The Wolf Among Us: And You Thought The Walking Dead Was Good?

The Wolf Among Us builds on what made The Walking Dead great, but suffers from its technical problems as well.
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Telltale Games really surprised me with The Walking Dead.  Prior to its release, the point and click genre was, in my mind, a dead genre that lied buried in nostalgic childhood memories.  Though TWD’s predecessors Jurassic Park: The Game, and Back to the Future: The Game, spent brief moments on my radar respectively, nothing I saw while watching gameplay footage of them made me want to pick them up–though they share many similarities with Telltale’s later releases in terms of gameplay.  Just what was it that The Walking Dead did that made me rush to throw down five dollars on its first episode that those previous two games didn’t?

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I admit, part of the initial draw of The Walking Dead, for me, was that it was set in the zombie apocalypse.  At the time, I was heavily under the influence of the zombie craze that had successfully penetrated much of the media, but that alone wasn’t going to get me to buy, much less love a game. 

First, the game’s cell-shaded, comic-book-esque graphics were both intriguing and refreshing.  Second, while QTEs aren’t usually something to write home about and are, more often than not, abused in most games today, Telltale was able to create situations in which they actually gave the player a sense of urgency and tactile feedback that served to further immerse the player in the game’s often frantic combat. 

And third, the dialogue between the game’s characters felt genuine, making them easy to care for, and in some cases, hate.  All in all, The Walking Dead was a gripping emotional roller-coaster, that, by the end, made me feel like weeping, and had me looking forward to more games by Telltale.  Though The Walking Dead left a lot to live up to, I am happy to say that The Wolf Among Us manages to surpass it, and improves on many of the things that made The Walking Dead great.

Fairy Tale Noir

A prequel to the graphic novel series Fables by Bill Willingham, The Wolf Among us puts you in the role of Bigby Wolf, or as most know him: The Big Bad Wolf.  Yes, the same Big Bad Wolf that blew down The Three Little Pigs’ houses and ate Little Red Riding Hood’s granny. 

Times have changed for the characters in our childhood fables, and an entity simply known as The Adversary has forced them to flee their homeland and take up residence in our world; more specifically, in New York City.  With all of their past histories wiped clean, these Fables, as they’re called, must now start life anew, and blend in with ‘Mundane’ society, or ‘Mundies’ as most Fables call us. 

While many Fables, such as Snow White, Beauty of Beauty and The Beast, and Ichabod Crane of Sleepy Hollow are able to blend in with relative ease given that they’re humans, for many Fables, they must purchase magical enchantments known as Glamours to conceal their identity, or be forced to live in a place known as The Farm–where all Fables unable to blend into Mundie society must live the rest of their days.  This is where Bigby comes in, as he has been given the position of sheriff of Fabletown, the area in which all Fables reside.  It is his job to protect Fabletown’s residents, as well do what it takes to keep their clandestine community a secret.

An Artistic Sight to Behold

The first thing that really struck me about The Wolf Among Us when I booted the game up was its graphical style.  While The Walking Dead was by no means hard on the eyes, TWUS takes the comic book style graphics to the next level.  Every environment you enter is a sight to see, full of bold, contrasting colors and shadows, and hard, thick outlines that almost look as if they were ripped directly from the pages of a graphic novel.  Along with these beautiful visuals are character models and facial animations that are far superior to those found in The Walking Dead, further bringing this dark, gritty world to life.

Character Drama Vs. The Apocalypse

If you expected this game full of fairy tale creatures to be a jovial, sunshine filled romp, you are quite mistaken.  Fabletown is a downtrodden and desperation filled place, and when it comes to the source material the game draws its characters backgrounds from, things are much more on the Grimm side than they are Disney. 

Most Fables are barely getting by, and the general atmosphere of the game is quite bleak.  While The Walking Dead had the end of the world as a means of creating drama and a sense of hopelessness, The Wolf Among us has to rely more on the stories of individual characters and the respective challenges they face to create its drama, and this serves to create an overall more engaging cast.

Be it Bigby trying to act as a protector of the Fable community, while also having to deal with his violent and murderous past shaping everyone’s view of him, or Mr. Toad of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’s struggling to pay the price to keep he and his small son cloaked in Glamour, each character having their own unique struggle is much more interesting than all of the game’s characters sharing a common opposition.

Quick Time Events Evolved

The Wolf Among Us has not strayed from the QTE system of The Walking Dead, though it has improved upon it.  Combat is nowhere near as frequent, but the instances in which it occurs are far longer and action packed, as well as more dynamic.  The game throws you into one of these moments early on, with Bigby facing off against The Woodsman, his old foe from Little Red Riding Hood that ended up cutting his stomach open, filling it with stones, and throwing him in the river. 

While QTEs in The Walking Dead were mostly limited to mashing a button and/or hovering the reticule over a target and pressing a button, The Wolf Among Us adds directional inputs to avoid strikes, as well as some choices when it comes to what course of action you take next, such as thrusting The Woodsman into a dresser and bashing him over the head with a bottle, or throwing him onto a bed-spring and punching him in the face repeatedly.  Ultimately, the battle ends up turning out mostly the same each time, but these addition makes combat more entertaining and varied.

Still Lacking in Technical Polish

While overall, The Wolf Among Us generally improves upon The Walking Dead, the game still suffers on the technical side at times.  Though not as severe as it was in The Walking Dead, many scene transitions and dialogue choices are plagued with momentary pauses and stutters that take away from the games polish.  While by no means game-breaking, these moments are extremely jarring, and one has to wonder why Telltale didn’t take the time to iron these out after one of The Walking Dead’s biggest criticisms was its technical performance.

Hurry Up and Announce Episode Two’s Release Date

The first episode of The Wolf Among Us left me dying to play episode two, ending on a note that will shock both newcomers to the Fables universe and readers of the comics.  Telltale is on the right track with their games these days, and have brought a level of storytelling to the table that few other games can compete with.  The world of The Wolf Among Us is a fresh and fascinating one, and is a must play for any gamer with a love of interactive storytelling, and looking for a tale outside the norm.

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The Wolf Among Us: And You Thought The Walking Dead Was Good?
The Wolf Among Us builds on what made The Walking Dead great, but suffers from its technical problems as well.

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