The lights are on
I've got to say, as hard as I am to impress- which I'll readily admit to just about anyone, The Wolf Among Us: Episode One has me fully enthralled, waiting for what happens next. Sure, I've read a few of the Fables comics before- being the literary and motion nerd I am, but not on the same level as my obsession with The Walking Dead saga courtesy of Robert Kirkman. As with TWD however, it is not the writing that grips me, rather the circumstances of the characters. Needless to say, Telltale has done it again and made lightning strike twice with TWAU thus far- making episode one just as explosive as that of their first season of TWD. I don't know about you, but I'd love to see them alternate seasons between these two universes for a few seasons or years at least. That way both worlds will remain fresh for us, and rife with content.
This goes way beyond your average twisted Grimm tale however, as TWAU shares a semblance to Telltale's TWD not just in looks in some ways, but in desperation and setting as well. This tale might be even dark than cannibalism and zombies, if only just barely. And to think we tell our kids the bedtime stories this tale is essentially derived from- incredible. Speaking of curious resemblances between TWD and TWAU, it's also intriguing to note that this particular adventure also begins with a car ride- though not one from the back of a police cruiser, notably.
The game is set within the gated (figuratively) community of Fabletown- deep within New York, where famous fairy tale characters conceal their identities with magical glamours and everybody has some deep, often dark, secret. These darker versions of the familiar fairy tales we mostly all know offer a more deeply riveting and gripping narrative that will undoubtedly absorb you from the offhand beginning to the intuitive end. From the literally explosive fighting in the beginning and carried on throughout, to the grim detective work of Bigby Wolf, to the fouler language of the credible heroes and hoodlums of fairy tale lore- TWAU breaks some social norms in order to achieve its ends. And I enjoyed it the better for it too, strangely enough. Heck, even Snow White drops her seven dwarves for the Big Bad Wolf, so it must be worthwhile enough. Sometimes, it'll jerk you around so much (in a good way generally), that you might just think someone had stuck an axe in your head...
This particular story takes on a darker tone than previous Telltale exploits right from the offset- from disorderly conduct in the form of abuse to premature decapitation. As with Larry and Lilly from TWD, there will nevertheless be characters that irk you from the start- only to presumably redeem themselves or damn themselves even more later. I could certainly name at least one that really got to me this time around, and then surprised me further in the very same episode later on. Even the Woody Woodsman himself manages to shed a tear or too for some things it seems, despite his gruff demeanor.
One of the most intriguing and interesting conundrums facing characters (especially Bigby, of course) is the fact that the Wolf's dark past firmly overshadows most of the good things he tries to do, and only promotes the darker aspects. I think that using force or being less gruff will go a long way towards the finale of the season, as some things did with TWD as well. Interestingly enough, your other problems manifest themselves in a variety of ways other than simply changing your tune mid conversation as well. Choosing between prospective or actual crises is an interesting change of play- whether its something as simple as helping a friend or chasing a potential murderer down. You're given a tiny bit of time to decide, but still marginally longer than TWD's conversation only choices- which is a thankful and torturous addition simultaneously.
Regardless of your choice, yo can always be sure there will be some impact or unforeseen consequence later on. Not only does this fully encourage the player to replay things for different outcomes, but it essentially means that by the end of episode one alone, players could have experienced say ten or twelve endings. Now, just imagine how many there are over the course of a full season. Impressive- no?
As much as I enjoyed this particular aspect of the game, I actually enjoyed what action segments it had a little bit more, interestingly enough. I didn't see fault with them for the most part in TWD, and definitely didn't see any issues with the further honed brutality here. The QTE imput is the same- with the directional context, yet it feels a little more meaningful and even more brutal if possible. As with TWD, the action unfolds quite rapidly- often giving you little time to react well, making it more challenging as you go on throughout the story. I relished the increase in difficulty because of this, but do admit that it could prove frustrating in some instances if not carefully executed or paid attention to. However, the controls are as responsive as ever- cutting down on that frustration, whether you are doing the attacking with a club, or dodging blows from adversaries.
The not-so satisfying portion of the story however is the essentially wasted opportunity presented by the so-called 'detective' work. Far from that of the intensive collection of data in LA Noire, though following the same principles, this item collection and data fetching essentially only boils down to scanning the entire environment for clues like in some segments of TWD. While the point and click options are better integrated than in TWD for sure, I just felt as if Telltale could've done a little something more other than allowing you to catch lies from found data and objects- at least making it a little more intriguing and worthwhile overall.
Qualms with the linear gameplay aside, it remains true that the experience is highly enjoyable and also replayable multiple times over. Despite it's grievances, it is an excellently written narrative experience first and foremost, although it does have some enjoyable and intense gameplay as well at times. The best part of the episode is easily the pretty unpredictable plot line, and the immersing world and culture it is based around. It opens strongly and closes subtly, but not before piquing your interest enough to leave you salivating for the second episode- Smoke and Mirrors.
Concept: Put the pen and paper of the Fables universe to a cinematic and enjoyable, playable experience- narrative revelations and quirky characters included.
Graphics: As with TWD, Teltale really has the cell shading and art stye here down pat. No complaints here, aside from the fact that it doesn't run as smoothly on consoles as it does on computers- with notable differences in lag before fight sequences.
Sound: The voice work is well done and creative, and the background music and sounds really get that noir detective vibe across- even with the flamboyant and colorful cast.
Playability: While not necessarily the easiest controls to grasp at times, the contextual buttons are quite responsive to the touch amidst the action.
Entertainment: Certainly more exciting at times than TWD, TWAU is on par or more advanced than that particular project- though it does not yet have the feeling that Clementine and Lee elicited from players. Maybe with time, Snow and Bigby can persuade us to think otherwise...
Replay Value: High.
Overall Score: 8.5
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