SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.
Although I mentioned it in my list of the most interesting games I played in 2013, I haven’t talked much about Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us. Which is a shame because despite a few quibbles the first episode of it was genuinely excellent! It set up an intriguing world with compelling characters, and built upon the brilliant mechanics of The Walking Dead to deliver something totally different, but just as engaging.
The second episode, “Smoke and Mirrors,” corrects some of the biggest issues I had with the first episode, while simultaneously dialing back the intensity of the story, but only by a hair. Episode 2 definitely feels like a bridging episode, one that’s heavy in setup but light in payoff in order to get things in motion for the next three episodes. And that’s certainly not a bad thing. In a mystery story like this, time must be taken to get all the elements lined up so that the payoff later on can be effective; the trick is to keep the setup intriguing, and that’s exactly what The Wolf Among Us does.
The episodes starts out with an interrogation of whoever you decided to nab at the end of the previous episode (in my case, it was Tweedle Dee). As you might remember, Snow White is dead, her head chopped off just like Donkeyskin girl, but while Bigby is deciding whether or not to beat the snot out of whoever is in the interrogation chair, who should walk in but Snow herself. As it turns out, the dead woman was actually a troll, glamoured to look like Snow, and the bulk of this episode is dedicated to finding out who this girl was, why she was glamoured, and why she was killed.
Even though I’d normally be put off by such a blatant bait-and-switch as the death of Snow, I’m somewhat relieved in this case. Snow is a really great character, and she was one of the highlights of the first episode. To kill her off that early on would have been a waste, and the game handles this reversal well enough that it doesn’t feel like the cheap trick it kind of was. The biggest issue will be if Snow is actually going to die later in the series, which I think is a good possibility. Once you play the death card, it’s hard to make it work for a second time with the same character.
The most significant improvement this episode makes over the previous one is making sure that Bigby’s investigations don’t become tedious. The first episode got bogged down in the middle after having three consecutive goals amount to the same mouse-around-the-room-and-look-for-clues gameplay. That particular mechanic is fine when used properly, but it’s definitely not the strongest aspect of these games. The strongest mechanic is conversation, and episode two wisely makes conversation the bulk of what you do, whether it be interrogating a suspect, trying to get information out of a scared kid, or questioning a sleazy pimp, each conversation is exciting and compelling because the way you react to each character is a little bit different. In addition, there’s different context specific elements that play into each conversation. For example, I got an endless thrill from smashing up Georgie Porgie’s strip club and playing good cop/bad cop with Tweedle Dee. When it does finally go into the search-the-room-for-clues mechanic, it’s right at the point where the mystery is starting to come to a head and there’s a real sense of urgency to sorting out the clues. In the end, it comes down to a matter of pacing, and episode two has MUCH better pacing than the first.
This episode also does something that I LOVE, but is often not utilized in games. Namely, the opportunity for the player to make a moral choice without being instructed by a binary on-screen prompt. This is something that Spec Ops: The Line did brilliantly, and it shows up here in the fight with Beast. Even though the game enters a quick-time event, you don’t actually have to fight him. You can intentionally loose the fight, and let him cool off. What makes these moments so great is that it feels like a subversion; the game is telling you to do something, but you have the choice to say no. That’s a hugely powerful tool for storytelling, and its something that far too few games actually utilize. Huge kudos to Telltale for including it here.
While this episode is most definitely a bridge between the first and the third, it still manages to be an improvement over the first episode in a few really key ways, and the things that it sets up are going to be really interesting to see play out in the next three episodes. Couple that with the episode’s one major reveal, and The Wolf Among Us is in a really exciting place. I’m still sort of amazed that it happened, but Telltale’s become one of the most important developers making games today, and I don’t think that’s likely to change any time soon.
- Accused Crane of not caring about Snow (along with 12% of players).
- Persuaded the murder suspect to talk (along with 63.9% of players).
- Let Snow make her own decision about coming to the Trip Trap (along with 92.4% of players).
- Didn’t hit Georgie Porgie (along with 71.3% of players). I did smash up all of his stuff, though.
- Never had Beast at my mercy (along with 9.1% of players).