REVIEW: The Wolf Among Us
By Alana Young The Wolf Among Us is an episodic interactive narrative game, adapted from Bill Willingham’s Fables comic book series. There are five episodes in the first season, with each one clocking in at around two hours. It’s developed by Telltale Games, who you might know from the popular Walking Dead game series. Telltale is renowned for their interactive video game narratives, and their practice and ingenuity in the genre is apparent in TWAU.
You play as Bigby Wolf, the iconic Big Bad Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown, a part of New York built as a shelter for all of the fairy-tale characters you’ll recognise from your childhood. But TWAU is no fairy-tale; it’s a dark and mature take on these stories. When a severed head is placed on your doorstep you must team up with the deputy Mayor’s assistant Snow (White, you know the one) to find the killer.
The easiest way to describe The Wolf Among Us is to call it a modern choose-your-own adventure book. It’s not a very game-y video game, in fact, the only time you take control of Bigby in a typical gaming way is to occasionally walk him down a corridor or around an office. But these sections don’t really add anything except mild annoyance. The camera angle that works so well for conversations is awkward to navigate by, and the controls are clunky. Lots of times I accidentally walked in the wrong direction or got stuck on a desk because I didn’t know which key I needed to press. But the power of TWAU is in its narrative and the power that the game gives you to shape this story. You’ll spend most of your time in conversation with other characters, and what Bigby says is up to you. You ask the questions, you call the shots.
I’m writing my dissertation this year, a project on audience immersion in video games. If I hadn’t already spent way too much time researching other texts then I’d definitely write about TWAU. I felt so involved with this world, mostly because of the dialogue system. I found myself playing TWAU as if I was actually living out the story and not like I was just playing a game. I made Bigby say what I was already thinking in my head, even if I knew that would make other characters dislike me. And the dialogue options are good enough for this approach to work. Dialogue in most games has an edge of unbelievability to it, lines that a real person would probably never think to say, or lots of jumping to unrealistic conclusions. And the conversations are timed, so you have limited time to decide what to say before Bigby just stares in silence meaningfully. Although it wasn’t without its flaws; sometimes the option I chose made Bigby say something completely different than I was expecting, and I got into trouble with some characters a few times because of this.
In keeping with this month’s theme, I will admit that I really wanted Bigby and Snow to get together, and that sometimes this influenced what I said or how I acted. But mostly I hoped that she’d fall for Bigby despite getting angry at him sometimes. Sorry if I ruined your chances Bigby…
I can’t write about this game and not mention the art style. Which is beautiful cel shading that perfectly conveys the noir style to this world. Characters faces are detailed and expressive and move really interestingly. Some of the backgrounds don’t share this level of detail, but nothing in the game looks bad or poorly-made.
I played through the first season in one weekend because I was so instantly invested in the story and the characters. Bigby is an enigmatic and gruff protagonist and it’s interesting to experience the story through his eyes. They left the ending open for a second season which I’m now eagerly awaiting. But in the meantime I’d like to replay the whole thing to see how much the choices you make affect the story, because they all felt really important. The Wolf Among Us is unlike any game I’ve ever played before, and I loved it’s inventive and immersive storytelling methods. Hopefully we’ll see more games that experiment with narrative so well, because it was a unique and exciting experience.