Written by Cheryl Cottrell-Smith
Popular in the 80s and 90s, the adventure game genre hasn’t had much to brag about as of late. Potential adventurers have had few avenues to excite their point-and-click senses since games like Monkey Island, Myst, Sam & Max, Broken Sword—legends of their time, despite the cheesy narratives, pixelated graphics, and irritating glitches.
The Professor Layton series for the Nintendo DS has been one of the few shining lights in the modern adventure gaming pit of darkness, but even these games don’t have the full immersive depth we so enjoyed alongside Guybrush Threepwood and George Stobbart. The puzzles and cut scenes are what make Professor Layton great—it’s a cute game, but there’s very little by way of the thrill of discovery inherent in the gameplay.
As it is, adventure game pickings have been slim for many years. The genre rose to its peak in the 90s, only before dying a quick and painful death in the wake of first-person shooters and open world role-playing games.
Enter Telltale Games. The studio has been around since 2004 and has focused on the development of episodic adventure games, many of which are adapted from pop culture television, comic, and game series. And the result is spectacular.
While the games do involve some action—usually in fight scenes that require you to press certain buttons or move in directions within a limited time frame—they’re primarily focused on narrative and discovery. Your choices shape the outcome of the episode. Your characters are limited as to where they go, but they are free to explore each scene in depth.
Every episode has a main storyline that won’t be affected no matter what you choose, but your choice of dialogue and your responses to certain events will affect how other characters view you and whether they will want to help you later on.
The first episode of The Wolf Among Us, entitled “Faith,”was released on October 11, 2013 and the five-episode series was completed with the episode “Cry Wolf” on July 8, 2014. Based on the popular comic series Fables by Bill Willingham, The Wolf Among Us follows the antics of Fabletown’s sheriff, Bigby Wolf, as he works to uncover the mysteries of a murder case.
Visually, the game is beautiful. It’s a real 3D come-to-life version of a comic, with all the shading and dark lines that entails. The game is available for digital download on Xbox Live or in-store as a complete five-episode bundle.
Each episode takes about an hour to play—which is pretty short compared to most adventure games, but the short gameplay time is understandable (though still irritating). Telltale Games, rather than developing a new storyline and characters, creates these games as a fully immersive experience within the worlds that you already know and love. Fans of the Fables series get to experience Fabletown as Bigby, one of the comic’s most beloved characters. Your first meeting with Snow, the experience of seeing Bufkin flying around the business office, seeing Bluebeard in all his asshat glory—it’s an experience for the fans.
Which isn’t to say that The Wolf Among Us doesn’t offer anything to newcomers, but it certainly makes it a heck of a lot easier to understand if you’re familiar with these characters and their stories.
The premise of Fables is fairly simple, if you’re a newcomer: a large group of fairytale characters are forced to leave their homeland because they’re under threat from an evil adversary. They make a home in our world and section off a part of New York, naming it ‘Fabletown’ and employing witches to ensure that the ‘mundys’ (that would be us) don’t come near the area.
The Wolf Among Us takes place before the comic begins, when the Fables are already in our world and are still trying to get settled, particularly in terms of how their society is governed, which is a point of contention even throughout this game.
It begins with a disturbance at Toad’s apartment building. After investigating, you soon become embroiled in a murder case that will take you the entire five episodes to solve.
You’ll meet new characters and decide whether you should befriend them or smash their faces in. You’ll interview potential suspects and have to choose whether you make nice or beat them until they talk. Bigby, with all of his sullen charm, can be as violent or as placid as you want—it’s all in how you respond to people.
All of your choices make a difference and you’ll get an overview at the end of each episode that compares your choices to everyone else who has played the game. It’s interesting to see just how many people show mercy, or how many people choose to play the bad guy.
Gameplay-wise, practically anyone can play it. The game is ridiculously simple. You choose between four buttons (the Face buttons, if you’re playing on console) to decide on how you want to respond in a conversation. You move around with the joystick, using the Face buttons to interact with them, depending on what’s available. During a fight scene, you may need to hit Y to get out of a headlock, or position the pointer and hit LT to throw someone a backhand. Just remember that the timer is always ticking—in some cases, you might have only three to five seconds to turn that fight around. It’s easy, yet very entertaining.
Sheer difficulty of gameplay is not the point—not for The Wolf Among Us nor for any of Telltale Games’ episodic releases. Like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Tales from the Borderlands, the gaming experience comes first and foremost. Being a part of the story. Having a certain amount of influence. It’s all part and parcel of the Telltale Games experience.
Overall, The Wolf Among Us is a beautiful adaptation of a hard-boiled detective adventure, mixed in with stunning comic visuals and wonderfully distinct characters. My personal favourites include Toad, for his blunt indignation at everything, and Bloody Mary, because…well, she’s creepy as all hell.
Combine an arresting cinematic experience with 3D wandering capabilities, hilarious dialogue (not for children), and the overarching immersion of being a part of the Fabletown world, and you’ve got a game for those who truly appreciate a unique, well-crafted narrative and who maybe want to veer away from your everyday point-and-shoot or swing-and-sunder gaming…if only for a few hours, at least.