It’s probably not deserving of each game separately, but due to a new-found success in titles like The Walking Dead, developer Telltale Games might get comparisons galore for The Wolf Among Us. It has been churning out adventures for much longer than that, but turning to conversation for its gameplay focus in the latter releases will draw those closer together. Still, this episodic narrative draws from a different pool and that will make its own universe; one that is rich in contrasts as well.
For its arrangement, the first episode called “Faith” uses a cel-shaded universe, with protruding colors, thickly saturated on the screen. Neon lights glaze textures in a sugary coating and other frames are littered in grime to build a gritty scene. It seems sweet, but there is a bitterness inside. Each character has their own gruff voice, depicting a magical land with tons of issues. Despite this being a story of fairy tales inside the real world, it doesn’t look like this enchanting setting is doing them any good; quite the opposite. It makes harsh truth sink in harder, since no one would expect such innocence to be shattered.
Things are tough for a mystical creature in the world of man. First off, talking pigs and huge monsters can’t just walk around town in their own skin; well, not long. They need a human cloak to hide their true identity from the world and that’s not exactly a boost for the self-esteem. If that wasn’t bad enough, there also seems to be some shadow conspiracy going on in their sub-society. Something is afoot and the rummaging is starting to become louder, but it’s not clear exactly what. One of the only certainties is that whatever is going on is dangerous and worse yet, lethal.
It’s time for the appointed sheriff in this makeshift town to step forward and that would be the big bad wolf, Bigby, through whom the story is seen. There’s no love lost for this old bully and the appointment isn’t exactly welcomed, but the big nose does have a knack for sleuthing around and getting answers. That tone is set immediately and firmly, with the necessary bloodshed. There’s going to be so much blood in this game; much more than its opening act reveals. It’s as if Telltale wants to send out a clear message. These are not the cleaned up children’s fables. These miscreants are the original scribing of fairy tales, roaming around topics of debauchery, violence and other perversions.
Its immediacy works for the game. Since episodes are just an hour or two long, pacing is everything and with an opening act being important, this one wastes no time. A series of characters get to show what they’re about. As Bigby is the investigative type, he creates the perfect excuse to dabble right into the core of personas right away, which yields players a large amount of condensed info on the cast. In that sense, act one does a tremendous job in setting things up and getting the strings attached to its narrative. Details are immediately thrown out, for whoever wants to get closer.
Moreover, through consequential responses, some allegiances can already be formed as well. Each choice in conversations sparks a twinkle in interaction, which may reverberate far into the future. When someone acts in a shocking or otherwise memorable manner, that action will stay with the player and come back at some point. Speaking of which, this interlude has some drastic measures set, with life and death hanging in the balance. In just a few scenes going across town, multiple people will have their well-being depending on what choices are made in the game, with everlasting effect either way. If that doesn’t tear the fabric for different experiences early on, then it’s hard to imagine what would do so.
Still, perhaps the best thing here is the combination of it all; Bigby’s sordid state, the characters’ struggles, the overshadowing evil. With the pacing this episode holds, all of it forms such a bond so quickly, that there’s not even any anticipation left for things to get going; we’re already there. Where other seasonal stories had to push a few times to really connect, this iteration is racing through all the fluff to make good on time and it does so incredibly smoothly. Even with just two hours on the clock, one playthrough feels lengthy and draining, because there’s so much that goes down. If this keeps up for the following four turns, there’s no imagining just how high this story is going to reach.
It looks like Telltale’s time with The Walking Dead has paid off quite well for The Wolf Among Us and its first “Faith” episode. Instead of just introducing the plot, this attraction steps into gears immediately and rushes out a game with gripping turns and a layered, alluring world. It’s one hell of a ride and it will, probably, only get better.