The Wolf Among Us: The Noir Side of Fairy Tales

In recent years, an independent video game company known as Telltale Games emerged. They managed to stick out because of their rather inspired idea: episodic point-and-click adventure games. The genre had fallen out of favor after the ’90s, so it left a rather open niche they were able to fit. Their first few titles were fine, with some mixed results though their three seasons of Sam and Max still offer some good fun, but then they released one title that changed everything. That game was their adaptation of the hit comic book The Walking Dead. While it told its own story set in that world, it was a well-written game that offered a key change: choices made over the course of the episodes would affect the narrative. That one slight change made all the difference, offering a new hook to the familiar adventure game format. Since then, they’ve been making episodic adventure games based on all sorts of properties, from Game of Thrones to Minecraft. For me, though, I consider one of the better representatives of their work to be The Wolf Among Us.

Based upon a Vertigo comic book series FablesThe Wolf Among Us is set in the year 1986 and a world where the characters of fairy tales and classic literature are real. However, they were driven from their homelands long ago by a force known as the Adversary, seeking refuge in our world. Using magic known as Glamours, they hide among us, with their refuge being a secret community in New York City known as Fabletown. Serving as sheriff of this community is Bigby Wolf, once known as the legendary Big Bad Wolf and now tasked with keeping the peace among Fables who still harbor grudges from the past. This peace, however, is threatened when the decapitated head of a Fable is placed at the front door of the Woodlands Apartments. With this gruesome murder, Bigby and mayoral aide Snow White seek to find the identity of the murderer. What they find is a network of crime and corruption that threatens the stability of Fabletown.

When it comes to capturing the spirit of its source material, The Wolf Among Us does a strong job of bringing its comic book source to interactive life. It captures the gritty tone well, showing these classic fairy tale and book characters with depth and edge influenced by the rough lives they have led. The story unfolds with a strong noir influence, as the mystery unravels with all sort of misdirections, brutal criminals, and shadowy locales. It also captures the sense of community that is among the Fables. Some are happy with their new life, some are struggling and faced with terrible choices, and some simply long for the old days when their worlds were tied up in neat little narratives. Whatever their situation, it is clear that they’re all in the same boat and depend upon each other and the safety that Fabletown can grant. Visually, the game also looks nice. The characters are a nice translation of their original comic book appearance mixed with some of Telltale’s familiar design choices for conveying realistic characters. It also has a striking color scheme, creating a noir ambience within the classical color printing palette of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black for bold effect.

As for gameplay, this title offers to me the strongest representation of the Telltale Game style. The variety of dialogue offers plenty of choices to guide the narrative and affect how Bigby reacts to the world around him and how it reacts in turn. There are a good number of sections that just allow for the room to walk around and inspect the world around you, along with a strong dose of action sequences that require quick responses. Most of all, the choices and consequences throughout the course of the game actually feel like they affect the narrative. The choices you make, whether it’s in term of what you say to a particular character or where you choose to go on a limited time frame, offer a tangible consequence to what happens. You may gain a valuable piece of info from one place, but find you’ve lost something else in exchange. You can gain allies over the course of the game at the expense of some friendships, or potentially burn bridges in exchange for keeping your core connections strongest. It all leads up to a final confrontation that brings together all of your choices into one battle for the soul of Fabletown.

Already working from a well-regarded comic series, The Wolf Among Us stands as a good example of what Telltale Games can do. It captures the fun of exploration and piecing together the clues along with an episodic structure that allows for the player to affect the narrative. If you’re looking to give a try with some of Telltale’s work, I’d say this is a solid place to start. The Wolf Among Us is available for PC, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.

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