Have you ever procrastinated in watching a movie or playing a video game? You know, saying “it’s on my to-watch list” or “I’ll check it out sometime” only to then go back to browsing TVTropes or whatever? And then when you finally do watch the movie or play the game, you feel angry at yourself for not doing so sooner?
Yeah, when I finally played The Wolf Among Us, I couldn’t believe I didn’t so earlier.
The Wolf Among Us is a point-and-click adventure game brought to us by Telltale Games, more well known for their Walking Dead games. Well, like Walking Dead, Wolf is also based on a comic book series; to be specific, Bill Willingham’s Fables series. The story is that the worlds of fairy tales and nursery rhymes have been dominated by a malevolent tyrant, forcing your favourite storybook characters into the grimy streets of Manhattan. From the setting, you can tell this game isn’t going to be sunshine and lollipops, not when Georgie Porgie is a pimp or Mr. Toad leaves a building with a two-finger salute.
Now I like me a good dark fairy tale reboot, especially considering how dark the original fairy tales were. Not crap like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, things like Wicked that flesh out the worlds and characters. Thankfully, Wolf is more akin to the latter than the former, with a fine variety of characters and an intriguing world to explore.
Like Wicked, Wolf takes a deeper look into a famous storybook villain. You play as Bigby Wolf, none other than the Big Bad Wolf taken human form (through lycanthropy no less), who acts as sheriff to “Fabletown”. He makes sure order is kept among the “Fables”, and that all non-human Fables unable to look human are sent to “The Farm” to hide away from the normal people (or “Mundies” as they are called). Unfortunately, it seems Bigby isn’t too popular in Fabletown due to his past; yes, both one of the Three Little Pigs and the Woodsman from Red Riding Hood make an appearance and come to blows with Bigby (I was actually surprised to see the Woodcutter here; given how dark the game is, I thought they’d go with the original version of the fairy tale where there is no woodcutter and it ends with the wolf killing Red). Then again, those characters aren’t exactly angels themselves; one of the game’s first challenges is saving a poor young woman from a drunken Woodsman.
A series of murders has been taking place in Fabletown, involving prostitutes’ heads being left on the doorstep of an apartment building; creepily appropriate form of murder given this game has characters from Alice in Wonderland and Sleepy Hollow(not the Tim Burton movies, thank God). Bigby, along with none other than Snow White, must get to the bottom of the case by interviewing Fables, searching areas for clues, and of course, taking on a vicious wolfman form from time to time. That’s a pretty big help too.
The “episodes” take about an hour or so to complete, and do feel a bit more like an interactive TV show than a game, but when the game tells an interesting story, what the hell. The game is perfectly accessible to those who haven’t read the Fables comics, especially since bios on the characters and the locations are given as an extra, and of course, Bigby is an interesting character to follow. A sort of Dirty Harry meets John Mitchell from Being Human with sprinklings of Batman and Wolverine, he’s your typical hard-boiled cop with a dark past, but the game never forgets his fairy tale roots (there’s even a pretty amusing explanation as to how he got his huff-and-puff ability). Though he does come off as a creature you don’t want to piss off, he is not unsympathetic, especially if you make the right choices, and his dialogue is well-written, a highlight being when he tries to get information from the Magic Mirror. How, well, bad he is is up to the player, though I doubt many people refused to have Bigby give a poor girl some money and Colin the pig a drink.
Bigby isn’t the only interesting character in the game, however. For example, Mr. Toad (not this one) appears as a slumlord with a Cockney accent, and is hilarious in his interactions with Bigby, not being able to tell a lie to save his life and having to be reminded to buy a “glamour” to appear human so as not to go to The Farm. You still feel kind of bad for him; pictures over his flat of him wearing a jabot remind us of his riches-to-rags predicament, and he even has a confused and frightened son, who he does genuinely care for.
Thankfully the game is more than just choosing the right things to say in conversations. There are moments where you have to search a crime scene to collect clues, of course, but more importantly, there are fight scenes where you have to press the right button at the right time, which are appropriately fast-paced and keeps the player on their toes, never sacrificing the wonderful atmosphere of the game.
The visual aesthetic of Wolf Among Us is fantastic. Not only does it evoke a comic book with its cel-shading and eerie blue cities at night splattered with harsh yellows, but it does stay true to some of the character’s storybook origins. Tweedledum and Tweedledee may be a little more violent than you remember them (a Tweedle-dee Dum that’ll stab you where you stand?), but they still resemble John Tenniel’s Through the Looking Glass illustration without being too jarring in the more realistic setting. What’s also impressive is the variety of source material for this game. We have characters from the old standbys, Red Riding Hood, Snow White, etc but how many people would have thought Donkeyskin would be incorporated? In fact, if you happen to know about a fairly obscure folk tale about a ribbon, you’d figure out a pretty big piece of the puzzle early on. Hell, even Tiny Tim makes an appearance (does that mean the Ghosts live in Fabletown too? If so, they’ve got their work cut out for them considering how many assholes live there). Once again, the characters are well-written enough to stand on their own so people not familiar with the legends won’t be alienated, but it is a nice way to make the world of the game seem bigger and throw a bone to the folklore buffs out there (are there that many of you?)
With good storytelling and amazing visuals, The Wolf Among Us is a game you should waste no time in experiencing.