The fifth and final episode of The Wolf Among Us Season One is out, and it really seems like developer Telltale Games is hitting its stride. And as with The Walking Dead, Telltale's previous hit, it's gone to a long-running comic book for inspiration.
The Wolf Among Us is based on Fables, the kind of fractured fairytale that would make Tim Burton blush. The series uproots classic fairytale characters from their old storybook lives, and drops them in Fabletown -- their secret community in present day New York. And it's most definitely for grownups.
Telltale Games is no stranger to tackling big franchises, with all save one of its games based on licensed characters. "Licensed video game" is the kind of phrase that usually turns gamers right off. Luckily, Telltale does things a little differently. The Wolf Among Us is more like an interactive movie (or TV miniseries, given the release structure), a natural evolution of classic text-based adventure games.
The game is divided into five roughly bi-monthly episodes to make up a "season". Each episode plays out like a continuous cinematic, with the player given timed options to pick dialogue choices or react in fight scenes.
You'd be forgiven for thinking the games were leisurely affairs. But with only a brief window to choose what to say in conversations, and a shorter time still to react in fights, there isn't much time to catch your breath. What really gives the Telltale model the edge is that your choices will actually change the events of the story, making The Wolf Among Us immersive in a way very few games are.
More importantly, it's obvious that Telltale went in with a lot of respect for the source material. The developer could have easily adapted any one of the plotlines from the comic's critically acclaimed twelve-year run, or created original characters, as it did with The Walking Dead games.
Instead, drawing on the film noir elements of the comic, the Wolf Among Us sends us back to 1986, before the start of the comic, and keeps a core cast of series regulars. The player is handed control of one of the comic's central characters -- Bigby Wolf, the Sheriff of Fabletown. Bigby (as in Big Bad, in case you missed that) is the man with a dark past trying to make good, and for those familiar with the character, the role fits him to a tee.
In fact, it's the unabashed neo-noir style that helps The Wolf Among Us stand up so well -- both as a part of Fables continuity (Telltale has been quick to stress that Wolf Among Us is part of Fables canon), and as a standalone story.
The game oozes style. Telltale's trademark cel-shaded style looks heavy on the shading this time around. While the title sequence isn't usually the kind of thing worth mentioning in a game review, Bigby walking through shifting silhouettes of the city while the pulsing theme music plays sets the tone perfectly. From forcing you to consider those split-second, morally grey choices, to collapsing after a rough night in Bigby's disaster zone of an apartment, Telltale doesn't let up.