There’s no understating just how important the success of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead was to the company’s future. Emphasizing story and gameplay truly shaped by the player’s decisions, the point-and-click adventure game was a hit with fans and critics alike, catapulting both the adventure game genre and Telltale into the mainstream.
So when the studio announced their next project, The Wolf Among Us – an adaptation of Bill Willingham’s “Fables” comic series – the industry wondered if TWD was a one-time phenomenon, or if Telltale‘s unique style of storytelling was here to stay. Now that the first episode of the ongoing series, entitled “Faith” has arrived, and many of those questions can be answered.
From the first screenshots, the similarities between the art style of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us were clear, and the majority of game systems are entirely adopted from one series to the other. That being said, the animation style seems to have been noticeably refined, with characters far more capable of subtle emotions. On the same note, those who felt that the adopted art style was too far from the “Fables” comic to seem faithful, the writers have managed to capture much of the same grit and mature tone of the source material.
Similarities aside, it’s important for players to recognize that Telltale is trying their hand at a very different genre of storytelling with The Wolf Among Us. By placing their story in a zombie apocalypse, and centering the action on a man’s need to protect a young girl, Telltale let much of TWD‘s drama and tension stem from the environment itself. But in their follow-up adaptation, a survival tale has been swapped for a classic detective story, with the plot and core mystery trusted to advance the episode, and keep players invested.
That means that a majority of the series’ success or failure will be placed on the shoulder’s of its leading man: Bigby Wolf. As the Sheriff of Fabletown – the name given to the community of fairy tale characters living, in secret, in New York City – the former ‘Big Bad Wolf’ turned lawman is charged with protecting the immortal figures from one another, and from being discovered by the outside world. The game (like the comic) lets that responsibility shape Bigby into a rough, world-weary man simply trying to keep the precarious balance from falling into outright chaos.
The player is given the chance to inject Bigby with as much of a soft side as they wish, but much of the “choice and consequences” which Telltale claims will be shaping the experience on a player-to-player basis comes from Bigby’s actions, not necessarily his words. When a grisly murder takes place in Bigby’s jurisdiction – and seems designed to send him a message in the process – the Sheriff is on the case, with his trusted colleague Snow White at his side.
The less said about the story the better, but the famous faces and surreal twists on investigation and reality made possible given the elements of fantasy are well conceived, and well-implemented. And although detective stories can tend to be somewhat played out in both film and video games, The Wolf Among Us starts in a manner that the best hard-boiled detective story writers would heartily approve of, and the action is brilliantly paced from then on.
Mixing the slower paced investigation and exploration seen in every Telltale adventure game with the frantic (and occasionally frustrating) action-based scenes of The Walking Dead, the constant tension resulting from the looming threat of a zombie attack is no longer present, letting players enjoy each location and cut-scene that much more. Again, that’s due in large part to the polished writing quickly becoming Telltale’s signature – getting the job done quickly, with subtlety favored over spectacle.
For his part, Bigby is as strong and nuanced a character as TWD‘s Lee Everett; a true accomplishment considering the number of pitfalls involved when writing a ‘grisly detective.’ The temptation of remaining in human form or giving into the savage wolf antics of his past is alluded to in the first episode, with the ultimate choice looking to be left to the player. Even without it, Bigby looks to be a sympathetic and interesting enough leading man to carry the series.
Of course, the most difficult part of matching the critical success of The Walking Dead is replicating the profound relationship players developed between Lee and Clementine; entrusted to protect the latter at their own peril. The Wolf Among Us is at an immediate disadvantage in that regard, with the only core relationship explored being that between Bigby and Snow White. There is enough history between the two hinted at to build off of, but the plot itself makes it unclear if there will be time to fully explore it.
That being said, the detective story itself makes human relationships come second to the mystery’s twists and turns, and even unique suspects and villains. The Wolf Among Us is essentially a mystery tale, interwoven with the faces and fiction of the “Fables” series – and from the first chapter, it looks to be a damn good one. And credit where it’s due: the writers may have little room to work with, but produce a few emotional twists on par with many that The Walking Dead produced.
The first episode, “Faith” plants many seeds that we expect to see return in later installments, but so far, the new episodic series is off to an impressive start. Offering an experience that new Telltale fans are sure to eat up, an adaptation of “Fables” that the comic’s fans will approve of, and a story sure to scratch the itch of mystery fans, The Wolf Among Us has already put The Walking Dead in good company.
The Wolf Among Us: Episode One, titled “Faith,” is available now for PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and PS3. The episode costs $4.99, with the full season order costing just $19.99.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.