In this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog: I explored the dark underbelly of New York and discover legends and fables fallen on hard times.
Unlike a lot of games I play for Breaking Down The Backlog, I knew almost exactly what I was getting into with The Wolf Among Us as I played first season of The Walking Dead which blew my tiny mind with its emotional and brilliantly realised story-telling. The Wolf Among Us is very similar. It can can be grim, gritty, violent and genuinely shocking at points. Although it wasn’t as good as TWD, I still had a great time with the game.
The world of The Wolf Among Us is perhaps the most interesting thing about it. The game is based on the ‘Fables’ franchise which, I believe, the basic premise is that all the fairy tales and Aesop’s Fables have fled their homeland and created a secret society in modern-day New York. It is an incredibly unique idea for a premise and I feel like, having never read anything ‘Fables’ before, that the game makes an excellent introduction to the franchise. You play as Bigby Wolf, the human version of The Big Bad Wolf, who has been appointed Sheriff of Fabletown. Throughout the game you meet other Fables who are living in New York. These include, but not limited to, Snow White, Icabod Crane, Beauty and The Beast, Georgie Porgie and Bluebeard. It is a fully realised and fascinating world with its own rules and social structures that the game dips a toe into and then leaves you gagging for more when it ends.
The actual story was pretty good, if slightly disappointing. Someone has started killing prostitutes in Fabletown so it is up to Bigby, backed up by Snow White, to try to find out who is doing the murdering and why. It is a fairly rote Film Noire story (right down to the downbeat ending) that is only engaging because of the premise, if I am honest. If you have watched ‘L.A Confidential’, ‘Chinatown’ or even played L.A. Noire you can work out a lot of the plot as they introduce the characters. Spoilers, the murdered prostitutes are just the tip of the iceberg because is somehow related to a secretive evil ‘puppet-master’ who controls most of the town. Every archetype of the Noire style of story is here, even the Raymond Chandler-esque flawed protagonist in the form of Bigby. Saying that, it was still great fun seeing well-known characters from fables and fairy tales in those archetypes. There isn’t anything wrong with Film Noire as a genre, it is especially rare in a game, but after The Walking Dead and it’s meditation on the human condition I was expecting a bit more substance.
Luckily, Noire inevitably leads to some fantastic style. And style is something that The Wolf Among Us has in spades. Every single second of the game looks like a comic book come to life. Yes it suffers from the same sort of flat cell-shaded textures like Wind Waker did, but that is excused because of its comic book roots. All the characters are well realised, as are the locations you visit. The latter is especially great because of all the little details in the environments you can see, like when you visit Beauty and Beasts apartment and you see their famous accoutrement scattered about. I couldn’t interact with anything that the game hadn’t said I could interact with, but it was cool to see regardless. The smokey score is also real highlight. It is synth based and really adds a great deal of atmosphere to the game.
The game-play continues The Walking Dead‘s formula of clicking on certain points in the environment to examine them and interact with in order to continue the story. But, just like that game, the real meat is with the conversations you have with various characters and the choices you make. You have to pick from four choices before the time runs out and whatever you choose is usually remembered by the character(s) you are talking with and will directly influence the story. Behave like a brute and it will be brought up multiple times throughout the game and will have both negative and positive effects. You might find it easier to get answers, but everyone will hate you. I played Bigby as a man trying to do good but who sometimes let his dark side loose. However, I felt like I was being railroaded into specific choices because that was where the story needed to go in order to finish. TWD which felt a bit more free-form in how you reacted to certain events. And the Quick Time Events in this game…God. Good thing they were easy because they were everywhere and always bad.
I was ultimately a little led down with The Wolf Among Us. It was fun time, as a lot of Noire is, but it just lacked substance. It certainly wasn’t as transcendental as The Walking Dead but perhaps that is my expectations being unbalanced by that game. It was lightning that Telltale had trapped in a bottle, never to be re-captured. This game does try new things, which I applaud it for, but it ended up not doing much for me. I am very interested in a second season, however.
Next time on Breaking Down the Backlog: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger