This is a review of The Wolf Among Us' second episode. For an overview of the game’s tone and style of adventuring, see Drew’s review of Episode 1.
When Grand Theft Auto V’s Trevor, the psychopathic meth trafficker, tortures a guy using techniques straight out of Gitmo, no one is completely surprised. The scene is vaguely horrifying on a human level—because we’re playing a game where the object has become to inflict as much pain on this blubbering mess of a man as possible—but for Trevor, this sadistic afternoon delight is not in any way out of character. If anything, the fact that he stops short of killing the guy and later helps him escape is the part that doesn’t quite add up.
In the second episode of Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us, your character Sheriff Bigby—otherwise known as the Big Bad Wolf—finds himself in a not dissimilar situation. Tweedledee, cast as a mafioso-style enforcer and the only link to a brutal murder, is tied to a chair. Bigby needs answers, and fast, but Tweedledum’s defiant sibling isn’t talking. Unlike Trevor, torture isn’t an integral party of Bigby’s DNA. This latest homicide affected him personally, though, and he’s done messing around. When the game offers me the choice to smash Tweedledee’s face with a whiskey bottle or take a softer approach, it turns out to be one of the day’s easier decisions. Does beating a helpless man make Bigby a monster, or does the fact that he turns into a slavering werewolf when distressed make the point moot?
Nestled in a magically camouflaged neighborhood in New York City, Fabletown is mostly indistinguishable from other human habitations. It has doctors and lawyers, public officials, and police. It is also subject to police brutality (see above), beheadings, sexual violence, and secret surveillance. In the first episode, Bigby investigates a murder, one that leads him down a rabbit hole of corruption and conspiracy. The sheriff is hardly Columbo, though, and thus far has no strong leads on the person or groups behind it. Episode two picks up where part one left off, with Bigby busting dudes up to get answers.
Telltale has hit on a winning formula with its brand of choose-your-own-adventure game design, popularized in its adaptation of The Walking Dead, and now in The Wolf Among Us. It’s a device, though, that relies almost completely on strong storytelling, and the shine might be wearing off.
While it’s hard not to appreciate a game that allows you the choice of whether or not to bust up a sex club using a cricket bat, Falling Down-style, I’m less convinced that this is the kind of moral conundrum that is needed to propel a game like this. The Telltale Experience™ doesn’t ask for much in the way of action or exploration or even puzzle-solving, but it does require the player to navigate difficult positions with no obvious answers and a sense that your choices will have imminent and probably terrible consequences. But the conversation options offered in the second chapter of The Wolf Among Us are all either clear-cut or less than dire. While investigating a bloody crime scene, for instance, Bigby concludes from the presence of bloody sheets and a ripped Snow White dress that the killer is a violent, sexually-deviant monster. Beauty (of Beauty & The Beast) rightly points out that this is hardly deduction on the level of Sherlock Holmes. Without a suspect to interrogate, Bigby’s policing skills leave something to be desired.
As the second movement in a five-act play, it’s not productive exercise to hold this single episode up to too much isolated scrutiny. Telltale has a solid track record, after all—maybe the developers are building toward something. But Episode 2 presents a potential pitfall for The Wolf Among Us to avoid as it goes forward. When the choices are too easy, it’s hard for Bigby’s story to pack an emotional wallop. Instead, it descends into choosing for choosing’s sake.
The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2—Smoke And Mirrors
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360—$5 for single episode; Mac, PC—$25 for full season