The Wolf Among Us
- Street Date:
- November 4th, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Levi van Tine
- Review Date:1
- November 6th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Xbox One
- Telltale Games
- Telltale Games
Digital Xbox One version reviewed.
High-Def Digest reviewed all five 'The Wolf Among Us' episodes on the PC as they were released. Here are the reviews:
'The Wolf Among Us' is based on a DC comic book series called 'Fables'. Actually, the series is more similar to a graphic novel than a traditional comic book, as it is more violent and adult than those publications generally tolerate. In the comic’s backstory, all manner of mythical creatures from humanity’s legends and tall tales are not only real, they live in New York City of all places. They were evicted from their magical Homelands centuries ago and have since taken up residence in the Bronx. Adjusting to the world of "mundies" (or mundanes, as they call us plebeian mortals) has been difficult for them, to say the least, and they often find themselves in the lower strata of our society. The creatures are collectively known as Fables and there are many of them, mostly from European folklore, such as Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, and Bluebeard.
The game was originally released in October of 2013 for various consoles in an episodic format, not unusual for adventure games. It was developed by Telltale Games, which has a reputation for releases in this genre (they also created the lovely 'Walking Dead' episodic game and are working on 'Tales from the Borderlands' and a 'Game of Thrones' adventure title). It finished in July of this year, but now is has made the jump to the Xbox One and PS4.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
In 'The Wolf Among Us' the player takes the role of Bigby Wolf, formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf. It is the same Big Bad Wolf who blew down the poor piggies’ houses, conned Little Red Riding Hood, and was generally quite a dastardly character in his youth. Since coming to the mundy world he has tried to reform, and has accepted the position of sheriff of Fabletown. In noir fashion, with a gruff demeanor and constant flow of cheap cigarettes, he solves crimes and punishes evildoers. While the comics line takes place more or less in the present, 'The Wolf Among Us' is set in the neon New York of the 1980s.
As an adventure game, story takes center stage, with gameplay and visuals pushed to the side to make room for the plot. The primary mechanics consist of limited movement, dialogue trees, and occasional quick-time events when Bigby gets in a fight. The fun of the game comes not from endless adrenaline in the form of combat or speed or platforming, but from savoring the history, personality, and characterization of each Fable. This is a slow-moving game with periodic plot twists and surprises to keep the player entertained.
Bigby Wolf has all the responsibility of the office of Sheriff of Fabletown, and is the sole law enforcement officer. I will spare the details for those who have yet to enjoy it, but the five-episode arc is primarily a murder investigation. Throughout the game, the player gradually shapes their Bigby into a good cop, a bad cop, or something in between. The other characters react to Bigby’s decisions and actions accordingly, and they will remember his choices in subsequent episodes. As I played through the game, I realized that my Bigby had not changed much from his time as the Big Bad Wolf. He is still a brute, quick to horrific violence when challenged, but not without the occasional display of compassion for the less fortunate Fables. The way the game records and later deals with player choices is thorough, and even very brief interactions can yield surprises later.
This version of the game is almost completely unchanged from its 360 cousin. It looks the same, plays the same, and sounds the same. While some of the stuttering from the action sequences has disappeared (this stuttering is also common in both seasons of 'The Walking Dead'), it has been replaced with something worse. Immediately before or after save points, which usually follow a decision by Bigby, I was subjected to long loading hangs. These took the form of a complete screen freeze without as much as a small loading icon in the corner. Several times the hang was so long I nearly restarted, convinced that the game had frozen my console. In addition, sometimes the dialogue trees completely bugged out, saying something along the lines of "Empty choice here!" in every slot. This prevented me from moving forward and required a checkpoint restart, and generally occurred after the beginning of a chapter (chapters are smaller segments within the larger episodes).
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The game uses cel-shaded graphics, which is appropriate given its history as a comic series, and also fits the trend of adventure games in general, such as the more recent 'D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die'. The original visuals weren’t groundbreaking, and there has been no upgrade in the Xbox One version to take advantage of the more powerful hardware. I occasionally noticed glimpses of real clarity and beauty in the presentation - the Jersey Devil, a lush tree, vivid neon signs - but these were exceptions, not the rule. When the game’s camera moves in for a close-up on an object or texture, the result is generally not flattering.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Voice acting is very important for an adventure game, as reliant as it is on mood and characterization. This is one thing that 'The Wolf Among Us' does well. Some characters are brilliantly voiced, such as Georgie Porgie and Mr. Toad. The rest of the performances are at least good, with only a few duds. The soundtrack is minimal and very subdued, and the same goes for sound effects. During the more vigorous sequences, with lots of smashing and hitting going on, the sound effects can just barely be heard. This is a serious oversight that detracts from the otherwise very cinematic cutscenes.
'The Wolf Among Us' is something of a one-trick pony. Once I knew the story, there was little to entice me for a second round. This being my second playthrough, however, I noticed that very different scenes occurred in each playthrough based on my choices earlier in the story. For instance, during several episodes I was given a choice of which crime scene to investigate first. I experimented by selecting a different order of priority this time around, and was rewarded with scenes I had previously missed (and, of course, missed some scenes I had previously experienced). This included a much longer subplot with the mischievous Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk fame), who had barely registered the first time I played. While interesting, the capacity for these alternate timelines is relatively low, with perhaps just one or two such choices in each episode.
At full price as of the time of this writing, no substantive upgrades, and nearly an identical experience to the previous version, the Xbox One iteration of 'The Wolf Among Us' is only recommended for those players who are new to the series. For those people, I certainly encourage a playthrough. For those who have played it in the past, there isn’t much to see here.
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