The Wolf Among Us: Smoke and Mirrors
- Street Date:
- February 4th, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- February 4th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Telltale Games
- Telltale Games
PC version reviewed. The episodic series is story-intensive, and thereby, the review is as spoiler-free as it can be.
In October of 2013, Telltale Games introduced its first post 'The Walking Dead' series with 'Faith,' the first episode of 'The Wolf Among Us,' which is based off of the world built within the DC Comics/Vertigo 'Fables' line of comics. Despite activity involving numerous other projects, it took nearly four months for the second episode, 'The Wolf Among Us: Smoke & Mirrors,' to be released. With the wait finally over, it's time to jump back into the world of 'Fables' with Telltale's latest.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Whatever the reason was for the lengthy interval between episodes, it's clear 'Smoke & Mirrors' is much more committed to its story than the prior episode. That's not a criticism of the first episode. 'Faith' had a lot to introduce, even for fans of the comics. That said, the mystery was relatively simple with fairytale characters brawling and sniping over petty and severe grudges and a killer on the loose. The new episode maintains these threads, but both the fantastic elements and dramatic situations are kicked up a notch.
The transition from the first episode to the thickened plot at the end of the second episode is not exactly smooth. After an intense, if passive, beginning, I was concerned that the new episode was content to merely recycle characters and locales from 'Faith.' Once the story shifted gear though, a different issue arose. The primary players and unsolved mysteries from the first episode took a serious back seat. They will likely resurface in a future episode, but for the moment, the shift in focus is quite noticeable.
If the story seems to be blossoming while going down new, deeper avenues, the gameplay is in even more of a zone. The "investigate the surrounding room and then interrogate whomever's closest before getting into a chase/fight" design has been seriously refined. It's hard not to think of changes being made in reaction to weaker parts of the first episode, such as the first episode segment where Bigby investigates in front of the Woodland building. Conversation choices feel more like actual choices, be sly, direct, physical, nice, or threatening. Even characters in the game seem amazed at how smooth and clever Bigby can be. And frankly, the Big Bad needs to be clever with this lot.
That's not to say everything is perfect. Not unlike the 'The Walking Dead,' regulars from the Fables comics are featured almost in cameo roles. Their obvious importance to the lore but minor roles in the episodes can be distracting. One fight in particular felt very forced, but overall this is a minor quibble.
After only two episodes, there are some very small details that come together swimmingly. The studious player will notice plenty of things that will help the active investigation, conversations, decisions, etc., but smaller, less pivotal details make the investigative aspects seem much more worthwhile. A picture on the wall or bottle in the background can speak volumes.
'Smoke & Mirrors' is quite the dry title, but they might as well have named the episode 'Villains' as nearly every character in the episode is at best being forced to be part of something tawdry, depraved, and vicious. It's a little jarring in the first half of the episode, as the story dances around a few cliff-hangers, but the payoff is well worth it.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The first episode's excellent art style and presentation are maintained, right down to some of the blending issues. A few stale locations like the Trip Trap bar were worrisome, but the latter chapters, which feature new locales and the series' best, nighttime, make up for the few weak spots.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Again, the game's soundtrack cooks up the right mood, especially with fewer "wandering around" segments. Unfortunately, I also noticed a new issue that I must have missed in the first episode. Anyone who has played 'The Walking Dead' may recognize multiple voice actors, and those signature voices can be problematic. This is hardly a problem unique to Telltale Games, but it's also like to get worse over the course of episodes unless an a priority is put on finding new talent.
It is almost like the first episode was a good TV pilot. It was enjoyable and repayable, but that feeling of uncertain characterizations and tentative plot elements held everything back. This first successive episode seems to toss some weaker bits aside before going for jugular. If this can be maintained or even increased, the episodes will be collectively excellent to replay, though the slow noir burn will never have that zombified group allure of 'The Walking Dead.'
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
The global player choices weren't available at the time of this writing, but I expect them to be more interesting than in the previous episode. Meanwhile, the character entries are predictably lesser this time around.
The first episode was something of a dicey proposition, promising, but also forced to expend a lot of time on exposition with mysteries featuring characters we'd only just met. The long interval, combined with a weak follow-up, could have really quelled interest in the whole series. Instead, my anticipation has skyrocketed. This second episode, 'Smoke & Mirrors,' features a much improved tempo and flow, ratcheting up the story while dialing back less compelling elements. Dare we ask Telltale not to make this next wait so long while maintaining such a refined quality?
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