The Wolf Among Us: Smoke and Mirrors Review
Editor's Note: The first portion of this review (Light Review) is spoiler free and touches on the basics of the play and episode. The second part (In-Depth Review) is extremely spoiler heavy.
Yesterday, episode two of The Wolf Among Us released to many eagerly awaiting fans. The first episode, praised for its story-telling, was very well received; another notch on the bedpost of success for Telltale. Smoke & Mirrors follows the same formula and picks up directly where episode one left off.
Though there was a considerable delay in the release of the second episode, it was well worth the wait. The technical and graphical aspects are identical, I did actually run in to a hiccup during my surprisingly short playthrough.
During one scene, I had selected one action (non-violent). The game took a good two or three minutes to respond--I was even concerned that it was going to carry out the scene as though I had selected something else (violent). After a brief pause, though, things carried on as normal. Other than that, I had no technical issues.
Narrative and Choices
I will say that I almost preferred Smoke and MIrrors over the first episode. Perhaps it's just because the story only becomes more gripping as you progress, or maybe it's because the story was very well delivered; however, I found myself completely absorbed in what was going on, including verbal and physical (jumping, shouting, gasping) responses to many of the scenes.
Obviously, your choices from the previous episode carry over and, sure enough, affect the way other characters see and interact with you. However, I found that most characters are fairly easy to sway in either direction as long as you're consistent throughout the second episode. I chose mostly violent acts in the first episode, but through being more gentle in the second, I was able to change their opinions of Bigby considerably. This might take some of the weight away from the choices you make, but it also makes things a little more repairable if you make a mistake.
Story progression and characters
Through the first episode, we learned that Bigby is a two-faced coin; on one hand, most Fables despise him and his presumably violent nature. This is either reinforced as you make violent choices, or contradicted as you make more gentle ones. The effects that this... 'aura' Bigby has on the narrative is interesting. While Bigby is a "bastard" and supposedly relies on violence, Fables constantly rely on him for help. It's a very well done situation of dependency for the Fables, and for Bigby, which opens up a lot of doors for mixed interaction and difficult decisions.
Smoke and Mirrors's narrative doesn't stray from this formula. Running along the same dark lines, we're dropped back at the scene of Snow White's murder. You almost begin to sympathize with Crane as he expresses his grief over Snow's death--or at least, I felt a little sorry for him. However, during your questioning of Dee in the opening scene, Snow White arrives in fine form.
From there, you speak with TJ about what he saw and discover that the body of the murder victim was Lily, a troll-hooker who was glamored by black market magic to look like Snow White by a person with a Snow White fetish. Throughout Bigby's investigation, you meet a variety of new characters and meet up with some old ones. Towards the end of the episode, as you piece the evidence together in room 207, my first through was, 'Oh, Bigby is probably doing this in some kind of blackout state. Look at how in to Snow White he is,' given his growing interest and infatuation with her.
I was incredibly surprised that in episode two, we already know Crane is the villain. Either the next three episodes will be about catching him, or Crane's being set up and there's actually someone else behind it (perhaps even Bigby). Whichever way you go, the series is really setting us up with a fantastic antagonist.
The stronger of the two episodes thus far, TWAU does a fantastic job of engrossing you in the story...
I didn't really enjoy the encounter with Beauty and Beast. I felt like it was a little forced and fairly misplaced; the scene would have run just as smoothly without Beast's interaction at all, and Bigby could have just busted down the door anyway. I wouldn't say it was a bad scene, it just felt like extra weight--or even just an odd opportunity to shove an action sequence in there. We already knew that Beast was a fairly jealous creature and that he believed Beauty was having an affair.
What I really liked about this episode were the choices. Many of them felt like common-sense questions and answers; the response I would give or question I would ask was commonly an option I could choose, which engaged me even more (that's just individual preference at this point).
However, most of your choices are fairly gray. Some situations really have no right or wrong answer. You get to know a little bit more about Bigby and how exactly the world of Fables works--even their universe has a black market, illegal drugs, murder (obviously) and prostitution. Dark issues like these run rampant in this series, and it's only the tip of the iceberg. Hell, after this episode, we can add stalking and sexual obssession to the list.
That being said, the choices in this episode made for some amazing dialogue; I would venture to say that it's much stronger than the previous episode, or even TWD. It felt natural and fluid. Characters developed alongside each other at a realistic pace, though I believe that the opinions of some characters were a little too easily swayed from decisions made in the first episode.
The stronger of the two episodes thus far, TWAU does a fantastic job of engrossing you in the story, even though it's only a 90 minute segment. I docked one star for duration, simply because this episode was frustratingly short. However, the Season Pass is more than worth the purchase price.
I found myself completely invested in Bigby's efforts to both help Fables and his progression as a character. I also found myself absorbed in trying to actually help the characters in this bleak world they've found themselves in. I often found that I was pinched for time in making the best decision.
Smoke & Mirrors focuses more on narrative and character development than actual QT events or action sequences, which I appreciate (I'm not a huge fan of them, though a few don't break a game for me). I felt this episode pushed the story along sufficiently without stretching it out for the sake of more episodes, or making it too simplified for the sake of time. It also set us up with some strong characters and interactions that will be key in the next three installments.
Disclosure: Steam key for The Wolf Among Us provided by Telltale Games for the purpose of review.