I first came across Telltale Games through their Walking Dead adaptation – an original story that played out like some kind of orgy-sparked bastard between a graphic novel, a choose-your-own-adventure book, and a point-and-click game, complete with hot-button action scenes. I remember it being pretty awesome, so I was excited to see more output following, in different genres.
The Wolf Among Us is based on a DC/Vertigo urban fantasy series called Fables, by Bill Willingham, and in fact acts a prequel. Its set-up will be broadly familiar to anyone who’s seen Once Upon A Time, Shrek, or perhaps The Charmings from way back in the day. There’s a part of New York called Fabletown which most people don’t ever get to see. Its residents are those literary and fairy-tale beings who have managed to escape into our world from some terrible event.
Whatever their roles may once have been in the old country, they’re all just refugees now, trying to scrape by. The protagonist is a dirty, downtrodden, cynical sonofabitch who goes by the name of Bigby Wolf. Our boy has quite the reputation; he used to be the Big Bad, but … well, times have changed. He’s the sheriff now, just trying to do his job and put his past behind him.
Truth be told, I winced a little at the description initially, but it didn’t take long for me to fall for the characters and the style. Hard. The vibe here is straight-up detective noir, tossing neat whisky back over any saccharine assumptions you may have—we’re more in Bladerunner territory here than Roger Rabbit. There are beheadings, shootings, a sleazy strip club, swearing, and the like which you may take here as a parental advisory warning. What begins as a simple murder investigation swiftly spirals out to reveal twisted secrets, brutal violence, black-marketeering and murky political machinations.
The thing that most caught me by surprise was the moral element. It’s clear from very early on that the Fables are different to the mundane folks, both in their abilities and their resilience. What does morality even look like when a person can survive an axe to the brain, or having their belly slit open and filled with rocks? Bigby is seeking redemption, for his own sake and others, but the temptation to unleash the beast within is powerful and, in this particular part of the world, it seems that the legal and social consequences of a ‘slip’ are few and far between.
Nevertheless, how you play the game does change the outcome to some degree. You’re presented with choices along the way between various actions to take and conversational responses to make, the results of which will alter the path of your investigation and how you are perceived by the citizens around you. You are the engine of your own character arc. Crucially (and cruelly), you get little pop-ups appear to let you know when a character takes particular note of what you’ve done. I found myself agonising as to whether I’d handled the situation ‘right’ or not. The fact that many of your choices are made as a timer ticks down only adds to the pressure, but it does serve to keep the story flowing at a natural pace.
The Wolf Among Us plays out across five Chapters, and I do use that word advisedly. Whilst there are many interactive elements, and several branching paths, this is very much a tight narrative unfolding in front of you; there’s precious little time to spend kicking around the edges, and the game will be over long before you’re ready to leave it behind. It’s a few years old now, so you can pick it up for a song, thankfully, and it does looks like there’s a sequel on its way—not forgetting a whole pile of trade paperbacks.
If it wasn’t clear before, I adore this game. The only thing that lets it down for me is the sparsity of ‘things to do’. It’s a story on rails, and your maneuverability is pretty slim. I could see myself playing it through one more time, just to try to catch the bits I missed, but beyond that I don’t see it as a game to come back to very often. As such, it loses one precious point.
Caveat – if your primary focus in a game is action or puzzle-based, you may find yourself left a little cold by the experience. However, if you are a character or story-centric player, I think you’re going to love The Wolf Among Us. Go grab yourself a copy on Steam or wherever else you buy your games.
If you like the sound of the gameplay but not of the world, you may be more excited by the Telltale series set in the world of Batman, Borderlands, Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. Have fun!
If you like monsters with a bit of pathos, you might enjoy my review of the board game, Horrified.
If you prefer games on a tablet, here’s the round-up of my Top 10 Digital Boardgames.