By Marty Mulrooney
The Wolf Among Us: Episode Two – Smoke & Mirrors is the second instalment of a brand new episodic adventure game from Telltale Games, based on the long-established, award-winning comic book series Fables by Bill Willingham. Continuing almost immediately after the shock ending of Episode One: Faith (which Alternative Magazine Online described as “dark, gripping and quite simply, magical”), Episode Two sees sheriff of Fabletown Bigby Wolf getting very serious and very mean as he tries to solve the murder of someone near and dear to him…
Episode Two – Smoke & Mirrors has certainly been a long time coming, but all complaints about the long wait are immediately cast aside as soon as the game begins. The Telltale Tool game engine may still struggle at times (more so on PlayStation 3 than PC), but the art style of The Wolf Among Us is possessed of a neon-drenched beauty that goes far beyond pixel count and frame rate.
Telltale games are known for their emphasis on story and with The Wolf Among Us (and Season Two of The Walking Dead), they’re moving ever closer towards true levels of cinematic artistry, beauty and refinement. The opening moments of horror shown on Bigby’s recoiling face cut to the confined interrogation room of a mundy police station with the mere flick of a light switch. The cinematic artists at the studio deserve a thorough clap on the back – they’re constantly making players lean forward and pay attention.
As always with video games (especially adventure games that present a good mystery) it’s hard to go into too much detail about the actual story without entering spoilerland. Suffice to say, Episode 2 is all about advancing the plot. Bigby Wolf is pissed and he wants answers – now! An early interrogation scene drills this point home with the lit end of a cigar, among other things.
Of course, that’s only if you decide to go down that route. Even then, Smoke & Mirrors isn’t about the big make-or-break choices and tough decision-making. It’s about subtleties. Bigby is on a path of vengeance and all you can do is steer him as best you can. It’s refreshing to play a genuinely likeable anti-hero where being violent isn’t always the ‘wrong’ decision. It can sometimes make you feel like you’re merely along for the ride, but the payoff is an experience that propels itself along like an out-of-control rocket.
One of the episode’s most memorable scenes introduces a seedy and immediately dislikeable character who is anything but friendly, then hands Bigby Wolf a cricket bat. You’re standing in his club – his precious, precious club – and he’s disrespecting you. He’s not giving you the answers you need. He’s being disrespectful to the women he employs. What’s a pissed off wolf to do?
Marrying the lavish style and rich storytelling constantly unfolding on-screen is a wonderful cast of voice actors that bring the characters and the fascinating fantasy world they inhabit to life. Once again, Adam Harrington as Bigby Wolf totally nails his performance, always sounding like he’s on the brink of completely losing his cool and doing some serious damage to something… or someone. Yet he still remains likeable. There is good in there somewhere – he just hides it well. Fan favourite Bluebeard from the comics also makes a special guest appearance and is voiced by none other than the immensely talented Dave Fennoy, who fans of The Walking Dead will recognise as the voice of Lee Everett.
The Wolf Among Us: Episode Two – Smoke & Mirrors offers a thrilling two hours of entertainment – and that works both for it and against it. After such a long wait, it’s hard not to long for more. Such longing will no doubt be compounded by the fact that this episode crams in a lot of story without much room for genuine improvisation. It feels slightly less interactive than its predecessor as a result, but promises great things to come. The ending is certainly a killer (apologies for the overused pun) and Episode 3 will no doubt build on its numerous successes, whilst hopefully addressing its occasional shortcomings.
8.5 OUT OF 10
GAME REVIEW – The Wolf Among Us: Episode 1 – Faith (PC)
INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Adam Harrington (Bigby Wolf, The Wolf Among Us)
INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Erin Yvette (Snow White, The Wolf Among Us)