
|Developer: Telltale Games • Publisher: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 10.11.2013|
The Wolf Among Us is novel but, as of its first episode, not really all that captivating, either as a game or a work of fiction. There’s a wealth of potential, though—enough that I’m entertained and looking forward to plot progression in Episode Two.
|The Good||Great presentation, comic book aesthetic, and noir vibe.|
|The Bad||Lacking in player-driven agency.|
|The Ugly||Some of the Fables’ true forms, particularly the bartender at Trip Trap.|
|The Wolf Among Us: Episode One – Faith is available for Xbox 360 (XBLA), PS3 (PSN), and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.|