By Marty Mulrooney
The Wolf Among Us: Episode One – Faith (PC) is the opening instalment of a brand new episodic adventure game series from Telltale Games, the creators of AMO’s pick for Game of the Year 2012 The Walking Dead: The Game. Based on the long-established, award-winning comic book series Fables by Bill Willingham and licensed by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, the game puts players in control of Bigby Wolf, a man once upon a time more infamously known as The Big Bad Wolf. As Bigby, who is now the sheriff of a hidden community of mythical creatures and characters in New York City, a murder mystery must be solved and a killer brought to justice before heads start to roll – literally. This ain’t no fairy tale…
The Wolf Among Us proves immediately accessible, even to those unfamiliar with the source material. In modern-day New York City, there exists a community of fairy tale characters known as Fabletown. The Fables that live there have done so for hundreds of years, seeking refuge after being exiled from their Homelands. The mundane world (and the mundies, aka humans, that inhabit it) are unaware of Fabletown due to a magic spell called ‘Glamour’. Fables that can not take human form (such as Mr Toad) must use this expensive spell to appear human. Otherwise, they’re shipped off to ‘the Farm’. Sheriff Bigby Wolf enforces this law – and protects the Fables from each other.
Exposition out of the way, the first thing that will strike you about Episode One: Faith are the gorgeous cel-shaded graphics. The neon-hued colours and thick black lines take the graphics of last year’s The Walking Dead one bold step further – this really does feel like a comic book in motion, and it’s absolutely gorgeous to behold. Bigby arrives at the apartment building of Mr Toad – who appears in his natural form due to a lack of Glamour, which he promises to get first thing in the morning – and starts asking questions, before heading upstairs when he hears a commotion. He finds his old adversary the Woodsman drunk and threatening a woman who appears to have been roughed up.
What follows is a bone-crunching fist fight that showcases exactly how to do a quick time event right. I played with an Xbox 360 Wireless Controller For Windows and the button prompts were always clear and precise, 100% dragging me into the moment. A red circle appears when an action is available and the cursor must be placed there before pressing the correct button. Fables are very tough to kill and before long both Bigby and the Woodcutter take a plunge through a window and part of the surrounding wall. What’s nice about this fight (and other such action sequences throughout Episode One) is that missing a prompt shapes the fight and its outcome dynamically.
As enjoyable as this opening scrap is – and it really does drive home the message that Bigby Wolf is a total badass not to be messed with – it’s the exploration and dialogue systems that make the world of Fabletown come to life. There aren’t any puzzles per se, but the ability to explore the world and influence how Bigby talks to other characters makes the entire experience feel personal and involving. Just like in The Walking Dead, what you say to other characters will affect their relationships with you, and potentially have long-lasting implications further down the line. There are also points in the story where you have to make a difficult decision – which location to visit first, which suspect to pursue – that determines how the episode will play out.
The plot is shifted into high gear when the severed head of a Fable prostitute is left on the steps of Bigby’s apartment building – it’s a message, but from who? Under pressure from the acting mayor of Fabletown, Ichabod Crane, the sheriff must work with Snow White to track down the killer. One of the most satisfying sections of the game takes place in Mr Toad’s apartment, where there appears to have been a struggle. The nervous, would-I-lie-to-you-mate Mr Toad claims he’s not hiding anything, but through careful investigation of the room and by asking the right questions, the truth can be uncovered. Or you could just lose your temper and beat the truth out of Mr Toad instead – the choice is yours to make, and yours alone.
The stylised, neon-drenched graphics create a rich atmosphere that – combined with a wonderfully ambient, electronic-fused soundtrack by Telltale’s go-to composer Jared Emerson-Johnson – evokes the most recent films of Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives). The voice acting, as is to be expected by now from a Telltale Games production, is world-class. Each character is voiced exactly as you would imagine them to sound, with Adam Harrington playing Bigby Wolf with just the right amounts of menace and suave. The fact that he also voices the Woodsman – play the opening fight scene again with this knowledge, it’s super impressive! – speaks volumes of his talent. It’s delightful to see a highly gifted voice actor getting such a meaty part and successfully ripping chunks off it with every single line spoken.
As an introduction to a brand new adventure game series, The Wolf Among Us is sublime. Everything is presented with such enthusiastic flair and obvious love for the source material that minor problems, such as annoying pauses during some scene transitions and the meagre 2 hour completion time, can at least be forgiven, if not completely ignored. The various decisions made by players won’t pay off right away, but this is without question an experience worth investing in. Acting as a prequel to the comic books, even newcomers can dive right in and immediately become wrapped up in Bill Willingham’s wonderful fantasy world. The biggest compliment that can be paid to The Wolf Among Us – Episode One: Faith is that it will no doubt compel many gamers to seek out the comic books upon which it is based. Telltale Games has done it again – dark, gripping and quite simply, magical.
9 OUT OF 10