There are few video game developers more experienced with the tantalizing addiction of episodic video games than Telltale Games, but the ongoing saga known as The Wolf Among Us has finally come to a close. Where the previous four episodes were tasked with building mystery and anticipation, Episode 4, titled ‘Cry Wolf,’ was responsible for bringing the story to a worthy conclusion. And while it may already be a familiar refrain, Telltale has delivered.
The last episode brought the story to a head, with the Sheriff of Fabletown walking directly into the lion’s den. Telltale promised some serious action in the season finale, but the game’s greatest strengths to this point haven’t been its QTEs; it’s been the developers’ unwavering dedication to telling a dark, contemplative detective story worthy of those that inspired it.
That point is made clear from the finale’s first lines of dialogue, reminding players of the events that have led Bigby to stand face-to-face with the real villain of Fabletown. Characters from the “Fables” graphic novel have appeared along the way, and Telltale’s additions to the cast have been both inspired and memorable. But Bigby is looking to close a case, not delve into the personal lives of every fan-favorite hero or villain.
Granted, things may not go so smoothly, but the writing team’s commitment to their game design is what makes ‘Cry Wolf’ – and the series as a whole – a success.
Where The Walking Dead relied on the ever-present threat of death to build tension and player investment, The Wolf Among Us has relied on plain old dialogue and rich characterizations. And whether players have chosen to be a cruel or kind version of the titular wolf, they step into this case’s final act without the fear of death. The only risk that remains is finding the killer, and closing the case once and for all.
By giving Bigby Wolf a near-constant scowl, and a demeanor showing he would always prefer not to deal with Fabletown’s more… colorful citizens, it would’ve been easy to reduce him to a stereotype. But the final episode delivers on both paths players may have taken: human drama for those genuinely seeking to help those in need, and some surprising twists for those who wish to see the issues in black and white.
Even if Bigby’s surliness and gruff exterior kept the many suspects and witnesses of the case at arm’s length, ‘Cry Wolf’ brings some much-needed flesh to the bones of the series’ supporting cast. In the end, the case is shown to be more complicated, farther-reaching, and less clear-cut than even a callous Bigby would expect. While showing how every past interaction mattered to the overall case, as well.
Boasting what is easily the best writing and performances of the season, ‘Cry Wolf’ also delivers some of the most satisfying (if not the most innovative) action set pieces; including one major fight sequence which will delight fans of the comic series, while proving that Telltale’s additions to the series mythology are to be treasured (no matter how chilling).
But once the blood has dried, and the number of looming threats reduced to one, the developers cast aside the need to solve a mystery or track down a suspect, and return to their strength: dialogue. Bigby’s final fight will be fought with words and logic: bringing all the choices, relationships, and anger players have left in their wake finally come into play.
Are the citizens of Fabletown to be trusted with bringing justice to the victims? Or is it the authorities whose judgement is beyond reproach? It may not be Bigby (or the player) who gets to decide.
It would have been all too easy for those questions to be reduced to philosophical musings, again leaving the player as the sole authority in the situation, charged with doing what the surrounding characters are too easy to see must be done. But with each character given time and energy to show that they possess conflicting moralities themselves, all but the most bloodthirsty players will have to weigh the options.
The final decision of the series isn’t quite as complicated, or emotionally troubling as those in The Walking Dead – and they shouldn’t be. The Wolf Among Us hasn’t sought to walk the same path as its predecessor, and the final episode shows that more clearly than ever. The Wolf Among Us is a world all its own, with a conclusion sure to keep fans discussing the story in ways that only a noir detective tale could.
It’s hard to believe that the company isn’t planning on continuing the series – with an upcoming release for both current and next-gen consoles – and the story leaves the possibilities for continuing characters and story lines wide open (with an ending that downright invites conspiracy theories).
Yet even if the first season’s conclusion ties in perfectly with Bill Willingham’s comic series, players are left with the impression that Telltale didn’t try to tell a story within the world of “Fables,” but uses the world to explore a genre and themes they wished to. That is the very best we could hope for from any adaptation, and that approach has paid off handsomely.
The Walking Dead showed that mainstream audiences had long overlooked what classic adventure games had to offer; The Wolf Among Us proves that the best from Telltale is yet to come.
The Wolf Among Us: Episode 5 is available now for PC, Mac, PS3, and Xbox 360. It releases on iOS and Vita on July 10, 2014.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.