How do you follow up the Game of the Year when you have never even approached that level of popularity before? That was the question that the people at Telltale Games found themselves faced with after 2012’s The Walking Dead. They took the unbelievable momentum and popularity of The Walking Dead books and television show and put us gamers in that universe. But they couldn’t just rely on the popularity of the brand to drive the success of the game (just ask Activision). They gave us a game that was at its core simple and linear, but took storytelling and character development to new levels that I feel had yet to be achieved in the gaming industry. Hoping the build on that success, Telltale has now released The Wolf Among Us Episode one: Faith. Their answer to the aforementioned question was to stick to what they know and build upon that. And I have to say, the result is amazing.
Like with The Walking Dead, Telltale has looked toward mature graphic novels for their story content. The Wolf Among Us is derived from the popular graphic novels, Fables. The overall story in a gist is that many years ago, all the characters from classic fairytales and fables were driven from their homelands and forced to relocate to New York City where they live in secret in a community called Fabletown or upstate on a place called The Farm. Fabletown is for fables that are either human, or have enough money to be able to afford spells called Glamours that make them appear human. The Farm is where all the non-human fables that can’t afford Glamours are forced to live so that they are out of site. Your character is the modern day Big Bad Wolf, or as he is now know, Bigby Wolf.
Bigby is the sheriff of Fabletown and he is not well liked. Most fables have trouble getting past Bigby’s violent past, and the fact that he is tough and a bit off-putting doesn’t help his situation. There are also some serious class warfare elements going on, as many fables live in poverty and struggle to get by, and they resent the well off fables and the government for which Bigby is a representative of. In Faith, Bigby finds himself wrapped up in a gruesome serial killer case. Along the way, you will run into many characters that you know well. However, they will not be like you remember them from your childhood. Mr. Toad is a slumlord, Ichabod Crane is deputy mayor, Snow White is his assistant, and Tweedle Dee and Dumb are private investigators/ bounty hunter thugs. And that is only a few of the characters you will meet. Colin, one of the Three Little Pigs, makes a short appearance and it is just fantastic. Whatever characters you don’t recognize, there is a very well done Book of Fables that you can access that will give the back story of each character.
The game itself plays just like The Walking Dead did. It is essentially a playable version of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books from when you were a kid. You are prompted with choices to make and a variety of responses to say when you are in conversations with other characters. The choices and responses you choose matter, as they will affect how other characters act toward you and how the story progresses. Whenever we get to the fifth episode, you could still be dealing with repercussions from a decision you made in episode one. Much of the rest of the game comes down to exploring and interacting with objects. There is a bit of action in the games as well and I feel this is where Telltale really improved upon what they did in The Walking Dead. The pace is much more frantic and the amount of time you have to hit the corresponding buttons is lighting quick and can be challenging if you aren’t on your guard. Most combat involves using the left stick to dodge attacks or obstacles while the right stick is used to target specific areas on your enemy or to interact with the environment to your advantage. The small amount of action in the game is absolutely the perfect amount. It is there often enough to keep the game exciting, but not so much as to take away from the story which is what drives the game. When you do find yourself in an action/combat spot in the game, it feels more important and special.
Graphically I felt the game was pretty impressive as well. Again, like The Walking Dead it is cell shaded. Some people may not like cell shaded games, but I have always thought they looked great (The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker and XIII for example). The set pieces seem a bit more cartoonish in this game however, but I feel it was done intentionally. It helps you feel more in a world where fables exist. There are lots of bright and extravagant color schemes used, mainly through an abundance of neon signs, and they really bring the world alive for the player.
Sadly, there are some issues with the game that cannot be overlooked. The Walking Dead had some minor issues with long load times and some technical glitches. I looked for them to be fixed in The Wolf Among Us, but sadly they were not. If anything they are slightly worse. The load times are crazy long. I got up and went and walked across my house and put my laundry in the dryer during one and it didn’t come out of the load screen until I was back. GTA 5 has a long initial load time for one of the most expansive game worlds we have ever seen on consoles and The Wolf Among Us takes just as long as it does and you have to experience it numerous times instead of just once. I could live with just that if it was the worst problem, but it’s not. The game can be quite jerky at times. Usually this happens coming out of load screens. Often the game dialogue begins for whatever scene you have come to while the screen is still black as the graphics are still loading. Then the graphics are quite jumpy as the graphics try to catch up to the dialogue. I found that this also periodically happened as the game would transition into an action/combat scenario. I never found that this hurt me game play wise, but it really tends to be frustrating and takes you out of the story, and when a game is whole heartedly driven by the story, that’s a serious problem.
Overall, I truly fell in love with this game. While The Walking Dead was my favorite game last year, I was already super invested in that world. With The Wolf Among Us, I had no prior attachments or emotional investments, yet Telltale still managed to pull me in just as much as WD’s episode one did, maybe even more so. I will put it this way. The moment I finished the game, I went on Amazon and ordered the first book in the series. It roped me into that world that much. The story is fun and super engaging. It’s everything ABC’s Once Upon a Time should be. While the story is about characters you know from your youth, make no mistake about it. This game is for adults. Everything in this game is near perfect, save for the technical issues. While not game breaking, they are significant enough to be responsible for the only point I took away for the score of this game (I played this on 360, and I have been told that the issues still exist on the other platforms but aren’t as significant). Like Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us will be five episodes long, with the last episode planned to be dropped Summer 2014. The game is $5 and the season pass is available for $20. I cannot overstate how excited I am for the next episode, as I have played this game three times all the way through already, making far different choices each time. Technical issues aside, The Wolf Among Us Episode One: Faith represents everything I look for in a great game. You will be hard pressed to find a better way to spend two hours.