Character is crucial in creating a compelling story, and Telltale understand this better than any other game developer. The Walking Dead games proved how building up and then tearing down a cast of sharply written characters can be devilishly engaging, even when so much that we’d normally consider to be integral in creating a quality game had been ripped out. They offered us conversation, choice, consequences, and little else, and thus far players and critics alike have lapped it up eagerly.
But, and I may prove unpopular in saying this, I think The Walking Dead games have become overly reliant on shock factor, less about the internal crises of its characters, and more about seeing who lives and who dies every episode. This has become more apparent with the second series in particular, which we’ll no doubt go into when we get around to reviewing it.
The Wolf Among Us can’t really do that. It’s a canonical prequel to the comic-book series by Bill Willingham, and so there are limitations regarding precisely what it can do with the plot. So instead it is more about how you approach its noir detective story and how that affects the society around you in a more general, more ideological sense. In this way it is even more reliant on strong characterisation than the Walking Dead was. It needs us to care about that society by demonstrating how those general ideas affect specific individuals, rather than winding its grip around our heartstrings so that when it eventually tugs upon them they snap like a frayed ropes.
For this reason I think it makes The Wolf Among Us a more interesting tale. Unfortunately, at the same time, it fits the structural mould Telltale have built for their adventure games far less well.
We reviewed episode one last year, before a deluge of other games made it impossible to criticise each episode individually. But to briefly reprise the premise. The Wolf Among Us casts you as Bigby Wolf, sheriff of Fabletown – an urban commune of fairytale characters who have been displaced into the real world, and survive through use of magical disguises known as “glamours”. Their effective refugee status means tensions are high in Fabletown, and The Wolf Among Us begins with these tensions boiling over, resulting in the murder of a Fable. As Sheriff, it’s Bigby’s responsibility to investigate, and of course, the situation turns out to be far more complex than it initially appears.
Systemically The Wolf Among Us is almost identical to The Walking Dead. You visit various locations in Fabletown, and converse with characters by choosing how Bigby responds to their utterances. The dialogue is interspersed with opportunities to make a more action-oriented choice, engage in combat through a sequence of quick-time-events, or “investigate” a crime-scene.