Game Review: “The Wolf Among Us Episode 1: Faith"

Note: I wrote most of this review immediately after finishing the game last October, but being a procrastinating idiot, I couldn't finish writing it. Just now, I completed playing “Smoke & Mirrors”, the second episode of "The Wolf Among Us" that was just released. I will upload that review tomorrow.

Holy crap. I hadn’t planned to do videogame reviews in this blog at all but I just played “The Wolf Among Us: Faith”, the first chapter in Telltale Games’ 5-part noir drama and I just had to gush out somewhere.

If you dig dark and gritty noir, graphic novel sensibilities, fairy tales, werewolves, narrative videogames, or any subset of these, you just need to get your ass on Steam, X-Box Live Arcade or PSN and download “The Wolf Among Us”. I went into this story blindly; a friend recommended I should, just saying “It seems tailor-made for you.” I was then under the impression that it was just a werewolf story, so I didn’t need much convincing—I ended up getting a whole lot more.

I feel this one will go down better if I start by describing my reactions to playing through it.

The title screen shows the cell-shaded lead character smoking a cigarette and walking down a dark city street, running across faceless people. His eyes glow yellow every time a shadow covers his face. It is sufficiently badass, and has the immediate feel of a graphic novel adaptation like “Sin City”. I know I’m in for something I will enjoy, at least visually.

A screen scroll succinctly explains the back-story. It describes the siege of a group of fairy tale characters who were exiled to New York City (poor bastards, but hey at least it wasn’t, like, Topeka) and must deal with the fallout of their exodus. It suddenly dawns on me that it’s not a werewolf story. “Shit, this is going to be a gritty “Once Upon A Time”, isn’t it?” I think. “Argh,” I grunt.

I was right, but oh so wrong.

The game starts with the gruff-Dennis-Leary-voice Sheriff Bigby Wolf (because Big Bad Wolf, get it?) as he investigates a domestic disturbance in a run-down apartment building. He talks to a toad—literally a 3-foot toad with an Aussie accent. This is where you get your first idea of what kind of game this is going to be, and it’s pretty much an interactive graphic novel. You’re given choices as Bigby to reply to Toad.

By this point I could tell that Bigby was going to be “that guy”. This archetype has been seen a million times in noir stories. A ruggedly handsome borderline misanthropic antihero with a soft spot for damsels in distress (I’m surprised he doesn’t have a pet dog who dies).

This opening scene progresses into a fight between Bigby and the huge Woodsman from “Red Riding Hood” with whom, as you can guess, Bigby has a story. This is when the gameplay becomes clear. There’s either investigation, dialogue and action choices, or quicktime events during fights or chases. Yeah, the gameplay mimics the usual ‘interactive movie’ thing games like “Beyond: Two Souls” had.

Which is something that definitely will turn off some people from playing it. Most gamers like to be in control the whole time because stiff storytelling is still a lesser concern with gaming nowadays. The idea of seeing a storybook unfold in front of you that doesn’t really require skill of any kind isn’t as appealing as a shooter that displays the size of your e-peen and mad skillz.

The great thing about “The Wolf Among Us” is that it plays like a hard-TVMA HBO show, and the storytelling is amazing. I haven’t read “Fables”, the comic books that inspired the game (though I intend to), but I was legit impressed by Telltale’s ability to weave the story out of thin air. I didn’t need to have any special prior knowledge about these characters (except the common knowledge of their respective fairy tales) to completely understand the very, very intricate web of relationships that connects them.

But what works best in here is the lead character. Yeah, Bigby begins as ‘that guy’ as I already said. The tsundere loner with a bad temper, a dark past, very few fucks to give and the capacity to fuck your shit up if he needs to. However, this game gives you amazing control over Bigby’s personality, much more so than any other RPG I have ever seen. In BioWare stuff you could more or less move in a bland spectrum between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ that affected specific scenes, but ultimately not the story. In here, you really take the role of Bigby and your approach to everything really has a lasting effect.

Say you want to be a good guy to the prostitute whom you just defended from an asshole client, so you give her money so she doesn’t return empty-handed to her pimp; she will remember you did that for her, and that might pay off later, but you might get screwed over if you need that money for something later on. Say you decide to brutalize an eye-witness to get some answers, you probably will get them, but a terrified onlooker will hate you thereafter and might make your life more difficult. All these choices have real consequences—not only in the way the story unfolds, but also in the way the rest of the cast regards you. This mechanic works wonderfully well, and really makes you think your decisions through. One misstep and someone you could’ve saved might end up dead. It puts that kind of pressure on you.

Which is a good thing, because decisions and story is all that “The Wolf Among Us” is. It was extremely important that the story itself—to say, everything that’s going on beyond Bigby and the choices he makes—is intriguing, and it is. It takes all the elements of noir and mixes them with the very unexpected dark fantasy concepts of “Fables”. Turns out if you have good writers, the harmless fairy tales we knew as kids can mix really well with a seedy world of prostitutes, drugs and most of all, murder.

Being episodic in nature, it never wastes your time with filler or bullshit like “Beyond: Two Souls” did; it’s entirely concerned with immersing you in its world and making you a part of it. When the finale drops, so does your jaw, because that shit was a wrecking ball to the nads. After the credits you get to compare your major choices with the rest of the gamers’, plus a little trailer of “Episode 2”, where your choices play out.

In all, “The Wolf Among Us Episode 1: Faith” is a huge winner, and one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I’ve had in a while. Before you buy it, though, you need to know that you’re getting a story more than anything. It’s going to be more about having the balls to make hard decisions than having the skills to beat hard levels.

I don't rate, but the closest thing I can do is this:


My choices:

  • Told Beast about Beauty being a secretive weirdo; I want him to be my homeboy.
  • I checked on Prince Whatshisface before checking on Toad. It was the right choice.
  • Oh I definitely tore Gren's arm off and enjoyed it.
  • I went after one of the fatass twins and the Woodsman got away.

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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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