The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2 – Smoke & Mirrors Impressions

The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2 – Smoke & Mirrors

Released: February 5, 2014

February 13, 2014

Nick Weiss

Impressions

The first episode of the Wolf Among Us was a revelatory experience, cementing Telltale’s reputation as a suddenly top-tier developer and seemingly so, Telltale has quite enjoyed the adulation.  In the four-month wait for this second episode, they introduced a Borderlands themed series as well as a future project based on HBO’s incredibly popular Game of Thrones television show while sharing next to nothing about the games people had already paying for.   This, I fear, is where many an assessment of the second episode, titled Smoke and Mirrors, will begin and frankly to do so would be entirely appropriate.

Do Good Things Come to Those Who Wait….and Wait….and Wait?

It perhaps speaks to our rapidly developed sense of entitlement that a mere four-month wait can cause so much consternation.  Developing a videogame is incredibly difficult and not too long ago expecting a game to come out in a handful of months would have been utterly unrealistic.  Such are the times, though, that technology and developer promises erode our patience.  At the heart of the issue is that the first episode of the Wolf Among Us was really, really good, and it left me immediately hungry for another installment.  In this sense, the unexpected and extended turnaround hurts my experience somewhat with episode two.  I was afforded the opportunity to forget some of what made the first episode so good, as well as lose some of the salient components of the story.  The receptors that were firing at the end of episode one were dulled by the time I jumped into its ‘part two”.

Becoming a True Detective

Thankfully, it doesn’t take too long to get acclimated to the waters of Fabletown once more.  If the first episode showed the player that fairy tales don’t always end happily ever after, the second makes us question if they are ever happy?  Smoke and Mirrors is comparatively slower and more limited in scope, a necessary tactic in order to give the larger story body and a sense of direction.  You’re still playing as Bigby Wolf who has been given the unfortunate task of stomping out a nascent serial killer within the ranks of the fables covertly residing in New York City.  This installment goes a long way to showing how broken the system is in Fabletown.  The game’s choices frequently make you assess how far you’re willing to go to get the results you want, and the interaction with the other characters indicate that they too face similar conundrums.    For example, you’re forced to consider whether turning to violence is appropriate to stop the horrific violence of a serial killer.  Other characters have to decide between whether or not to turn tricks to make ends meet or rely on the so-called proper channels to help solve their woes.  In essence, do you believe in the system, moral or otherwise, to guide you through?  It’s a fascinating question to ask but a difficult one to navigate.

As previously mentioned, this installment seems more sedate and focused on the mechanics of investigation rather than pulse-pounding action.  While I didn’t time myself, this episode seems noticeably shorter than the first and I think that this is important enough to repeat:  THIS EPISODE IS SHORT.  It seems as though Telltale is intentionally using this episode to better develop characters and if some are going to die, this makes sense lest these deaths lack any sense of emotional resonance.  Perhaps the length was kept intentionally shorter to keep it from feeling too passive.  That being said, Smoke and Mirrors is not as thrilling as the first episode and while I understand it, I would be lying if I said it didn’t disappoint me a little.

Persistent Technical Issues

On the PlayStation 3, the game still runs very roughly.  Thankfully I did not have my system suffer a total lockup like I did with the first episode, but there were still so many stutters and stops that it is difficult not to be annoyed.  Telltale has developed for this machine before and the frustration with the added time between episodes would have been mitigated if it had gone toward resolving some of the technical issues that continue to plague their products.  As I have said previously, developing a game is not easy and none of the technical problems are deal-breaking, but they do take you out of the experience and that hurts.

Wrap Up

I hope that episode three takes less time to be made available because the Wolf Among Us still has me bewitched.  It is weaving an interesting tale that goes far beyond a murder mystery by prompting the player to interact with fairly hefty questions that we may be present in our own realm.  The relative dullness (though I feel this is an overly pejorative term) of this episode is a bit of a disappointment but it is clearly for a reason.  I would not be shocked if at the end of the season I look back at this episode as one of the more important simply because of the groundwork it is laying down.  I like where the series is going, so long as it gets here sooner rather than later.

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