The Wolf Among Us, Episode 1: Faith – Test
One can speculate for a long time whether Telltale should at least invite David Cage and Quantic Dream over for a few drinks. The Walking Dead, with which Telltale found his own personal variety of interactive narrative adventure, contained a lot of heavy rain. It wasn’t interested in puzzles, but in stories and how the players would behave in various, unenviable situations. With The Wolf Among Us, that formula is now perfect. The proximity to the recently published quasi-successor to Heavy Rain, Beyond, shows that the two teams are made of different woods.
Quantics David Cage is first and foremost a decent director with lots of good ideas, but leaves a lot to be desired in terms of writing skills. He often confuses ‘complicated’ with ‘interesting’ and puts the possible effect of a twist above its plausibility in the context of what is shown. He regularly exercises restraint in exactly the wrong place (for example, in Heavy Rain, the explanation for the suspicious visions of the maternal father Ethan Mars was inexplicably deleted, just to leave a gaping hole in the plot). Telltale, on the other hand, knows about the power of simple stories, easily understandable dilemmas and good dialogues.
Colin, one of the ‘three little pigs’, thinks he’s got something good at Bigby.
The Californians draw a lot of narrative esprit from exotic premises instead of building overly complex story structures. In their games, the complicated part happened before the action took place and is an important component of the stage design, but never the meaning and purpose of the story. Because it is almost always decidedly grounded. Putting a convicted murderer in charge of an eight-year-old girl against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse is compelling without unnecessary sequins. The Wolf Among Us, which is based on the fantastic graphic novel ‘Fables’ by Bill Willingham and is set about 20 years before the books, works according to a similar pattern. It’s a more or less classic noir crime thriller with well-known archetypes. The investigation of a guy who is anything but suitable as a lifesaver because it goes against his own nature. How is such a person supposed to find the right path?
Clear the stage
Simple, isn’t it? The twist is that the characters are refugees from fairy tale land who live incognito in modern New York. Snow White is the assistant to King Cole, the boss of this shadow society, Ichabod Crane is his deputy, the frog drives a taxi and you, you are the “Big Bad Wolf”, here ‘Bigby Wolf’, who urgently wants to change and therefore the sheriff the community is. The fables, whose appearance is not human, have to put on a human shell with a wretchedly expensive magic potion. Not everyone can afford this elixir of witches, however, and so violations of the camouflage obligation are punished with a banishment to ‘the farm’, which houses the myths and monsters somewhere in the country in New York State. Qed: The story is easy to relate to, almost classic, the complicated part is already behind the characters and is mainly responsible for the flavor.
And what a spice it is: The Wolf Among Us with its bright colors between hard, deep black shadows in tone and art direction alone is so dark and morbid that you want to wrap yourself up in this world, like in a warm blanket. This game of Telltaltes begins again in the back seat of a car, this time a taxi, because the frog called Bigby to investigate a violent disturbance of the peace on the second floor. Here ‘Woody’, the lumberjack from Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, archenemy – but now a hopeless drunkard and thug – is just an easy girl. A gripping, but ultimately more or less fixed QTE fight begins, in which Bigby’s true identity is almost exposed. But the girl is more than it seems and leaves the sheriff with more questions than answers. As a result, a dark series of murders unfolds in which nothing is as it initially appears. Bigby investigates crime scenes, interrogates witnesses and, if you ask the right questions, catches them teasing.
Visually, Wolf Among Us is closer to the comic than Walking Dead was. By the way, the abbreviation for the folder on my desktop is ‘WAU’, which can’t be a coincidence.
Many of the smaller decisions are again time-critical and, above all, tools for you to embody your Bigby the way you want it. One of the bigger decisions this time around (no spoiler!) Is which of two clues to pursue next and which suspect to pursue. You have a little more control over the process than before and the game knows how to present both options as valid in these moments. Here and there you are even seduced into a show of power (if you allow yourself to be seduced), although you know that maybe you shouldn’t be. That says a lot about the narrative talent of this team. At the latest with the cliffhanger for the next episode, which the developers are celebrating in an agonizing way, you know that you want to see this through to the end.
And that’s what gets stuck. So far, however, it has not been possible to assess whether the decisions will also have a satisfactory effect on the further course. Even now one can say that it will not go beyond the framework in which The Walking Dead moved. For some, that didn’t go far enough and this game is probably not made for them.
Everyone else is happy: The beautiful picture composition, the extremely suitable English speakers and the now much cleaner technology (not a hiccup in the tested PC version!) Fully engage you in this extremely interestingly told murder puzzle. In spite of their supernatural nature, the plot and the characters can be broken down with ease to a level where one can empathize with them. That’s how well they are written and embodied. Maybe David Cage will stop by Telltalte for a change for his next project. Then they would be even.
Order The Wolf Among Us from Amazon