So far, the developers of Telltale Games‘ episode adventure series The Wolf Among Us have taken a simple fantasy premise, and spun a fairly engaging and evocative detective story. What started as a welcoming and stylish relative of The Walking Dead in Episode 1 has marched its way squarely into the noir detective genre, and Episode 4, titled ‘In Sheep’s Clothing’ has now set the series on a collision course with its grand finale. Has it upped its game, or does the most satisfying chapter still lie ahead?
After Episode 3 felt like a bridge between the case that protagonist Bigby Wolf had first thought he was investigating, and the much larger criminal scheme at work (read our review), Episode 4 thankfully locks back into step with the style, writing, direction and pacing all working in tandem to deliver the best episode yet.
The closing moments of Episode 3 certainly showed that Bigby’s life was in danger if he dug too deep into the dark underbelly of Fabletown, but the first screenshots and synopsis for ‘In Sheep’s Clothing’ promised that even more danger awaited. The launch trailer took that sense of foreboding and possible violence even farther, and the episode itself doesn’t disappoint.
Featuring one of the series’ most violent action sequences is just one example of how Telltale has ratcheted up the maturity level from their previous work, but not all of their efforts are so obviously well-executed. The writing, direction, tone and environments are the finest in the series yet, but it isn’t just the stars of the show who get caught up in the wave of momentum building towards Episode 5.
Where prior episodes had painted Bigby Wolf and Snow White as the main characters sticking their noses where they didn’t belong (according to the criminals occupying them), Episode 4 slyly brings even more characters back into the fold, revealing that the dark side of the Fable community is more nuanced and morally ambiguous than it had first seemed. And with those characters adding their names to the list of potential victims left in the player’s wake, decisions are granted even more significance and weight.
The emphasis on choice and consequences may be less of a deftly-handled art form than compared to The Walking Dead – the player statistics at the end of every level are regularly less divisive – but the game’s writers made it clear from the start that The Wolf Among Us was after extremely different goals than its undead sibling. Mainly, to create drama and tension through dialogue and attitude, not an ever-present sense of dread. And ‘In Sheep’s Clothing’ succeeds on that front beautifully.
The persona and worldview of Bigby Wolf has cemented itself completely, with players previously afforded the chance to make the misunderstood hero as a sympathetic or bull-headed a Sheriff as they wished. Yet with the stakes rising, and more lives being put in danger, the character’s frustration and impatience is a tide that rises all ships, meaning the time for evasive suspects and stonewalling the investigation is over.
The writers have also found a few ways to work the game into the larger fiction of Bill Willingham’s graphic novel, completing character backstories while foreshadowing the sweeping changes that will need to arise to counter the adult, socially relevant problems facing the overlooked citizens of Fabletown. It’s praise enough to say that while the episode’s cast may consist of classic fairy tales brought to life, their concerns, fears, and arguments are wholly believable and convincing.
As for the core mystery and circle of crime that drives Bigby to the episode’s abrupt ending, well, we won’t spoil it for those who have yet to experience it firsthand. But Telltale has succeeded in making a simple murder case evolve into something much larger; an investigation that is at once a complete surprise, but seems right at home in the world that the writers and artists have created.
The Wolf Among Us has already earned a healthy dose of praise, but with ‘In Sheep’s Clothing,’ Telltale has capitalized on every story beat that came before, wrapping up most lingering story lines so the first season’s finale can stand on its own two feet. With the villainous Bloody Mary looking to make an even larger splash in the action, and the last lingering questions expected to be answered, Episode 5 can’t come soon enough.
Fortunately, Episode 4 packs enough subtlety and top-notch cinematic storytelling to convince players that the final chapter of Bigby’s case will be more than worth the wait (if not a second playthrough).
The Wolf Among Us: Episode 4 releases on PlayStation 3, PC and Mac on May 27, 2014. It hits the Xbox 360 on May 28, and iOS devices on May 29. We played it on PC.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.