Anthony "Tony" Magestro--or known on the field of battle as Metzge--is an avid writer, gamer, and entrepreneur. When he's not writing, gaming, or entrepreneuring, he enjoys cooking, trippy movies, and trying to be awesome to varying degrees of success. Feel free to check out his LinkedIn page, especially if you need freelance help with content writing or digital marketing. Or just like to network, that's fine too.
Last November, I was a little apprehensive of Telltale‘s newest comic-book-turned-adventure-game The Wolf Among Us when it first appeared on Steam’s digital shelves. Granted, I knew nothing of the setting, but I did know that the folks at Telltale are masters of breathing life into great stories so I figured I’d take a chance. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be putting it lightly. In fact, it’d be more accurate to say that I was blown away by this dark fairytale rendition of the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White, and other beloved folklore characters coping in the modern world of the mundane.
At the time of writing, I think it would be a fair assessment that when people hear “Telltale,” The Walking Dead series comes to mind. Throughout The Wolf Among Us‘ episodic development, The Walking Dead: Season 2 was being released along side it, almost alternating episode releases for a while (Season 2, Episode 4 is still in the works, for those wondering). That being said, taking on The Wolf Among Us was a sound choice to enchant us with, taking us away from the zombie-riddled lands of the southern United States in favor of 1980s New York City–specifically Fabletown, a neighborhood filled with fairytale refugees from the Homelands.
***** CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS *****
Based off of Bill Willingham’s Fables comic book series, The Wolf Among Us follows a string of murders being investigated by Bigby Wolf, Fabletown’s Sheriff. What begins as a routine crime investigation – granted, murders in Fabletown are exceptionally rare – turns into an all-out manhunt. With every stone turned, every lead followed up on, Bigby winds down a path of political corruption, not only tying to his target, but the very government he works for. Though the finale answers many of the questions we find ourselves asking, the game does a good job of remaining morally gray. Does the blame lie upon an organized crime syndicate or the failure of the public offices meant to serve the fables? As sheriff, this is a thought that remains creeping at the back of your head.
As far as gameplay is concerned, the action sequences that rely on quick-time events (QTE) are a lot more fluid than previous Telltale titles such as The Walking Dead: Season 1. Moreover, with the inclusion of absolute duality–that is, the player must choose to follow one path over the other, not both–it strengthens the arcing branches of an already engaging storyline. Though the Choice A or B limitation in some instances might frustrate some players in the moment (if only because we can’t choose to go after two criminals at once or save two people on opposite ends of the room), it’s this duality that allows the player to carve their own unique story and to feel like it’s truly their own.
By walking through one door, you will close another; by chasing down one suspect, you allow the other to get away and, thus, lock away any secrets he might have been hiding. You cannot simply go back and get a do-over. You have to live with your consequences. It’s this staunch realism and lesson in metaphysics that helps illustrate the ambiguity of morality and the constraints of mortal knowledge – our inherent lack of foresight in that our best intentions can pave our own roads to destruction.
Near the end of the game, your quarry even asks you, “Why did you do everything you’ve done?” seemingly looking past Bigby and to the player themselves. Did you pursue your target for revenge or for justice? How many people did you hurt along the way? Conversely, how badly did you allow yourself to be hurt in order to protect others? Did you bend the rules you were meant to enforce to protect your friends or did you pardon no one’s behavior, believing that justice and accountability are black and white?
As always, Telltale puts its players in a field of gray, allowing them to respond in a variety of ways that aren’t necessarily readily good or bad. It’s no wonder that it’s games like these that are actually used to teach children morality and the impact of our choices – or in some cases, indecision.
Though Telltale does a grand job at exposing us to the world of The Wolf Among Us, I couldn’t help but feel that the narrative was a little too short. With all of the characters introduced and this brand new world to explore, I personally felt pigeon-holed, having followed this one criminal. Perhaps I’m spoiled with the likes of L.A. Noire whose similar gameplay and story of a cop who’s trying to reconcile the sins of his past by doing good, though that game seemed to span at least a few months.
The Wolf Among Us seemed to happen all within a week, give or take a few days. Maybe Bigby’s just efficient, but I was curious to see how tracking down the culprit and getting thrown off the scent frustrated him. To be honest, I didn’t necessarily see much emotional interest from Bigby aside from, “I can’t have this murderer running around.”
That said, with all of the characters introduced, there was no true character development among any of them, save Snow White who found herself thrust into Crane’s old role as Deputy Mayor. Not only that, but the fact that her former boss once fantasized about her, going so far as hiring a prostitute, glamoured up to look like her, whose head was found on the front step of the Woodlands Apartment complex, still appearing to be Snow’s, at least left some emotional scarring. But I suppose the lack of deep character development might, again, be attributed to the story’s short time frame.
The ending also leaves us at a cliffhanger that doesn’t necessarily satisfy. By asking the question of “why did you do what you did?” and then throwing an entirely new spin on the game’s events at the very end, the twist makes it feel like everything you’ve done didn’t really mean anything – or at least have desired outcome you intended to have. However, that sets us up for a sequel easily, making the player explore then, “well, if not for the answer I provided, why did we go through all this?”
While the game tries to tie up any loose ends aside from the twist at the end, there are still a few questions I never got answered: what happened to Crane? What was Jack doing snooping in Crane’s apartment? Are things really better off without the Crooked Man (as the endings I got, it just seemed like everything went back to business as usual, as if everyone forgot about any kind of political corruption or negligence brought up at the very end)?
Despite the length and some of the plot’s shortcomings, The Wolf Among Us was still a strong addition to Telltale’s line-up of fantastic story-based adventure games. With Game of Thrones and Borderlands-themed titles on the way and with The Walking Dead: Season 2 wrapping up, I’m most interested to see if they can keep up their stride. Provided they continue to be successful, perhaps there’ll be The Wolf Among Us: Season 2 sometime in the future. Who knows?