The Wolf Among Us: Episode 1 – Faith Impressions
Wolf Among Us: Episode 1 – Faith (Telltale Games)
Released: October 11, 2013
October 21, 2013
In 1997 Harvard professor Clayton Christensen coined the notion of the “innovator’s dilemma.” In a nutshell, the problem is the failure of a firm to adapt its past successes to a new and constantly evolving landscape. Firms often get overly fixated on how things have been done in the past rather than striving to see how they can be improved upon for the future. The Wolf Among Us is something of an attempt by Telltale Games to demonstrate that they’ve avoided this trap a year after taking the gaming world by storm with the atmospheric and gut-wrenching world of The Walking Dead. While this latest effort by the suddenly top-tier developer doesn’t quite evidence a complete victory over slavish observance of what made The Walking Dead so good, it does show that Telltale is far from a one hit wonder.
This is an episodic game, much like The Walking Dead. As such this review is only for Episode One: Faith and should not be trusted as a definitive statement on the entire series because, clearly, eighty percent of the series has yet to be released. Also, I played this on the Playstation 3 and it is entirely possible that there may be performance issues or control problems that are unique to that platform and which do not have any presence or as much of a presence on the Xbox 360, PC, or Mac. The broad strokes comments can be applied to all platforms equally, such as the striking visuals and game mechanics, but don’t get too caught up in the minutiae as differences undoubtedly abound.
Meat of the Review
The Wolf Among Us is based on the Fables series of comics by Bill Willingham and looks suitably to demonstrate this connection to the world of graphic novels. It places you in the shoes of the reformed Big Bad Wolf who’s made good and become the sheriff of Fabletown, a hamlet within the confines of New York City. Now going by the name of Bigby, the constable is tasked with keeping the various fairy tale creatures safe…mostly from one another. The game quickly illustrates the difficulty of this job and establishes that the series is likely to be similarly as brutal as Telltale’s other hit. If The Walking Dead can be described as pallid in its hues, The Wolf Among Us is decidedly Technicolor. Make no mistake, this is often a dark game and great portion of Episode 1 takes place very late at night (or very early morning if you prefer to think of it that way) but the visuals are top notch and the way color is used is often to great stylized effect. Characters look suitably as if they had been ripped directly from the panels of the source material. It may just be me, but for some reason I find that to be a doubly endearing attribute and I enjoyed the twisted take on characters I had long grown accustomed to through constant repetition of old tales. Whether it is Snow White as an assistant director of a bourgeois apartment complex or The Woodsman as a drunken reprobate with a penchant for smacking women around, the reimagining of trite characters felt refreshing rather than contrived for novelty’s sake.
The gameplay is pretty much what you would expect. You move with one stick and use the other to interact with the environment. These prompts are one half of what moves the game along but don’t expect Phoenix Wright style investigations with this. You’re not able to fondle anything and everything; rather the game carefully curates what is pertinent to your task by marking everything with an idiot-proof circle that you can interact with in usually one or two ways at a time (look at or touch, for instance). The other half of game progression is, of course, dialogue and Telltale’s signature choices come into play. There isn’t as much chit chat as is to be found in Mass Effect, for example, but every choice has some sort of consequence that I’m sure won’t be fully discovered until the time Episode 5 finally rolls around. The tone of each response is much less easily distinguished than if you were Commander Shepard, which is to say the nice guy and jerk options are not clearly identifiable. You’ll only get limited time to make those choices as well which makes the decisions that much more stressful but also adds replay value as you’ll certainly want to go back and see what happens should you behave differently.
The controls are fairly good but I found movement somewhere clunky and imprecise. I wound up treating the game more like a point and click simply because it was the quickest and easiest way to direct Bigby to where I needed or wanted him to be. The camera also gets in a few old school Resident Evil style oddities where the view suddenly shifts if you move too far in a given direction. It’s not terrible or even extremely prevalent, but it is jarring when it happens and makes movement slightly more of a chore than it needs to be. The action sequences are brutal, exciting, and fun. Unfortunately, the game throws you prompts almost immediately without adequately explaining what to do or how to do it. The consequence of this are missed QTEs and screen prompts not necessarily due to player error but rather because of the game’s tacit belief you should already know what’s going on. Does the stick on the screen correspond to the left or right stick? Should I assume the right trigger is always the one to use or is it sometimes the left? The game leaves you to guess, sometimes incorrectly and the notion that missed opportunities may have far reaching repercussions make this lack of explication inexcusable. Ordinarily the sheer length of a game and the frequency of use of those mechanics overcome these sorts of gripes but The Wolf Among Us is episodic in nature and so the player doesn’t get the opportunity to build familiarity enough to get a good grasp on their first time around Fabletown.
Maddeningly omnipresent is a slight stutter and hiccup in performance that constantly reminds you that you’re playing a game rather than allowing you to truly immerse yourself in the fiction and drama of the game. It seemed like the game was always struggling at least a little to keep going and on one occasion froze completely, requiring a hard restart of my Playstation. While I make no claims to have any knowledge of game development, I find it difficult to believe that Telltale couldn’t have eased these performance issues prior to release.
While The Wolf Among Us is far from perfect, I complain only because I like the game so much. A person looks for imperfections in the beauty of a diamond, not in a dog turd. The Wolf Among Us is firmly in the camp of the former rather than the latter. The visuals are great and the story is undeniably engrossing and prompted me on more than one occasion to audibly react with shock, something few games elicit from me. I eagerly look forward to an opportunity to play through another time to make different choices to see how the game branches off and I can’t wait for the next episode to be made available. It won’t take much more than a couple of hours for your first taste of Fabletown to come to a close but it won’t take much more than a couple of minutes for you to want more or it.