Twice in a row. That’s two times now that Telltale Games has taken a comic book property, adapted into an adventure game, and created an altogether more fulfilling and affecting product. They’re definitely getting the knack for this. The last time was of course with The Walking Dead, a game that’s not only better than both the comic it was based on (and the TV show we all keep watching in the vain hope it’ll get better), but was one of the best games in recent memory. Now, with just the first episode of its five-episode season, The Wolf Among Us seems destined to be just as great.
Just get past that unwieldy title! Who knows why they just didn’t just go with “Fables” for this one, since the comic is one of the most popular ones out there and continues to run, although yeah, I can’t believe that either. The comic (or at least, the few dozen or so issues I’ve read) is decent enough but it gets bogged down in trying to appear dark and subversive without giving a thought to just letting the characters breathe on their own. Instead of depth and character progression we’re just shown time and time again how much more adult and messed up everything is. Barring a few clever and incredibly dark turns (Using Pinocchio to blackmail a man who thought he had just had sex with a little boy? Wow.) most of it seems to be reminding you of childhood tales and pointing at them and yelling “Look! Look what I did here! Don’t you get it? Don’t you know who this is??”
Telltale’s adaptation nearly stumbles into that trap a couple of times here, like when a certain little pig keeps harping about the house he lost, but for the most part all the needless backstory here is confined to logs that are unlocked in the menu over the course of the game.
The story revolves around Bigby Wolf, the famous wolf of Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs fame. His past crimes have been forgotten in this new world, as the Fables ran from a horrible threat to make their home among the Mundane People (“Mundies”) and try to fit in NYC. The Fables that have inhuman looks can purchase spells from witches called glamours that will make them appear normal and mingle among us. Fables that can’t afford it live in upstate New York with all the rest of the giants and bears and other creatures, a segregation that's caused no end of stress and jealousy.
Bigby can appear human so he has no trouble fitting into the city. He’s now tasked as the sheriff of Fabletown, keeping an eye on his people to make sure they don’t get into trouble and give their secrets away. Here the trouble starts when he’s called to a disturbance only to find the Woodsman (the one who cut Bigby’s stomach open and saved Red Riding Hood, way back when) beating on a hooker. His investigation into this incident leads to a murder case, and a handful of suspects that you can start to track down. It's got plenty of that fun Fables flavor- you can interrogate Mr. Frog, who's now a slumlord in the South Bronx, and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are notorious thugs, but the dialogue is as fantastic as you'd hope from Telltale.
Consider this a police procedural version of The Walking Dead. While the decisions of The Walking Dead held tons of weight because characters could live or die by your choices, sometimes pretty blatantly, here there’s nothing with such weight behind it. It’s not the post-apocalypse, after all, but there still manages to be some really tense decisions you need to make. Once again your decisions will reverberate not only through the rest of this episode but all the four more to come. Playing through the game twice led to some considerable differences in the story.
This episode "Faith" focuses on crime scene investigation, trying to determine if people are lying or what occurred at a site. There’s nothing too tricky here but at the same time there’s nothing as out of place as the whole goofy battery quest of the first Walking Dead episode. And then there's conversations you'll have with people that are deep and disconcerting, just some stellar writing that makes you wonder why every game doesn't make you feel this way, as if you're having an actual conversation with another human being... or Bridge Troll.
I’m calling it right now- this is destined to be another classic series from Telltale. Every month or so will see another episode so grab a season pass and join the ride.
Telltale provided review codes for this game. Note that the console versions still seem to have those weird freezing moments as The Walking Dead did- the PC version is an altogether more seamless experience. This fall the game will also be released on iOS and Playstation Vita.