[Reviewer’s Note – This review for Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us covers the entire first season of the series, reviewed as a whole. For our reviews of all five episodes individually, you can follow the links below:]
Following the excellent first season of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead as the next series, seeing the episodic games developer tackle another comic series adaptation with Bill Willingham’s Fables may have been seen, initially, as a risky move by comparison.
Though The Wolf Among Us shares its comic book origins alongside The Walking Dead and a familiar gameplay scheme, following the excellent debut episode of the first season it was established right off the bat that Bigby’s tale was going to be world’s apart from that of Lee and Clementine’s.
Debuting in October 2013 with the first episode, titled “Faith,” the game acted as a prequel (of sorts) to Bill Willingham’s long-running Fables comic series and quickly spun a dark, brooding tale of murder in the land of fairy tales. Taking place in the seedy underbelly of New York City’s Fabletown, where exiled fairy tale characters sought out a peaceful coexistence with the human “mundies,” it places players in the shoes of town sheriff Bigby Wolf as he uncovers the mystery and plot behind a rash of murders, while investigating every Fable in-between.
Filled with the likes and aid of characters such as Snow White, mayor Ichabod Crane, Beauty and Beast, and town troublemakers Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, The Wolf Among Us quickly introduced a world where those that you can trust and those that you should fear might be one in the same. Kicking off with brutal fights, tough investigations, and moral choices that make you think before you act, The Wolf Among Us proved a perfect fit for Telltale’s unique brand of gaming that had a season-long tale of tough actions and even harder consequences.
Across the first season’s five episodes, Bigby and Snow get taken through the streets and the seedier spots of Fabletown, leading to an always-engaging romp with the game’s impressive visuals/soundtrack and strong art direction. Soaked in the neon-lit world of places like the Pudding & Pie strip club or the vast library of Bufkin, the fairy-tale inspired locations and characters comes to life with a slight dose of weirdness and intrigue, complimented by the game’s cel-shaded graphics and synthesized soundtrack.
Though the graphics and art direction resemble much of the work from The Walking Dead, the brighter color palate and art-style arguably suit The Wolf Among Us better in bringing Fabletown to life.
The strong presentation and art of Fabletown though wouldn’t be the same without its “colorful” cast of characters, adding to the unique world and universe that the title builds and adds as its biggest draw. As a non-Fables reader being introduced to many of these characters for the first time, seeing this spin on classic fairy tales easily was one of the biggest draws to uncovering more about Bigby’s world and those around him: Beauty and Beasts’ financial struggles and strained relationship, Ichabod Crane’s seedy interests, and the humorously droll Colin wandering (and smoking) around Bigby’s apartment un-Glamoured.
On the visual end, the game provided a visually-engaging world filled with characters that added intrigue to what Fabletown had to offer, while the central mystery of the “whodunit” Bigy and Snow had to solve was the drive. Fitting into the Telltale formula of players making decisions and having an outcome on the many events to come, who lives and dies, and more, The Wolf Among Us delivers with its mix of intense action sequences and mystery solving, even with a few minor caveats that mar an otherwise great adventure.
For instance, in comparison to The Walking Dead‘s “live or die” intensity brought on by the zombie-infested world it dwells in, The Wolf Among Us‘ more linear and deliberate story often results in some outcomes or consequences feeling fairly predictable or inconsequential.
Despite the game covering multiple paths or multiple routes to go through, numerous points sometimes present an often occurring problem in games with choice, where the actions on screen don’t necessarily reflect the actions chosen by the players, leading to a few moments of thinking “what the hell, Bigby?”
Alongside this are several moments where The Wolf Among Us doesn’t quite manage to utilize its world and characters to their full extent, despite the intriguing world and Fables it presents on screen. Where characters like Ichabod and Mr. Toad provide plenty of interesting moments for their few moments in the spotlight, others, with the prime example being Snow White, maintained a large role in the story only to be dropped off in the final episode, with little to do.
Seeing some of these inconsistencies with character relevancy and story development was a bit disappointing given how investing the world of Fabletown is, but unfortunately the game at many points doesn’t quite use its intriguing “fairly tales in the real world” premise to its full potential.
Aside from these grievances, the good far outweighs the evil, with Bigby’s adventure often rivaling, and often excelling, Telltale’s other series at many points. Filled with some memorable action sequences, particularly in the first episode’s chase sequences and the final episode’s moments with Bigby going “full werewolf” on baddies), and great character moments that shine in its noir-fueled setting, The Wolf Among Us eschews the dangers of previous Telltale games (like being chased by dinosaurs or being eaten by zombies) and instead goes for a moody, mystery-filled adventure.
Luckily, the five episodes of the first season upped the intrigue in each installment, and by the season’s conclusion only made me want to jump back in and re-investigate the case in a new way, while thinking of the possibilities for the next season.
Though it’s easy to compare The Wolf Among Us to previous Telltale titles by first glance — with a similar control scheme and gameplay — by the end of the first episode the series proved itself as entirely different beast of its own.
Aside from some slight narrative hiccups and the odd character arc that felt underdeveloped in some spots, the overall combination of gritty, noir-inspired visuals and sounds and intriguing premise always kept me digging deeper down into the rabbit hole, waiting to see what Bigby and Snow would find next. Whether they wanted to, or not.
It may be based in the world of fairy tales and fantasy but by the conclusion, the first season proved to be more than just a happily ever after ending — it was a tale I never wanted to end.