Acting as a prequel to Bill Willingham’s Fables, The Wolf Among Us puts players in the shoes of Bigby Wolf, i.e: the Big Bad Wolf of fairytale lore, who serves as the sheriff of a secret community of fairy tale characters living in New York. Disguising the community through magic and secrecy, Bigby must uphold the peace of Fabletown and keep it hidden from the human world. When a fellow Fable ends up murdered on Bigby’s doorstep, it’s up to Bigby and his colleague/love interest Snow White to bring the killer to justice.
The beautiful stylization of the game reels you in before you even start your playthrough; the main menu features a collage of deep, popping purples and shadowy figures moving around the screen while Bigby walks around in a constant loop. Every time a shadow is cast upon Bigby’s face, his eyes turn a bright, wolf-like yellow, and immediately turn back to normal once the shadow has passed. This level of effort was put into the main menu alone, and remains consistent throughout the entire game; the bright fluorescent lighting of a local bar, the dimly lit neon corridors of a strip club, and the expanse of fairy tale artifacts on display in the Business Office all receive the same gorgeous touch up of bright colors and contrasting hues, injecting every scenario with a comic book noir atmosphere. It never feels like the places Bigby visits are glamorous yet irrelevant, because every location the story takes us to provides a deeper look into the mystery at hand; what begins as a simple murder investigation quickly turns into a war for the soul of Fabletown, as Bigby pulls back the veil on a ruthless corruption that threatens all he holds dear. The truth behind The Wolf Among Us is as intricately layered as it is sordid and macabre, and will have you peeling back layers even in the final minutes of the game. These polished gems are sometimes marked by the game lagging while attempting to keep up with the input of the player, which is an unfortunate but expected downside of a Telltale game. I would recommend playing the PC version of the game if possible, as it has had the smallest number of performance hiccups.
The decisions that truly capture the heart and soul of The Wolf Among Us are the ones dealing with issues of morality. Everyone is familiar with the classic tale of the Big, Bad Wolf. In reality, the story is much bloodier and much more complicated. The newly reformed Bigby is trying to be a better man, and do right by the people of Fabletown. But, with a past as one of the most wrathful and violent forces in the fairy tale world, turning over a new leaf is easier said than done, and that struggle is perfectly portrayed in Bigby’s hunt for the killer. Often throughout the story, Bigby must choose between showing the citizens of Fabletown that he’s changed by doing the right thing or letting the wolf go on a rampage. It is completely up to the player to decide whether Bigby plays good cop or bad cop. This might sound like cut-and-past Good option and Evil option, but the game is expertly crafted to make them both acceptable answers, ensuring that there’s really no such thing as a purely good and purely bad playthrough. When a character early in the story told Bigby that “you’re not as bad as they all say,” I was determined to prove her right by comforting a traumatized witnesses, defending Snow, playing good cop in an interrogation scene, and generally always leaning to the side of right. But even while playing with that particular mindset, the option to brutalize my enemies, or confiscate money from criminals, or be a jerk to Bluebeard won out more than a few times. Even so, I never considered that I was making wrong choices, because rather than punishing me, they made the story evolve in a dynamic, realistic way that determined the kind of man Bigby Wolf turned out to be once the case was finally closed. I think that this is a dramatic improvement over The Walking Dead; I had much more fun directing and developing Bigby as a character than trying to second-guess my way through zombie-themed crisis after zombie-themed crisis.
Another grand improvement over The Walking Dead was the combat scenes. Never in my life would I have believed I would consider a series of Quick Time Events to qualify as a fighting scene, but Telltale incorporated them into such a fluid, cinematic process that you hardly notice that the fight is just a series of button inputs; your pulse starts pounding and you become keyed in to every response, as if you yourself are involved in a bar fight with Grendel. Each fight plays out in an intense, over-the-top fashion, usually with monstrous transformations and use of surrounding objects as weapons, and each fight further validates the inevitable sense of hero worship you have for Sheriff Bigby. In most Quick Time Events seen in The Walking Dead, a missed prompt meant instant death for Lee or one of his companions, followed by a “restart” button. In The Wolf Among Us, a missed prompt simply means that Bigby gets hit by that particular attack, and his enemy now appears to be getting the upper hand. Since no player wants to see Bigby doing poorly in a fight, the motivation to get all the prompts right still exists without immediately punishing you for missing one. This system effectively immerses players in the fight without the threat of punishment looming over them as an incentive to fight well.