The lights are on
Telltale Games have “Telltale” in their name for a reason. They are
the current champions of storytelling in video games. No other game
development companies contain writers that are as consistently solid as
Telltale has been over the past few years. They take stories that
readers love and turn them into stories that gamers can enjoy as well. The Wolf Among Us started off strong with its gut-wrenching first episode, Faith. Then
Telltale held off on releasing the next episode for three months. It
turns out that such a short amount of time can be damaging because
although The Wolf Among Us: Episode Two – Smoke and Mirrors has its moments, it’s still a bit of a letdown.
After the shocking events of Faith, Fabletown Sheriff Bigby
Wolf is in a rut. He’s on the lookout for a killer, but doesn’t have
any solid leads. He has a suspect in custody, but after a surprising
twist he’s back to square one. He and his partner attempt to gather
clues and evidence in order to track down the person responsible for the
brutal murders in Fabletown. Their quest eventually leads Bigby to a
hotel and another big twist. Smoke and Mirrors ends then in a “more questions than answers” type of way.
Smoke and Mirrors tones it down on the quicktime events usually featured in abundance in Telltale’s games. I only encountered one QTE sequence in Smoke and Mirrors, but then again I did play the role of the “good cop” the entire time, so other players might experience more than one. Still, Smoke and Mirrors relies
more on its choice-driven narrative than anything else. Some of those
choices are toughies, giving the game its purpose. But Smoke and Mirrors also
shines when it shares some of Bigby’s spotlight with supporting
characters, such as Ichabod Crane, and slips in brilliant scenes like
the one in which Bigby destroys (or doesn’t destroy) objects in a strip
club before interrogating a stripper who used to be The Little Mermaid.
The Wolf Among Us is a beautiful game. Telltale has
absolutely nailed the comic book look, and the art style sets the tone
perfectly for the moroseness in Smoke and Mirrors. The Xbox
360 version features noticeably less framerate hiccups after a few
patches, which carried over to the second episode, and it never froze on
me like the first episode did twice. The voice acting is fantastic,
which is unsurprising considering that most of the voicework is done by
actors that were also in The Walking Dead. The soundtrack is a haunting electronic nightmare with a theme song that stands out as one of the most memorable in a while.
Telltale made a mistake with Smoke and Mirrors by delaying it for three months. After that amount of time, players rightly expect a whopper of an episode, and Smoke and Mirrors just
feels kind of lacking. The writing is good, but Telltale has provided
far stronger material before. They introduce new characters, such as
Jack from Jack and Jill and Jack and the Beanstalk, only
to have them come across as utterly unlikeable before being tossed
aside. One of the best reasons to play Telltale’s games is to fall in
love with the characters, so it’s disappointing to see new ones
introduced that fade into the background within minutes.
Though the writing in Smoke and Mirrors is good, player
interaction ultimately boils down to two choices: being nice or being an
***. No gray area exists this time, which causes the episode to
feel slow and like it’s pushing the player out of it sometimes. Plus,
the game’s biggest mystery is ruined by a collection of choices that are
either obviously correct or idiotic. In other games missteps like this
would probably be acceptable, but Telltale is capable of so much more. Smoke and Mirrors is a bumpy dirt road that will probably lead to greener pastures.
Telltale has faced this kind of dilemma before with Long Road Ahead, the third episode of The Walking Dead. They
went on to deliver a knockout performance, proving that individual
parts don’t necessarily paint the whole picture. I’m almost certain The Wolf Among Us will find its voice and keep Telltale on top of their particular mountain. Is Smoke and Mirrors worth $5? Sure. I’ve spent over $10 on several games and books that were way worse.
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