Release Date: 11 October 2013 (final episode released 8 July 2014)
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Where to get it: Steam
Reviewing a game like this without spoilers is practically impossible so when I say I'm about to start by talking about the ending you're probably wondering why. Well, that's because the ending is a motherfucking advertisement. I am not joking. Final scene, curtains fall, credits roll and "Buy our books." pops up on screen. It's like a 12 hour kinky sex session comes to a close, you're knackered and reach for a cigarette and Joe Camel (Old Camel for those who prefer the official name) jumps out of the fucking closet and dickpunches you. You feel betrayed, appalled and just plain disappointed with the realisation that you agonised over hundreds of choices and situations, made snap judgements and what for? A goddamn shill, that's what.
The Walking Dead games don't try to shove a Robert Kirkman graphic novel into your hands when you're done with them so why do Telltale feel the need to do it here? Is it because TWAU isn't a TV show yet? Why Carl?
Okay, I've got that out of my system. On to the actual review:
If you've played either of The Walking Dead series games by Telltale you can skip right to the score for another cheap joke and not miss out on much, or you can keep reading. I'm not the boss of you.
The Wolf Among Us is very similar to The Walking Dead games; it's a new style adventure game with a heavy focus on dialogue and choice making spread out over about 12 hours of dicking around in various places as the story and/or your choices take you. The setting is that of Bill Willingham's Fables (that's not an advertisement, fuck off) comics and features a district in New York called Fabletown populated by various popular and obscure story characters ranging from the immediately recognisable such as The Big Bad Wolf and Mr Toad to the pretty-much-unknown Flycatcher and Donkeyskin (something French apparently).
You play as Sheriff Bigby a.k.a The Big Bad Wolf who tries to keep order in the town but has just as many personal issues because no one likes him because he's the freakin' big bad wolf. It's a very interesting interpretation of the character and the dialogue choices give you the option of playing him in a nice gradient between asshole and misunderstood nice guy who will still tear your head off for shits and giggles should the opportunity present itself.
The dialogue choices are the typical Telltale system of (usually) three choices and a keep silent button presented on a timer when it's Bigby's time to contribute something. No matter what choice you make Bigby is well acted and manages to come across in a range of personalities, though some hard-ass answers do come across as a bit grating when presented all gruff and angry when you've been trying to play a rational nice-guy but that's not something that can be avoided with pre-recorded lines.
Also features is the typical wander around and poke, look, open, take system of interaction that made The Walking Dead so enjoyable to explore with clear symbols indicating exactly what's going to happen if you hit a certain button while highlighting something so there's never any confusion about the wrong thing happening on screen when you swear you pressed the right key (yes, that barely makes sense and no, I'm not going to re-write it).
The overall cast is likable, relatable and wildly varied in personalities and motivations just like the story characters they're based on. The Woodsman (of Little Red Riding Hood fame) was one of my personal favourites but that might have been because he's the closest to my version of Bigby as any of the cast was.
Even the villains manage to be likable in some way, whether it's the classic like-to-hate or just a cool design or unexpected appearance or role.
The graphical presentation may be a sticking point for some; it's the same comic-book-ish style that The Walking Dead (I should've reviewed that instead with how much I'm typing that title) uses and is very similar to Borderlands (another game Telltale are working on, not an advertisement). This time around it's a bit crisper, with less jagged black edges on objects and a wider range of colours than the more realistic TWD with all it's greys and browns but still manages a healthy amount of gore and violence when the need arises.
Now that I've had to stop and think about the sound design of the game I'm brought up short. I don't really remember much of the sound design apart from the voice acting and title sequence music but is that a good thing or bad? Was it good because it blended into the experience so expertly that it went completely unnoticed, managing to feel convincing enough that it never drew any attention to itself. Or was it bad because it's unmemorable, understated or perhaps even lacklustre. Actually it's a bit of a mix of the two, it's both good and bad for all of those reasons but tends to swing more in the way of good than bad and never managed to venture even close to terrible which is more than you can say for most games.
The story is excellently written and paced with the exception of a rather naff second episode, though with four fantastic episodes to smooth over the sour second one it has a more memorable, if unrelatable run than TWD does. Comic book and fantasy fans will absolutely love to see these characters and world brought to life in a new way even if they haven't read the source material while fans who prefer their stories more grounded in reality or packed with guns will likely be somewhat disappointed.
That's not to say the story isn't jam-packed with violence. In your time mooching around Fabletown you'll end up in a fair few scrapes from fist-fights to facing down gun-wielding thugs and more than a couple of fairytale monsters but they're all handled the same way; quicktime events. I hate them, you hate them, the pope excommunicates quicktime event designers and the Borg won't even assimilate them but this is a review and we have to look at the good as well as the bad.
So what's the good side? They're pretty easy, directional input can be done with both analogue sticks if you're playing with a pad and the timed button presses or button-mashing scenes are all pretty generous with their time limits though towards the end of the game you might find yourself taking a hit or two due to a missed button or not enough time to hit the right one but you've never punished with an unfair game-over or forced failure cutscene unless you're consistently incapable of hitting a button within a few seconds, in which case go back to playing solitaire.
Another great aspect of the fight scenes is that Bigby is the big bad wolf and he transforms to varying degrees when riled up to give you an excellent visual representation of just how badly he's going to beat the shit out of whoever you're facing. Bigby busting out the yellow eyes and claws is a great visual and handled through smooth camera cuts or angles to hide the change in model so that it appears as a clean transition.
The extras are pretty sparse, with the Book Of Fables being the main attraction. Your choices and characters you meet fill up the Book Of Fables to provide you with some background information about people and objects within the world that may or may not influence some of your future choices. I'd personally stopped checking it by chapter four but it's informative if a little stale.
Final verdict? It's a great adventure game with a great setting, great characters and great story. It's pretty great. The cast can't quite produce the same emotional response as Clementine can but on the up-side they're all adults with adult problems and personalities so more mature audiences may find it easier to identify with. Speaking of mature, it's not one for the kids, the depictions of violence and gore are way more graphic than even TWD's zombie guts and probably not appropriate without a little parental supervision on hand to make sure junior doesn't barf on the new carpet.
Score: 1 advertisement too far out of 10. Seriously though, the game's really really good and deserves an 8 out of 10.
Addendum: What's this? There's more you say? It turns out the previous joke score wasn't clear enough that it was a joke, perhaps it was badly phrased or too personal and it fell a bit flat either way. Special thanks/shout-out to Gallows Jack and Tyana of Furcadia for the awesome feedback and suggestions.